I had an interesting exchange this morning with Karina of Frivolous Ornamentation, a blogger with whom I agree far more often than not. Today, though, she was on the other side of a fence I didn’t even realize was there.
The subject at hand was a report that the new Winnipeg team would again be called the Jets. To me, this was a no-brainer. That name means more to the community than any other name possibly could at this point. When the announcement was made that a team was coming back, the word was greeted by a sea of Jets sweaters and associated paraphenalia. The public has always wanted their team back, and their team was the Jets.
Karina’s response was basically along the lines of “Why on earth would they go there?” I can’t express the argument fully without doing some damage to it, but it’s my blog, so I’ll paraphrase as I will. Effectively, this is a variation of naming your new dog the same as your beloved old dog. Aside from being kind of creepy, this new thing simply isn’t the same as the old thing. Had the Coyotes returned from Phoenix to Winnipeg, it would have been completely legit to give them their old name again. But this isn’t the Jets coming home. It’s the Thrashers relocating from Atlanta. The old Jets still exist, and they exist in Phoenix.
What complicates it a bit further is that Phoenix did something kind of unusual when they got the Jets – they imported the Jets history as well. Oftentimes, a team that relocates immediately rebrands. They get a new name, a new uniform, a new start and effectively a new history. They are expansion teams with better rosters. Phoenix, on the other hand, went out of its way to preserve a Jets legacy. The retired Jets numbers are still retired in Phoenix. The “white out,” a Jets playoff “thing” if not tradition, is still practiced in the desert by Coyotes fans.
So in essence, if Phoenix is still the Jets, both historically and “spiritually,” for lack of a better term, what are the new Jets, with their history from Atlanta? Can the new Jets re-retire the number of Bobby Hull, even though he never played for this franchise and all his records technically belong in Phoenix? Should the new Jets acknowledge the years of service of Ilya Kovalchuk, a Thrasher forever, but whose next game in Winnipeg will be his first? What of the white out?
(It’s like in baseball – who gets to claim Walter Johnson? The city of Washington or the Minnesota Twins?)
I don’t know if the respective fanbases themselves care about it significantly. If Hull, Hawerchuk and Steen have their numbers retired in two cities, I don’t see Phoenix and Winnipeg fans coming to blows over it. Winnipeg is mainly happy to be back in the game and Phoenix hopes to stay part of it.
At the end of the day, I reconcile it this way – the city of Winnipeg and the franchise that once was the Jets both have a history and a set of traditions, and these have a number of intersection points. The new Jets draw from the traditions of Winnipeg, the Coyotes from the history of the 25 or so years the franchise played prior to its move. Both lay claim to some of the same events, one from the perspective of where they happened, the other from the team that played the games in which they happened.
They’re effectively a divorced couple, both remarried, that have joint custody of a shared set of memories. Hopefully they can find a way to share them constructively so that the memories don’t get all screwed up in the process.