- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2006

I’m upset. I was expecting a pain-free life. Here’s my problem. There’s a basketball team that has the nerve to call itself the Philadelphia 76ers, which is highly offensive to those of us born on the other side of the pond and raised on Monty Python.

After all, the British used to run Philadelphia and most of the acreage around it, until some guy called George Washington, with a little help from the French, sent the Redcoats packing. That date — 1776 — bitterly reminds me of the beginning of the end for us proud Brits. Why can’t people just be more sensitive? And by the way, whom can I complain to?

I bring up this residue of resentment because the recently christened Houston 1836 of the MLS are under pressure to change their name. According to the Houston Chronicle the team plans to do so as early as next week

It seems the 1836 nickname offends many people in Houston’s Mexican-American community. The name conjures up a couple of big Mexican defeats off the soccer field. I feel their pain.

Apparently, 1836 was a big year for Texans. The city of Houston was founded in 1836; the Battle of the Alamo was fought, and Gen. Sam Houston defeated Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s Mexican army at the famous Battle of San Jacinto, which brought about Texas independence from Mexico. I lived in Houston once and know how proud those Texans are. Gee, I even wore a cowboy hat with an armadillo pin on it, just to fit in, but the accent gave me away.

“The name Houston 1836 … will remind fans that this team represents their city,” gushed team president Oliver Luck when the nickname and logo were unveiled last month. “From this day forward, the Houston 1836 will be a symbol of a hardworking team that reflects the pride, loyalty, heritage, bravery … and the wildcatter go-get-‘em attitude of Houstonians and all of Texas.”

Stirring words, but not everyone agreed with Luck, a former NFL quarterback with the Houston Oilers. As Michael Palin once said: “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

Complaints flooded in. Some said the nickname was anti-immigrant, others said it was a slap in the face to Hispanics. The revisionist historians, local politicians and sensitivity police all got in line to air their grievances. Is this a great country, or what?

Actually, the nickname was democratically chosen from a “Name the Team Sweepstakes” online poll. The unusual name is inspired by a soccer tradition in Europe where clubs — such as Hannover 96, FC Schalke 04 and TSV 1860 Munich — are named after the date the team was founded. The Houston team’s logo includes a star, a ball and a silhouette of Gen. Houston on a horse. The city got the soccer team this year after the San Jose Earthquakes relocated.

Not all Texans of Mexican descent dislike the name. Many Mexicans back in 1836 hated Gen. Santa Anna, who was viewed as a nasty dictator. Details, details.

The MLS now finds itself in damage-control mode.

Said an MLS spokesman to FoxSports.com: “At no time did we want to offend people with the choice of the name — soccer unites the world.”

Sure soccer unites people, just visit an “Old Firm” game in Glasgow and see how those Rangers and Celtic fans truly love each other. Or, for that matter, ask a D.C. United fan what he thinks of the MetroStars.

Best of all, ask those American players who went up against Mexico in the 1998 Gold Cup before a mostly pro-Mexican crowd of 91,255 at Los Angeles Coliseum. The U.S. team faced an avalanche of water bottles and cups filled with beer and other unmentionable liquids. As the “Stars and Stripes” played, fans booed and whistled. What do you expect? Soccer is a passionate sport and you are expected to show passion, eh … except of course if you are a proud Texan.

The Houston club is now thinking of changing the name to the Lone Stars.

Now about those Philadelphia 76ers, is anybody listening? No offense, but can’t we just change the name to the Philadelphia Cheesesteaks? Just joking.

In good company — So who does U.S. coach Bruce Arena admire? Spanish coach Rafael Benitez, who manages Liverpool, and Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho of Chelsea.

“I think there are a lot of interesting things about them,” Arena said. “One, we weren’t very good soccer players and we started thinking about coaching soccer earlier. Two, we are all university educated and therefore I think we have the ability to look at other methods and use them in coaching. I think some of the things Mourinho does I’ve been doing for years with my team … I think Benitez also at one point coached high school basketball in Madrid … the same thing I did with basketball and lacrosse.”

Resignation — After 22 years of coaching the Georgetown men’s team, Keith Tabatznik, 47, has resigned.


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