Destination Springfield: Celebrating Some Perfectly Cromulent Team Names
Among the things they do brilliantly, the writers for one Fox TV show have a knack for observing established protocols when giving name to their fictional sports teams. I was tempted to give them their own chapter in my otherwise way-too-serious book, Naming Rites: A Biographical History of North American Team Names. Instead, that content is here (in a structure that mirrors that of my book).
In multiple installments of The Simpsons, members of the eponymous family are fans of baseball’s Springfield Isotopes, named for the atomic power plant that employs half the town. (Think Milwaukee Brewers or Pittsburgh Steelers.) You can see isotope defined in terms of relative subatomic masses at more cerebral blogs (Glayvin!), but for us “nuclear physics stuff” will suffice.
In a 2001 Simpsons episode—production code CABF09 if you’re scoring at home—our man Homer stumbles onto a secret plan to move the ’Topes to Albuquerque, New Mexico. When the real Duke City ended up with a real minor league team two years later, Simpsons fans stuffed the ballot box in a team-naming contest to make them Albuquerque Isotopes.
Other teams taking the nuclear option in Homer’s hometown are the Springfield Atoms (pro football), Springfield Meltdowns (proposed NFLers) [note 1], and West Springfield Atomic Bombs (youth baseball). The Springfield Ice-O-Topes are named to recognize the many real IceCats, Ice Dawgs, and IceGators in minor league hockey. (Youth hardballers are the Iso-Tots, and the Atoms’ cheerleaders are Atomettes, exposing the necessity of an index entry in my book that reads “team names: -ette suffix in.”)
The nuclear-sounding Springfield Reactors of the fictional W.A.B.A. (women’s hoop) face the Shelbyville Meerkats. A meerkat is a small cousin of the mongoose that tops off at 1.6 pounds and isn’t really a threat to anybody. I pointed out in Naming Rites that teams named after small, generally non-predatory animals are almost exclusively found at women’s colleges. (Think of the Mary Baldwin College Squirrels or the Columbia College Koalas.) I’m not saying that’s OK; I saying that’s what it is.
In a 2008 episode, a Keith Jackson-y voice welcomes viewers to the “one-hundred-and-seventeenth dust-up between the Snortin’ Swine of Springfield A&M and the Springfield University Nittany Tide.” If I need to tell you what’s funny about “Nittany Tide,” perhaps I’m not the blogger for you, but that the Swine are up to their bellies in history may require explanation. Springfield’s A&M is known as a “cow college” because its founder was an actual cow,[note 2] but the writers seem to know that “cow college” was a real insult that male students at private liberal arts colleges once hurled at attendees of nearby state-funded agricultural and mechanical colleges. “The animosity, moreover, was mutual. The scientists mostly regarded the traditional liberal arts curriculum as uninteresting, impractical, undemanding, and effete”[note 3]. Lady Techsters at Louisiana Tech, Aggies at Texas A&M and New
Mexico State, and Rams at Albany State, Colorado State, Farmingdale State, and Rhode Island all reveal their sponsoring institutions’ roots as state-funded A&Ms.
After selling basketball’s aforementioned Reactors to Ogdenville, Mr. Burns buys into the Springfield Pachyderms of elephantpolo. That’s a stick-and-ball sport played on elephants in Nepal and Thailand that the writers didn’t make up.
I make the point in my book that team nicknames and mascots aren’t the same thing. Hoyas aren’t bulldogs; Tar Heels aren’t rams. Nor are Athletics elephants or Phillies phanatics. Such distinctions in the Simpsons world are apparently lost on pro football’s San Antonio Cow Skulls, who favor a cool emblem over a sensical nickname.
To avoid World War II service, a disguised Grandpa Simpson played a season in centerfield for the Springfield Floozies, a name that’s only slightly less respectful than the Racine Belles, Rockford Peaches, Milwaukee Chicks, Muskegon Lassies, and Chicago Colleens of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (of A League of Their Own fame). The AAGPBL even fielded sissy-sounding
Sallies from an actual Springfield in Illinois [note 4].
Left to right: Lisa overthinks as Isotots manager; Isotope slugger Buck Mitchell; Ice-O-Tope Kozlov; Grandpa plays the field, as Floozies do.
Teams in the same bowling league as Homer’s Pin Pals (a pun for “pen pals”; hey—we said we’d explain ’em) include the foxy ladies on the Home Wreckers, the Christians on the Holy Rollers, second-tier TV talent on the Channel 6 Wastelanders, presumably crooked Police Framers, the auto registry’s DMV Kings, and the Stereotypes, a collection of stock characters that represent the writers’ plea of guilty to the charge of sustaining unflattering generalizations.
Teams of -Hogs and -Dogs (or Dawgz) are starting to appear everywhere, often because animals don’t have lobbying groups to protest. Cartoon hockey’s Utica Mohogs recall minor-league Mohawks from the Mohawk River region in several sports. Their upstate rink is the Kill-Kwik Rat Poison Arena, and anyone who’s been in that part of New York recognizes that every bridge seems to cross “Kill” Somethingorother … as kill is the Dutch word for a stream. (We wonder if the writer who invented the Mohogs knew that the border-bound USHL Kansas City Mohawks [1949–51] got named by adding their state abbreviation—Mo.—to the back half of Kansas’s “Jayhawks.”)
