Blue About These Jackets

Fig. A: Typical Jackets Crowd

Fig. A: Typical Jackets Crowd

The colors sported by Columbus’ only major league sports team – well, unless you count the Crew, that is, which I guess we should – weren’t always union blue, goal red (must be a new crayon, as I’ve never heard of this shade) and silver. We did have a navy, lime and crimson phase for quite some time prior to that. And as originally drawn up, the decision makers having not yet stumbled upon any sort of neon green, these Blue Jackets were to actually feature yellow instead, believe it or not. A true Buckeye fan could then be heard howling about this a mile away from that first press release, not that they’d have to look very far to find a detractor: so okay, geniuses, what you’ve done is given them Michigan Wolverine outfits, with a tiny splash of red.

This would be but the first of many missteps bringing this franchise to life. I like the Blue Jackets name, it has grown on me and stands out in an era when it’s increasingly difficult to come up with new sports monikers. But though they are now claiming this was always officially tied in from the outset with a Civil War theme, this isn’t my recollection of how that came about at all. I remember newspaper articles where team officials were being asked point blank what a Blue Jacket was, anyway, and the best anyone could come up with was that maybe it had something to do with…labor unions…and Columbus being a blue collar town…and stuff like that…you know. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that they launch with Stinger as a mascot, a bumblebee, so they can hedge their bets a little with the whole yellow jacket connection. And actually this is probably how yellow almost made it into the color scheme to begin with.

In reality, as sponsored by Wendy’s, the team held a franchise naming contest, and Blue Jackets was chosen as one of the finalists. I’m not aware it’s ever been publicly established who submitted that entry, and why. One of the local rags, either The Other Paper or Alive, conducted their own poll, during which the Mad Cows emerged as a fan favorite. I too thought this a pretty sweet idea, possibly even shortened to just the Cows, or not – Anaheim still went by the Mighty Ducks, so Mad Cows wasn’t too far out of line, and of course well into the early 2000s, a lot of people still referred to Columbus as Cow Town. But out of some 14,000 entries, a handful were chosen as finalists by more serious minded officials, and there was a period where these were bandied about, with endless conjecture as to which they would choose. If they decided among themselves that there was “definitely” a Civil War connection to the name, either before or after they made the announcement that they were running with Blue Jackets, then it sure seems like somebody would have been talking about this.

But no matter. More serious issues loomed ahead, and they’d already conquered so much just in getting approved for an NHL expansion squad. Though on the short list in late 1996 for possibly landing a team, and scheduling a referendum in May of ’97 to publicly finance a new stadium for this theoretical squad, league commissioner Gary Bettman visited Columbus and wasn’t exactly convinced. Issue #1, as it’s called, and its .5 percent sales tax hike, will apparently half to pass in order to seal this deal.

Lobbyists peddle this arena with a fervent belief that erecting such will land us a  franchise, enlisting mayor Greg Lashutka and even OSU president Gorden Gee to pander for support. But intent as our elected delegates are upon nabbing an NHL team, I get the feeling, whether shot down or passed, the whole charade is chiefly undergone to convince hockey officials we’re a major league city. That an adequate number of trash can lids are banged together, creating a large enough ruckus, that prominent local businessmen, that members of our executive and legislative branches sufficiently care. And thus the referendum was not absolutely essential per se.

Issue #1 fails anyway, which spares us the half percent sales tax hike. Neither I nor anyone else in my acquaintance can comment much more than halfheartedly, however, for while taxpayers all, none of us voted. And whatever the case, only a handful more than that care one way or the other. Call us irresponsible citizens, but the interest just isn’t there, a representative sampling, I’m sure, of the general malaise. Perhaps, assuming they considered public opinion at all, city officials equated our avoidance of the ballot box to granting them a free pass, as if shrugging our shoulders and saying, “eh, sure, do whatever.” Mostly, I attribute this inattention to stubborn mobility. I have yet to confirm one soul among us who was actually born in Columbus, and the number apt to reside here five years from now I gauge about the same.

Within a few weeks of the referendum being shot down, Nationwide Insurance enters the breach. They and the Dispatch Media Group eventually announce a plan to partner in financing this new stadium. Four thousand hockey enthusiasts show up for a street party downtown, celebrating where construction will soon begin. Four thousand kind of sounds like a decent amount, except you have to consider that if they only drew this many in attendance per night, the team would be bankrupt in a year. And while, yes, a street party is not a hockey game, and therefore you can only infer so much, I am certain that a similar announcement in, say, Cleveland, would have created complete pandemonium in the streets. Or even anything related to Buckeye sports whatsoever. Yet as expected, the NHL confirms that they will now approve the Columbus franchise.

Fast forward about a dozen years. The Blue Jackets are complaining they are losing money under the current stadium deal, and seek to get out from under this burden. Mayor Michael Coleman is hinting around in the papers that the city might have to buy the stadium, and it is eventually acquired by the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority. You could argue they made the steal of century as far as the purchase price is concerned – $42.5 million, where it cost about four times as much to build – but I can’t fathom high fiving them right now regarding that, as my blood is boiling when I read about the stadium’s tremendous tax breaks. Shortly after acquiring the arena, the convention authority was able to move from its existing tax abatement plan into the current one where they’re now paying no property taxes at all.

One other issue you run into when plopping a new franchise down is that folks don’t necessarily chuck aside their old favorites. The Red Wings and Penguins are popular teams to begin with, and all the more so in Columbus, which is situated only a few hours away from both. I had been a Detroit fan for years before Stinger and friends swarmed the scene, and the only thing their invasion accomplished on that front was for me to sort of wish they were somewhat successful…so long as they didn’t compromise any Red Wings triumphs. As such, the most exciting personnel development has been when they picked up Motor City legend Sergei Federov for a few years there. Otherwise, I will admit to being a Luke Richardson fan, mainly because the former team captain was a frequent shopper of the Wild Oats on Lane Avenue, where I worked. He had this look about him to where you expected he would be somewhat of a tool at first, but he was in fact a really nice guy.

As far as on the field play is concerned, they got out of the gates in that inaugural year of 2000 and posted a better record than anyone could have expected. However, they seemed to take a step backwards from there. The 2016-17 season marks their highwater mark to date, with a 3rd place finish and 50 wins, but so far they’ve never won their division, obviously, and they’ve only made the playoffs three times, only advanced past the first round once. But Erin and I did attend one game, one game so far in seventeen years of play, so I guess that means I’m not permitted to complain about any aspect of team or stadium conduct.

Another Epic Blue Jackets Contest

Another Epic Blue Jackets Contest

This is what its proponents would claim, anyway. But I’m not convinced. Our one game attended was pretty laughable – and actually, I can’t even recall who won – because it was pretty obvious that the miserable Columbus team and equally horrific Atlanta team were quite aware they both sucked, and figured they might as well start as many brawls as possible rather than worry about winning this stupid game. It’s an interesting concept. I wonder what might happen if they allowed a handful of vociferous locals to suit up with sticks, against those who’ve been responsible for this debacle through the ages, and set them loose on the ice.

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