Ahh... the beautiful innocence of youth. Of course, what he meant was what, physically speaking, is a "Packer." A perfectly reasonable question, but an answer that requires more than a little explanation. For a four-year-old, the team names that make most sense are animals. They know what a Lion or Bear is. As I pondered his question, it struck me that simply naming your NFL team after some fierce animal (e.g. Bengals, Jaguars, Panthers) or, worse, not-so-fierce animal (Dolphins, Rams) was a cop-out. Animals are what you go with when you can't think of a better mascot. Horses (Colts and Broncos) and, for some perplexing reason, birds (Cardinals, Ravens, Falcons, Eagles, Seahawks) are other species in the animal kingdom that somehow portray, at least in the mind of the namers, toughness, speed or determination. I think they reflect a lack of creativity.
Trying to emulate the Raiders look when the team entered the league in 1976, the Buccaneers' marketing execs were slightly off the mark initially -- not only in their unfortunate choice of tangerine as the primary team color, but also in the off-putting eye wink of their original mascot (top). After convening a focus group at Disneyland, the front office came up with their current Pirates of the Caribbean emblem (middle), but they recently decided to abandon that look too because players were being asked where the "It's a Small World After All" ride was. So, unveiled for the first time here at TriggPack is the new Buccaneers logo (bottom) which they will be sporting in the 2011 season.
During a press conference previewing the new logo, team president Malcolm Glazer stated, "We're tired of being out-marauded by Raiders fans. This new mascot will give meatheads across the state of Florida something they can dress up like on Sunday and feel cool about themselves until they pass out in a pool of their own vomit."
Close cousins of the marauder genre is the time-honored exploitation of Native Americans, with the Chiefs and Redskins. Let's just say I'd feel a tad awkward wandering into the Oneida Casino up the road from Lambeau Field sporting a Redskins jersey. Fortunately our game against them this year is away. Maybe Washington could take a cue from the Buccaneers and revamp their mascot to something a little more contemporary that doesn't look like an artist's rendition of the Trail of Tears. Leave it to D.C. to be politically incorrect.
Occupations have also been a popular inspiration for NFL teams. The Steelers (blue collar heroes), Patriots (who doesn't want to fight for their country?), Cowboys (tamed the West), 49ers (opportunistic gold-diggers), and Saints (forgive me, Father) were all named after venerable professions. And, finally, there are the out-dated and just non-sensical names, including the Bills (what the hell is a "Bill" anyway?), Jets (probably sounded cool when airplane flight was a novel concept), Browns (fortunately for Cleveland fans, Paul Brown's surname wasn't Steamer), Chargers (isn't a lightening bolt a dis-charge?), and Texans (your state really isn't that cool -- we could have been the Green Bay Wisconsinites).
Which brings me back to the Packers. Fortunately, for the purposes of answering my son's question, I am in the midst of reading a mostly interesting (though at times tiresome) book called The Packer Legend: An Inside Look by John Torinus, who worked for George Calhoun -- the sports editor for the Green Bay Press-Gazette who collaborated with Curly Lambeau to found the team, served as its original manager, and was an ardent publicist for years.
The name Packers, though technically referring to some dude stuffing animal meat into a can, stuck, and over the years lost its connection to its long defunct sponsor and took on the deeper emotional significance every fan feels. The word Packer doesn't refer to something else. It has no significance outside of the context Green Bay has given it. And that is why it is a perfect mascot.
So there you go, son. That is a Packer.