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Naylor: Can't debate Winnipeg's love for the Jets name

Dave Naylor
5/19/2011 12:40:53 PM
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What's in a name?

A lot, apparently, given the way hockey fans are debating whether a possible return of NHL hockey to Winnipeg should mean reconnecting with the name Jets.

While NHL commissioner Gary Bettman surely shudders at such premature conversations, fans were already weighing-in before Dave Hodge's segment during Monday night's Lightning-Bruins telecast netted 1,800 responses on this subject.

The overwhelming majority of those suggested that a new Winnipeg team should be the Jets, a choice we assume would mean bringing back the old uniforms and colours as well.

Which suggests that part of this exercise for Winnipeggers is about getting back what rightly belongs to them. And that re-claiming the name Jets would be a little like re-inserting the missing piece to a city that has had a hole in it since 1996.

It also suggests something more personal, that the emotional ties to the old Jets remain very much alive.

That should come as no surprise since memories of sporting events that involve a home team tend to remain much more vivid and last much longer than most other life experiences.

Because we experience them with such passion, because we have such an emotional investment, we can overcome the passage of time and recall how a particular moment felt. And as we move through life, a home team becomes a way to reconnect to the past, to recall feelings, times and places we might otherwise have forgotten.

Sometimes it takes just the sight of a crest or a logo, the sound of a team name spoken out loud, to bring it all flooding back, to awaken feelings that otherwise would have dissipated over time.

Think of baseball fans in Brooklyn who still can't face the idea that the Dodgers are in Los Angeles. Or how about football fans in Baltimore who once so badly wanted to relive memories of cheering for a team named Colts that they rallied around a team in a three-down league most of them knew nothing about, just because of how it made them feel to sit at a game and yell C-O-L-T-S!

Along the same lines, when Baltimore did eventually get an NFL team back, by way of Cleveland in 1995, the NFL made the Browns leave the name behind.

The old Browns, not unlike the Winnipeg Jets, had experienced mostly disappointment though the years. But fans in Cleveland had no interest in rooting for a team with any other name. They just wanted their Browns back, which they got in 1999.

There are, however, plenty of examples of cities rejoining professional sports leagues under new team names, usually because the old one is being used in another city.

The Baltimore Ravens, Minnesota Wild, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Hornets, Kansas City Royals and Charlotte Bobcats are examples in which cities that had no choice but to adopt new names.

In other instances - Washington Nationals, Houston Texans and Ottawa Renegades - teams simply opted to go in a new direction.

Based on that sampling, it would seem that if you can win a championship, like the Ravens and Royals did, no one is going to miss a former name all that much.

Which must be tempting for the would-be owners in Winnipeg, who may be reluctant to reconnect with the history of a team that mostly struggled for respect and success during its 17 NHL seasons from 1980 to 1996.

The Jets finished above. 500 in just five of 17 seasons, won exactly two playoff rounds and none during their final nine years before departing for Phoenix. By the end of their time in the Manitoba capital, they were The Little Team That Couldn't.

From an owners' perspective, it would be tempting to let mediocrity lie in peace with the Jets.

That's believed to be the way the prospective owners are leaning and no doubt they've come up with some decent possibilities for a new name as well.

But they'll have to measure their desire to break with the past, against the desire of fans to reconnect with it.

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