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25 Rejected Nicknames for Pro Sports Teams

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One of our favorite topics is what sports teams were almost called. From the Rubber Puckies to the Unicorns, here are some of the best and weirdest nicknames ever considered.

1. San Jose Rubber Puckies

Sharks was chosen from 2,300 entries in San Jose's name-the-team contest. The other finalists included Rubber Puckies, Screaming Squids, Salty Dogs, and Blades. Blades was the most popular entry, but ultimately rejected because of its gang implications. Sharks won out for being both fierce and local - seven species of shark made their home in a stretch off the California coast called The Red Triangle.

2. Dallas Steers

When Dallas joined the NFL in 1960, they planned to call themselves the Steers. The team’s general manager, Texas E. Schramm, realized that having a castrated mascot might subject the team to ridicule, so he changed the name to Rangers. That name had its own problems since there was already a minor league baseball team called the Rangers. Schramm finally settled on Cowboys shortly before the team's inaugural season.

3. Vancouver Mounties

When Vancouver was awarded an expansion franchise in 1994 to begin play the following season, the team's owners had tentative plans to name the team the Mounties. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police liked that idea even less than fans did, so team officials restarted their search for a name. A local newspaper sponsored a name-the-team contest, which club officials monitored before choosing Grizzlies over Ravens. When the team relocated to Memphis before the 2002-03 season, FedEx was prepared to offer the Grizzlies millions to rename the team the Express, but the NBA rejected the proposal.

4. Arizona Phoenix

In 1995, the expansion franchise's ownership group asked fans to vote from among a list of nicknames that included Coyotes, Diamondbacks, Phoenix, Rattlers, and Scorpions. Diamondbacks, a type of desert rattlesnake, was the winner, sparing everyone the mindboggling possibility of a team located in Phoenix, Arizona, called the Arizona Phoenix.

5. Kansas City Mules

The Chiefs began play in the AFL in 1960 as the Dallas Texans. When the team moved to Kansas City in 1963, owner Lamar Hunt considered the Mules, Royals, and Stars before eventually settling on the Chiefs. Hunt said the name was locally important because Native Americans had once lived in the area, but he may have also been swayed by Kansas City mayor H. Roe Bartle, whose nickname was The Chief.

6. Minnesota Blue Ox

In 1998, Wild was chosen from a field of six finalists, which also included the Blue Ox, Northern Lights, White Bears, Freeze, and Voyageurs. (Voyageurs were the working-class employees of fur trading companies in the region during the 1700s.)

7. Oakland Senors

Chet Soda, the Oakland pro football team's first general manager, sponsored a name-the-team contest in 1960. The winning nickname, an allusion to the old Spanish settlers of northern California, was so loudly ridiculed in the weeks that followed that fans claimed that the contest was fixed. Scotty Stirling, a sportswriter for the Oakland Tribune who would later become the team’s general manager, had a more practical objection to the name: “We don’t have the accent mark for the n in our headline type.” Responding to the backlash, Soda changed the team’s nickname to Raiders, which was a finalist in the contest along with Lakers.

8. Orlando Challengers

When the Orlando Sentinel sponsored a name-the-team contest for Orlando's prospective expansion franchise, Challengers—an allusion to the space shuttle that crashed in 1986—was the most popular suggestion. Other entries included Floridians, Juice, Orbits, Astronauts, Aquamen, and Sentinels, but the panel of judges, including Orlando team officials who reviewed the suggestions, decided to go with Magic.

9. New York Skyliners

When New York was awarded an expansion National League franchise in 1961, the team gave fans 10 mascot choices: Avengers, Bees, Burros, Continentals, Jets, Mets, NYBS, Rebels, Skyliners, and Skyscrapers. Mets was the resounding winner, followed by write-in candidates Empires and Islanders.

10. Washington Sea Dogs

In the early 1990s, Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin became frustrated with the association of his team's nickname and gun violence. After Pollin's friend, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated, Pollin decided to take action and announced his plans to rename the team. (Though Dan Steinberg of D.C. Sports Bog wrote a very detailed history of the name change, and called into question the impact Rabin's death had on the decision.)

A name-the-team contest was held and fans voted on a list of finalists that included Wizards, Dragons, Express, Stallions, and Sea Dogs. Not long after Wizards was announced as the winning name before the 1997-98 season, the local NAACP chapter president complained that the nickname carried Ku Klux Klan associations.

11. Florida Flamingos

The Miami (formerly Florida) Marlins take their name from the minor league Miami Marlins that previously called South Florida home. In 1993 owner Wayne Huizenga told the New York Times that he had considered naming the team the Florida Flamingos.

