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Lessons I Learned From Naming The Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim

When I was ten years old, my third-grade classmates and I voted to officially name the new NHL expansion team the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Here’s what I learned.

Lessons I Learned From Naming The Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim

Estimated Reading Time: 10 Minutes

It’s a weird time right now.

Remember the last live sporting event you attended, the last movie you saw, or even the last time you stepped on stage? Remember how that made you feel? The feeling of being together, smelling the concessions, feeling the energy — it’s ineffaceable. Gathering en masse is human nature and no one can take those feelings from you. Hell, even if the game sucked or the show was bad, you probably remember it a little more fondly right now than you did before. Nostalgia is funny that way, isn’t it?

With that, I feel that it’s important to tell you this:

When I was ten years old, my third-grade classmates and I voted to officially name the new NHL expansion team “The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

Now, listen, as I age more and more into my thirties, I tend to forget things.

Sometimes I forget important things — like where I put the tax folder with all of my wife and my W2’s in it (yikes…). More often than not, though, it’s the less significant — yet nonetheless equally aggravating — “little things” I’m fortunate and privileged enough to be able to forget about without too much trouble. Forgetting the oat milk (again), not remembering that we were supposed to attend a friend’s baby shower, or my unrelenting ability to not hang up my wet towel — things like that.

Major memories though, they’re different. Sure, I often remember details differently than my wife or my friends. I imagine that’s the case for most people. The seemingly superficially inconsequential facts that play into the perspective of a memory like ‘who was at what party’, ‘the color of someone’s hair’, or ‘on what show I met an old acquaintance’ can change and fade over time.

But, on that, there are certain personal details — often tied to my life’s passions of sports and theatre — that I seemingly couldn’t forget if I tried.

Things Remembered

Like, I’ll never not remember: sitting on the edge of my crumby college futon with my best friend, watching Phil “Lefty” Mickelson sink an unreal 18-foot birdie putt on a painting worthy twilight-lit Augusta National Golf Club to take home not only his first Green Jacket, but his first major in a then-13 year career. 

I’ll never be able to forget what it felt like to actually walk out on the stage of my hometown theatre. To enter in costume and microphone in front of thousands of people, my family included, inside the same building I’d sat countless times, yet this time, on the hot side of the footlights.

I’ll never not be able to, in self-indulgently poetical prose, tell you every moment of watching Bret Favre, as a New York Jet, craft a magnificent and career-high six-touchdown game from most amazing (and FREE) 50-yard line seats on a warm late-September afternoon at the Old Meadowlands.

Moments like these — especially the positive ones — are etched not just into the cerebral cortexes of our brains but into the deepest trenches of our souls. They are simply, unforgettable.

And, you know what else I remember, clear as crystal?

Sitting in the back of Ms. Wilson’s third-grade classroom in 1992 and being asked to help name the brand new Disney-owned NHL expansion team coming to town.

It’s true. That’s the way I remember it anyway. Me, my classmates, and the entire county were asked by the local newspaper to be the deciding factor in the name of the hockey team that would, ultimately, become the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

The Background

Let me give you some personal context.

It was the late autumn of 1992. Emilio Estevez’ brilliant portrayal of the gruff-turned-grand Gordon Bombay in the first film of the Mighty Ducks trilogy had taught me (and almost every other kid in the nation) more about redemption, trust, and the odd ironies of Midwestern states — and their legal systems — than anything we’d seen since his brother Charlie did in Major League.

I was the most awkward ten-year-old kid at Chapman Hills Elementary. Sure, in-line skate street hockey, three flies up, and home run derby were all played on the regular, and while I wasn’t completely terrible, I was definitely the kid more likely to be named referee or play-by-play announcer than on any starting line-up. And, I was cool with that. I grew up with a healthy love of competitive sports and performance.

So when word started coming down the pipeline that the NHL could be partnering with Disney to option and foster an expansion team and bring it to Anaheim, it was a big deal.

And, at some point between the decision to bring in a hockey team and the official announcement, Ms. Wilson, my third-grade teacher, made an even bigger announcement. She told us that as a class we were going to submit our vote for the team’s name.

The Vote

Truth be told, everyone already knew what the answer was. Though there were countless possible choices, only one mattered. The right answer. The Mighty Ducks.

According to an Orange County Register retrospective on the Ducks founding, there were some folks, though — most likely not ten-year-olds — who submitted votes that were, um, questionable.

Can you imagine if The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim had become the “California Shakes”, the “Orange County Bigfoot”, the “Anaheim Asterisks” or even — ugh — “Mice On Ice”?

Even though I now, with adult hindsight, can openly acknowledge the fact that “The Mighty Ducks” might have made hockey fans who weren’t preteens at the time cringe, I still think the name that came to be was the right one.

Granted, the idea of a hockey team itself was exciting, but it was more the opportunity to provide my opinion to a professional sports franchise on something that mattered greatly that was invigorating to me. From my juvenile perspective, it felt like I was on the GM staff of the new team. It was the first time, in what I now know was a privileged and lucky childhood, where I would be asked to raise my hand to vote for something bigger than myself. As silly as it sounds, it was a chance, to stand and be counted and be apart of a collective voice making a definitive and consequential choice for a pro franchise. This team’s future — its merchandise, its logo, its mascot, its potential legacy, was all up to me… well, us.