Lisa watches a TV documentary about a soccer riot between fans of Manchester United and Sussexton-Hamptonshire-Unleath, the latter being only slightly more syllabically ambitious than real English villages like Frisby-on-the-Wreake, Hinton-in-the-Hedges, or Newcastle-under-Lyme.
In a poker game, Monty Burns ends up winning the Austin (not Boston) Celtics from the Rich Texan. Burns renames them the Springfield Excitement, which mocks modern team names that are barren in historical or geographical relevance and short on pluralism. (We’re looking at you MLS Montreal Impact and WNBA Atlanta Dream) [note 4]. We’d repeat that point for Arena Football’s Springfield Stun, which has the same monosyllabic punch, alliteration, and want for meaning as the real AFL’s past and present Spokane Shock, Pittsburgh Power, and Colorado Crush.
Even an inanimate carbon rod can figure out why Capital City’s baseballers are the Capitals, but they’re no less redundant than real baseballers like the St. Paul Saints (independent) or “the Los Angeles Angels” (National League), which translates to “the-The Angels-Angels.” The Capitals’ are the “big league” club that drafts Homer to back up the Capital City Goofball (an homage to the Phillie Phantic) after he (Homer) is seen dancing on the the Isotopes’ Jumbo-Vision screen.
Teams in Simpsonia that fail to have informed monikers still seem purposeful. The Springfield Wildcats played their first pee wee football game against the Ogdenville Wildcats, prompting Bart to say, “I hate those Wildcats so much.” That can be compared directly to the nomenclatural futility of having the Arizona Wildcats face the Kentucky Wildcats for the 1997 men’s NCAA hoop crown. Or the CFL Grey Cup final, which set the Saskatchewan Roughriders against the (late) Ottawa Rough Riders four times. Or the 2013 SEC title game between football
Tigers from both Auburn and Missouri.
The question asked by the Springfield and Odgenville Wildcats is … Are any of us really embiggened by nicknames that don’t effect distinction from the opposition? (Worth noting: Springfield’s Wildcats’ lost perhaps unsurprisingly to the side from Victory City, 34–0.)
Accepting its role as Springfield’s civic foil, the next town over hosts hockey’s Shelbyville Visitors and baseball’s Shelbyville Shelbyvillians. Football’s Shelbyville Sharks observe alliteration, as do many college and pro teams.
We’ll take last month’s Simpsons–Futurama crossover episode (Simpsonrama, 9 November) as an excuse to point out that one team in the blernsball league (a sport [sorta] like baseball) is called the Mars Greenskins. Chinese colonists on Mars have been raising buggalo [sic] only to see those herds rustled by Native Martians of a sage-ish complexion. Fans of Redskins teams may find in that what relevance they will.
These team names may seem too fleeting or too insightful to have been buried in a cartoon series. Luckily, highly productive people who split their time between watching cartoons and playing fantasy sports have provided multiple instances each of roto-league Springfield Isotopes and Shelbyville Shelbyvillians
The Simpsons even holds real teams to the metaphorical identities they’ve assumed. When a sensitive new-age guy tries to finally sit and watch a game of football, he observes, “The Patriots are deep in Redskin territory …. This isn’t entertainment; it’s genocide!”
Glenn Arthur Pierce is the author of Naming Rites: A Biographical History of North American Team Names, now available at Amazon.com.
1. In 2006, Springfield beat out the Los Angeles bid to get the Meltdowns. That alludes to another argument … that the NFL keeps L.A. empty as a way of strong-arming smaller media markets into making huge concessions to keep their team. The Meltdowns were slated to play
at Duff Beer Krusty Burger Buzz Cola Costington’s Department Store Kwik-E-Mart Stupid Flanders Park, which mocks the absurdity of stadium-naming rights (as did Springfield’s Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific Arena, Buzz Cola Dome, Yahoo Search Engine Arena, and—our fav—an arena where the marquee reads “Naming Rights Available.”
2. In another “cow college” joke, Miss Hoover’s class watches a TV documentary in which cattle are led to the slaughterhouse … or sent to “graduate from Bovine University.” An ever-hopeful Ralph Wiggum is inspired: “When I grow up, I’m going to Bovine University.”
3. Christopher Jencks and David Riesman, The Academic Revolution (New York: Doubleday, 1968): 224.
4. Man, did I get mail. While I maintain that it was less than charitable for the men who ran the AAGPBL to give women athletes ultra-feminized monikers and uniforms featuring short-shorts, it is nothing but commendable that (appropriately attired) women’s and girls’ teams now repeat AAGPBL nicknames out of respect for their athletic heroes.
5. We will doubtless incur the wrath of Georgians who believe that the 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech speech by Atlanta native Martin Luther King, Jr. is way more than enough historical justification for the name of the 2007-founded Dream, but we can find no written instance of the WNBA nickname being tied to MLK’s speech until well after their inaugural 2008 season. I would have used the tie-in to MLK all day in my book, but it’s a retrofitted backstory.
6.Here are exhaustive lists of Simpsons and Futurama teamnames
: •Simpsons (sports teams)
•Futurama (blernsball teams)