Today, two worlds collide.
My work in the gambling industry (including many posts on Gaming Today) rarely intersects with my work in the world of sci-fi and fantasy.
But during a recent outing (aka getting a haircut), I was watching ESPN and I noticed a stark lack of fantasy creatures among the many team mascots scattered across the sports world. Cue the proverbial light bulb above my freshly snipped locks; “We need more fantasy creatures in sports,” I thought to myself.
Why, in a world so full of whimsical ideas, do franchises lean on reality? Sports are anything but grounded. These are the best athletes performing at the top echelon. And yet, they have ho-hum names like the White Sox. Or the Red Sox. Lots of sox.
Animal names are by far the most common among professional teams, while other franchises have rebranded from offensive and harmful moniker-mascot pairings to more nebulous concepts like the Commanders (I personally preferred Washington Football Team) or the Guardians.
In some cases, team names and mascots pay homage to the cities they call home. The Philadelphia Eagles spring to mind. A crucial city to the nascent United States would of course look to the country’s official animal for a name and logo. But more often than not, team names are silly pairings that make little sense with even a modicum of logic applied. I live in Chicago and I love the Bears. I’ve never seen one outside of either of the Windy City’s two zoos.
The Case for Fantasy Mascots
Frankly, we’re dealing with heaps of missed opportunity. Fantasy creatures are an untapped well of virtually unlimited potential, so long as you don’t start playing with copyright issues. Fact is, most of the well-known fantasy beasts are in the public domain, so as long as you’re not naming your team “The Smaugs,” you should be in the clear.
Conceptually, fantasy creatures serve to intimidate on a level names like “Orioles” or “Nuggets” simply cannot. Denver, come on! The gold rush is old hat; we’ve got digital money now. “Dragons” was right there. Dragons are even known to live in or near mountains in fantasy worlds! Plus, make it a snowy ice Dragon to capitalize on the Colorado flair. And the alliteration! It’s a no-brainer.
Think of the artistic potential, too. When you name your team “the Hornets” (admittedly a pretty intimidating creature, especially if you’re talking about the ones with mind control powers), you limit yourself to a relatively accurate depiction of the animal in question. I’ll concede that many, if not most, team logos are really cool stylized depictions of their mascots. However, fantasy creatures offer even more freedom in this regard. When your chosen mascot does not exist, the possibilities are literally endless.
Who Gets It (Kinda) Right?
We live in an age where the status quo is immensely hard to shake up, so I know how big an ask this is. Still, a few teams get it marginally right. Here are a few teams with mythical-ish mascots that show us the door is open. All we need to do is put more than a toe over the threshold.
New Jersey Devils
The Jersey Devil is one of those hotly debated creatures some people believe in, like Bigfoot or Nessie. Steeped in lore and local culture, the Jersey Devil is easy pickings for a team mascot, and the NJ NHL team was smart to cash in on the idea.
Orlando! You were so close. Close enough to give you a mention here. Magic is more a concept than a creature, but it works. Props to one of two NBA teams to think outside the box. Magic is a general, well-understood concept, so it’s palatable to the masses. I’d prefer more specificity, but credit where it’s due and all that.
Washington Wizards and Mystics
Nicely done, Washington D.C. (this is probably the only time you’ll see me write those words). Wizards are chock full of magical potential. They appear in all sorts of fantastic books and stories. And if a real Wizard showed up on the court, I’m sure he would kick any hornet’s ass.
The Washington WNBA team is called the Mystics. Equally cool if not more so, as far as I’m concerned.
Las Vegas Golden Knights
Bet on Vegas to break the mold. The Golden Knights are more a medieval reference than anything strictly fantasy. It’s a fantasy-adjacent mascot/team pairing, so it deserves a mention here.
It’s a stretch, but not too big a stretch. The pirate you imagine when hearing this name probably isn’t like the real pirates these days, also known as your one friend who illegally downloads terabytes of movies and TV shows. The swashbucklers of yore are so far removed from modern-day pirates that they earn a spot on the list.
Perfection. No notes.
C-minus. I learned while researching this piece that “Bruin” is a term for “bear,” but it shows up a lot in children’s fables, aka fantasy stories. Still, better than most.
Fantasy Mascots Ripe for the Taking
The list above may have been short, but the list of fantasy creatures ready to carry the weight of a team’s identity is long. Here, I’ve narrowed it down to five that would be ideal fits. I’ll throw in a few city suggestions for each one, too.
As far as I’m concerned, Dragons rule the roost. They’re the ultimate beasts, the biggest and baddest fantasy creatures. Yet they’re criminally underutilized. Credit to the NCAA’s Drexel Dragons for making good use of an amazing mascot.
I already suggested Denver above, and I stand by it. Sure, it replaces the historic “Nuggets” name. But Dragons sit on hoards of gold. It still pays homage to Colorado’s history, and it uses alliteration that lets the name roll off the tongue.
Detroit could use the name for similar reasons, though you lose the gold-related tie-in.
I think this one would be funny, mostly because it’d force a lot of men to reckon with their toxic masculinity. The next sentence contains only facts: unicorns are cool.
And I’ve got the perfect team to take the name. The Utah Jazz. The NBA squad’s name is a holdover from its New Orleans origins. Jazz fits a NOLA team, but Utah has never been a major hub for jazz music. Why not take advantage of the double “U” action and rebrand?
You know ‘em. You love ‘em. I have nothing but respect for the modern dreamboat vampires popularized by mid-2000s and 2010s media. But for our purposes here, I’m talking about the classic Transylvanian bloodsuckers.
I first gravitated to the Carolina Panthers as a possible option for Vampirization. After reading this unfortunate news about the actual species of Panther in the state, I’m torn. Do we cling to the past? Or do we trek toward the future? I suggest a bit of both. Change the team to the Carolina Vampires, but retain the iconic teeth from the existing logo as a nod to the team’s history.
Cut one head off, two more take its place. This creature of legend gives its name to a football club in Greece, and I think it’s time we see a stateside Hydra.
For this one I’m going with my favorite team’s fiercest rival, the Green Bay Packers. Why? Because the Packers are the only publicly-owned sports franchise in the country. What cooler way to acknowledge that feat than by making your mascot a multi-headed beast?
Sure, we’ve seen wolves. Chicago has an AHL team with the name, then there’s obviously the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The moon is the great equalizer, so any state could reasonably host this team. I’m switching things up and giving “Werewolves” to the single most boring team name I can find: the Cincinnati Reds. Here you go Reds, this one’s on me. You might even get lucky and win by default if a team forfeits during a full moon.