The Problem

Even though I hadn’t verbalized my memory in years, I’d always assumed others my age reminisced about this event from time to time. So, when I happened to pleasantly think back on it recently during this quaran-time, I decided to take a look into the history of my memory.

Surprisingly though, there wasn’t much to find. Aside from the previously quoted OC Register article, there is in fact, very little.

Thinking I’d take to Google to find hundreds of stories about the kids of Orange County, California being charged with naming the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, I instead found practically nothing.

There are also no ESPN look-back documentaries detailing this particular history of the ducks, no other secret reports — that I could find at least — hidden in the library stacks of the internet, there isn’t even a mention of such a happening on the Duck’s multiple Wikipedia pages.

The only story that kept rearing its head was one reported by multiple major outlets detailing the day in December of 1992 when then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner — embarrassingly — addressed the other NHL franchise owners in Palm Beach, Florida.

“Our company has been involved with hockey,” Eisner, clad in a hockey jersey and “Coach Goofy” hat reportedly said in part. “We made a movie called The Mighty Ducks. It did $50 million box office. That was our market research.”

I’m sorry, what?

Market research?

I dug deeper.

I asked my parents. They had no recollection of my version of the event at all, just a vague memory of the team coming to town.

And, since I’ve lost touch with almost everyone with whom I went to elementary school, that was a dead-end, too.

I even thought of trying to seek out Ms. Wilson — my third-grade teacher — on the internet. I’d find her, and ask her directly.

No dice. First of all, I’m sad to say, it dawned on me right then that her first name was probably, in fact, not “Ms.”, and that I had no idea what her first name actually was. And, secondly, even if I did manage to find her, why would I naively think she’d remember me from one class she taught three decades ago?

All that aside though, what really befuddled me was the way I remembered it. I saw this moment as something so impactful, so elaborate in my mind’s eye. But, for almost everyone else, it was just a passing moment.

Why? Why was I the only one who remembered this so specifically?

I Fell For The Ploy

Well, frankly, because I fell for it. I fell right into the hands of their marketing ploy. 

Most people saw it for what it actually was — a strategy to drum up sales to meet season ticket minimums — while my ten-year-old self was pulling up a seat at the Board Of Director’s table in my mind. I somehow missed that all the details had been already handled, that everything had been signed and dated way in advance of a single cent of the 50 million dollar expansion fee ever being paid, and certainly well before it was ever decided that any of us would “vote” on the name.

Practically, every kid in Orange County — in American — had seen the film, and they knew that. They were banking on it.

I mean, Eisner said it himself. We were his “market research”.

So, I guess, memory-be-damned, right?

Not quite. I’ll admit, this piece was originally just supposed to be about how The Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim got their name, but it turned into so much more. This whole mind mining expedition turned into a lesson.

In the end, I realized I had learned something about memory.

Memory itself is so much more than the sum of its parts. The perspective of a personal memory is what seems to matter more than anything.

And maybe, in this case, my memory doesn’t need any archival legitimacy or even a foundation based in honest business practices for it to be worthwhile. Maybe its beautiful existence — the way I remember it within my mind — is all that matters. My perspective is the only thing of consequence.

All In All

Maybe, just maybe, the lore of sports, like good theatre, is about the way one remembers a memory. Those distinctive details, unique only to the beholder, are what play into the delightful nostalgia of an event.

You might be able to go back and rewatch a particularly personal moment in sports or notable Tony performance — and that’s fun to do — but no one can tell you how it makes you feel when you look back only in your mind. Facts are facts, but feelings and memories are personal.

Remembering the in-the-park home run I hit as little-leaguer, for instance, is a glorious reminiscence. It’s a recollection filled with cheers that echoed louder than Fenway in 2004, a slide into the plate as a cloud of auburn tan baseball diamond dirt floated too slowly to the ground, while a crowd — already on its feet — eagerly leaned in desperately awaiting the call, and the booming “safe!” that finally made it so.

But, if you pull a VHS out of my parents’ garage, you’re going to get another story. Instead of a dreamy and fluidly executed baseball sequence, you’re more likely to see a bean-pole kid running on baby giraffe legs nearly tripping over second base. A kid with glasses elastic strapped to his oversized helmet crowned head unawarely avoiding three other error-prone kids chaotically missing every throw and catch they attempted to make.

It Gets Better

I guess what I mean to say here is that, even though we can’t experience the togetherness of spectator sports or theatrical gatherings in real-life right now, we can and should take time to retrospectively venture back in our mind’s eye.

Nostalgia is a tasty treat that can do a whole lot to hold us through until we can make new memories together again.

So… yeah, as I age more and more into my thirties, I do tend to forget things. 

But, forget as I do, I’ll always keep my perspective. And my perspective tells me that human nature trumps all, reminiscence is delicious, and while we’re waiting to gather safely again, the movies in our mind are worth a watch.

Listen, just because I’m more of a Dodgers-era Piazza guy than a Mets-era Piazza guy doesn’t mean I don’t love the New York Metropolitans with all my heart — it’s just, there’s something about growing up playing catcher for the early-90’s Southern California South Sunrise Little League triple-A Dodgers that has a lasting effect on a man.

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