12. Colorado Extreme

Colorado's hockey team, the Rockies, bolted for New Jersey in 1982, and by the time Denver got a new team in 1995, the local baseball team had usurped the name. Management originally wanted to name the NHL franchise the Extreme but reconsidered after a deluge of negative feedback. Avalanche eventually beat out Black Bears, Outlaws, Storm, Wranglers, Renegades, Rapids, and Cougars.

13. Houston Apollos

When owner Bob McNair brought NFL football back to Houston in 2002, he chose Texans over Apollos and Stallions.

14. Toronto Dragons

The owners of Toronto's prospective NBA expansion team conducted extensive marketing research in 1994 and held a nationwide vote to generate a list of potential nicknames. Raptors, which Jurassic Park helped popularize the year before, was eventually chosen over runners-up Bobcats and Dragons.

15. New York Borros

Originally nicknamed the Titans, this football team was renamed the Jets in 1963 after Sonny Werblin bought the bankrupt franchise. According to a contemporary New York Times story, Weblin considered calling his squad the Dodgers but nixed the idea after Major League Baseball didn’t like it. Gothams also got some consideration, but the team didn’t like the idea of having it shortened to the Goths because “you know they weren’t such nice people.” The last finalist to fall was the New York Borros, a pun on the city’s boroughs; the team worried that opposing fans would make the Borros-burros connection and derisively call the squad the jackasses.

16. Portland Pioneers

In 1970, Portland was granted an NBA expansion franchise and team officials announced a name-the-team contest. Of the more than 10,000 entries, Pioneers was the most popular, but was ruled out because nearby Lewis & Clark College was already using the nickname. Another popular entry was Trail Blazers, whose logo is supposed to represent five players on one team playing against five players from another team.

17. Minnesota Blizzard

The ownership group for Minnesota's NBA prospective franchise chose Timberwolves through a name-the-team contest in 1986. The nickname beat out Polars by a 2-1 margin in the final vote.

18. Atlanta Peaches

Shortly after insurance executive Rankin Smith brought professional football to Atlanta, a local radio station sponsored a contest to name the team. Suggestions included Peaches, Vibrants, Lancers, Confederates, Firebirds, and Thrashers. While several fans submitted the nickname Falcons, schoolteacher Julia Elliott of nearby Griffin was declared the winner of the contest for showing her work. “The falcon is proud and dignified, with great courage and fight,” Elliott wrote. “It never drops its prey. It is deadly and has great sporting tradition.”

19. Miami Beaches

In October 1986, the owners of Miami's expansion NBA franchise selected Stephanie Freed's Heat submission from more than 20,000 entries, which also included Sharks, Tornadoes, Beaches, and Barracudas.

20. Seattle Lumberjacks

There were 1,700 unique names submitted for a name-the-team contest for Seattle's NFL franchise in 1975, including Skippers, Pioneers, Lumberjacks, and Seagulls.

21. Charlotte Flight

The three finalists in the name-the-team contest for Charlotte's 2004 expansion franchise were Bobcats, Dragons, and Flight. Owner Bob Johnson was fond of BOBcats, but some of the league's players were less than impressed. "It sounds like a girls' softball team to me," Steve Kerr told reporters. "I guess it shows there aren't many good nicknames left to be had." Perhaps Kerr was right. Bobcats became the Charlotte Hornets in 2014, reuniting the city with its previous NBA franchise's original nickname.

22. Jacksonville Stingrays

The Jaguars nickname was selected through a fan contest in 1991, two years before the city was officially awarded an NFL expansion team. Other names considered included the Sharks and Stingrays. While Jaguars aren’t native to Jacksonville, the oldest living jaguar in North America was housed in the Jacksonville Zoo.

23. Cleveland Presidents

Fans voted Cavaliers the team nickname in 1970 in a poll conducted by the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. The other finalists included Jays, Foresters, Towers, and Presidents, an allusion to the fact that seven former U.S. Presidents were born in Ohio.

24. Charlotte Spirit

Most NBA fans know that the New Orleans Pelicans (formerly Hornets) originated in Charlotte. Fewer people know that the Hornets were originally going to be called the Spirit. When George Shinn announced that Spirit would be the nickname of Charlotte's prospective expansion franchise in 1987, the fans voiced their displeasure.

Shinn decided to sponsor another name-the-team contest that had fans vote on six finalists. Hornets won by a landslide, beating out Knights, Cougars, Spirit, Crowns, and Stars.

25. Boston Unicorns

Yep. Owner Walter Brown personally chose Celtics over Whirlwinds, Olympians, and Unicorns (yes, Unicorns) as the nickname for Boston's Basketball Association of America team in 1946. Despite the warnings of one of his publicity staffers, who told Brown, "No team with an Irish name has ever won a damned thing in Boston," Brown liked the winning tradition of the nickname; the New York Celtics were a successful franchise during the 1920s.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images. This post originally appeared in 2013.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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