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Saturday, November 22, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 2/23/2008

Walleye a better team nickname than Woodpeckers

BY THOMAS WALTON

PREDICTABLY the name chosen for Toledo and Lucas County's new hockey team has stirred passionate reaction. Some people think it's great; others respond to the news as though they'd found a dead carp in their car. Meanwhile, merchandise bearing the new name and logo of the Toledo Walleye is selling like - well, crabcakes in Boston, that's what.

Yes, it's all so predictable, and all so shrewd.

Team and county officials knew they had a unique challenge on their hands. What do you name a new minor league sports franchise in a town that already has the Toledo Mud Hens? Somehow the team names that are so commonplace - Lions, Tigers, and Bears, oh my! - don't cut it in a town with a baseball team that bears the most famous name in all of minor league sports.

If Toledo were only now gaining a Triple-A baseball franchise and the team pondered calling itself the Mud Hens, how do you think that would fly? It wouldn't. The community would give the bird, well, the bird. But because the name is so bizarre - never mind that the team was named for an actual winged creature that inhabited our marshes - and because it was so far ahead of its time, the team can rightfully call itself the "world-famous Toledo Mud Hens."

I'm going to overlook the fact that when Toledo lost its baseball team after the 1952 season, and unexpectedly gained a new team in time for the 1953 season, the team was actually known briefly as the Toledo Glass Sox, which was shortened to Sox, which in turn was blessedly tossed on the junk pile of baseball history after three seasons.

Baseball left Toledo again, but the original Mud Hens name was restored when a new franchise was secured in 1965. If you're going to name a team after a piece of athletic apparel, only the Toledo Protective Cups would have been worse than Glass Sox.

Why do you think so many minor league sports teams now recognize the wisdom of the trailblazing Hens and have adopted crazy names like Mud Dogs, Mud Puppies, RiverCats, Cow Pies, etc.? Okay, I made up Cow Pies, but I'd be willing to bet that the thought has crossed the mind of a team exec somewhere in the heart of cattle country.

One of the best known teams in the East Coast Hockey League where the Walleye will compete was the old Louisiana IceGators. What a great play on words. If they had simply been called the Alligators, who'd even take note? Of course, the franchise folded in 2005, so marketing alone isn't the answer. Good players and the occasional championship are recommended as well.

The Bobcats? Polar Bears? Give me a break. But the Macon Whoopees? Now you're selling T-shirts! And cushions. The point is that crazy and clever sells. Mundane doesn't. So Toledo's new hockey organization was aware it faced quite a legacy to live up to.

Critics may argue that Walleye isn't tough enough. The San Jose Sharks? There's a tough hockey name. Okay, so walleye might not be a man-eater, but if you've got one on the other end of your fishing line, you've got a fight. Also, our Blade sports guys, especially the headline writers, are going to love it, even though the county commissioners already co-opted the obvious fishing clichs when the team name was announced. "Reel" nice, Tina.

Something else for the writers to keep in mind: it's the Walleye, singular. Not the Walleyes, plural. So is the Walleye an "it" or a "they"? Who cares? With foreclosures and unemployment up, the dreaded "r" word (recession) looming, and the Marines mad at the mayor, it's kind of nice to have a community arguing about whether calling the hockey team the Walleye is a stroke of genius or a sure sign of the Apocalypse. Could have been worse. Could have been the Peckerheads.

In the meantime, the team gets major marketing exposure in a two-year down period when it isn't playing any games and doesn't even have a sheet of ice.

This "mini-controversy" will pass. I remember the firestorm that followed the announcement several years ago that Columbus' new National Hockey League team would be known as the Blue Jackets, blue being the color of that "team up north," as Woody Hayes once described the Michigan Wolverines. Buckeye loyalists thought the team should be called the Columbus Scarlets, I suppose. Frankly, my dear, I didn't give a damn. And soon after, neither did anybody in Columbus.

Now Joe Napoli and his Hens/Walleye brain trust will turn their attention to lining up an arena football franchise for the new downtown sports arena under construction. And this whole exercise in finding the right name will begin all over again.

I hope they let their imaginations run wild, perhaps drawing upon the Sioux City Soos, or the Walla Walla Walla Wallas, or the Minot Why Nots, or the Iola Gasbags, honest-to-goodness team names from the past, for inspiration.

If it's important to stick with fish, there's always the "Fightin' Perch" or the kinder and gentler "Holy Mackerel."

For now, I think I'm growing to like the name for the new hockey team. It makes perfect business sense in a city where the "world famous Toledo Mud Hens" have defined sports marketing savvy.

Sometimes you gotta go where everybody knows your name.

Walleye? Cheers!

Thomas Walton is retired editor and vice president of The Blade.

Contact him at: twalton@theblade.com.



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