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Posted 2008 December 23

Blah blah blah silly nickname blah blah no being near Mount Rushmore doesn't make it any better blah blah blah only a letter for a logo blah blah blah oh why should I even put any effort into this review blah blah the team obviously didn't put any effort into the name or logo blah blah blah.

That's it. That's all I'm saying about the name or the logo. Seriously. I'm done with it. If logo reviews are all you care about, skip right to the end where I calculate the score. The rest of this "review" is actually going to be about Mount Rushmore, which actually involved some thought and effort, and which is also more interesting anyway.

You may have the idea that the motivation behind carving Mount Rushmore into four colossal presidential busts was some kind of patriotic fervor. You would be wrong. The idea was to promote tourism in South Dakota. This is understandable. Have you ever been to South Dakota? Take away Mount Rushmore and there is absolutely no reason to go there. I know this because I have never been there. And why haven't I ever been there? Because there's no reason to go there, of course. See? It makes perfect sense. And the people in South Dakota knew it, so one of them came up with the idea that maybe we would actually visit South Dakota if there was a humongous statue. It works, incidentally: Mount Rushmore gets roughly two million visitors a year, which is approximately 134% of the total number of tourists who visit South Dakota every year.

Okay, so the reason the thing was built was to bring money to South Dakota (which, on second thought, may be an example of "patriotic fervor" after all). The next question is, how did the idea to put those four presidents come to light? Well, the original historian who came up with the idea just wanted to carve some mountains (not Mount Rushmore...we'll get to that) into famous people. Which famous people hadn't been decided yet. The way I see it, it's a good thing this idea happened in the 1920s and not today. Today we'd wind up having carvings of Hollywood actors. Pretty soon the Tom Cruise statue would be causing earthquakes by jumping up and down on the world's biggest granite couch, and the statue of Salma Hayek would tip over and kill hundreds of tourists, most of them sexually-frustrated males. But this was the 1920s, and cooler heads prevailed. Rather than open this up to a poll, the historian decided to hire a highly patriotic American who had experience making huge carvings of people. The person he got was in fact so patriotic that he was a card-carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan. And he was experienced. He had just come off a project to carve three gigantic statues of Confederate leaders in the side of a mountain in Georgia, and was doing so well with it that he had been forced off that project. Clearly, this was the man for the job.

The Klansman decided that carvings of presidents would be a good idea. He also probably felt that he could do those fairly well, since he had experience in that realm as a result of having done a few statues of Lincoln.

No, I don't understand that one, either. But from experience I can tell you that this fascination with Lincoln was not unique to this Klansman. While on vacation in Kentucky earlier this year, I visited the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace. One of the other visitors was a young man with an "Imperial Klansmen of America" jacket and "IKA" tattooed on his neck. When I expressed my surprise to the ranger that such a person would feel the desire to visit the birthplace of the president who freed the slaves (I believe my exact words were, "What the hell is he doing here?!?"), the ranger informed me that a surprisingly large number of Klansmen visit. And she couldn't figure it out any better than I could. I suppose I could have asked him, but that would have involved talking to him.

In addition to suggesting that the statues be of presidents, the Klansman also suggested moving the site to Mount Rushmore, since the original site was so eroded that it wouldn't support the sculptures (meaning that Salma Hayek's statue really would tip over from the weight of her breasts).

So the sculptor approached Congress about getting permission to carve on Mount Rushmore, since the United States government was the legal owner of the mountain (I say "legal owner" because the government legally stole it from the Lakota in violation of the Treaty of Laramie). Congress approved, but president Calvin Coolidge wanted to put conditions on it. He insisted that the statue include George Washington, plus two Republican presidents and one Democratic president. Coolidge, you may recall, was a vice-president who became president following the death of Warren G. Harding. Harding is widely regarded by historians as the most corrupt and the worst president in United States history (yes, even worse than Nixon). So what the nation really needed after Harding was a president who would put the national interest ahead of the interest of himself and his cronies. Thus, it was obvious that the best thing for him to do was insist that Republicans outnumber Democrats on the statue. But don't knock it: he still ranks higher than his predecessor. And Nixon.

The "one Democrat and two Republicans" stipulation explains one thing I've always wondered about. I don't know about you, but Theodore Roosevelt always struck me as an odd choice. I'm not saying he was a bad president, but he doesn't even rate being put on money, for crying out loud. But finding out that the sculptor had to choose two Republicans explains it. At this point the Republican party was still fairly young, and aside from Lincoln the Republican presidents generally weren't anything to write home about, much less make into a permanent sculpture. I mean, was anyone likely to suggest putting Warren G. Harding up there? No. They also weren't likely to suggest putting Herbert Hoover up there, especially since he hadn't been president yet. In fact, if you look at the Republican presidents prior to 1925, it's pretty much a no-brainer that Lincoln and Roosevelt were the two to pick if you had to pick two. But you know who I feel sorry for? The Whigs. They didn't even have a chance to be on Mount Rushmore thanks to Coolidge. Shouldn't one of them been put on there? If nothing else, it would have reminded Americans who the Whigs were. Do you know which presidents were Whigs? I don't. Let me go check real quick.


Okay, so it turns out that the Whig presidents were William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Millard Fillmore. Respectively, their greatest accomplishments were being the first president to die in office, being the first vice-president to become president, being named Zachary, and having an obnoxious and unfunny comic strip character named after him. So the hell with the Whigs. Leave them off the damn mountain. We'll stick with Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. I personally think James Madison would have been a better pick than Teddy Roosevelt, but no one asked me. Besides, he was a Democrat.

The sculpture was supposed to be bigger, but they ran out of money. This is why you can see the upper portion of Washington's jacket, but Lincoln's face isn't quite finished. Originally the sculpture was supposed to go down to waist level. Plans also involved other components which would honor the Louisiana Purchase, the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and several other territorial acquisitions.

That being the case, I'm glad they ran out of money. Have you been to Washington, D.C. recently? When I lived there as a kid, there were three memorials on or near the Mall: the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial. The great thing about these is the simplicity. The Washington Monument is just a humongous obelisk. The Lincoln Memorial is basically a temple with a huge statue and two important speeches (the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's second inaugural speech). The Jefferson Memorial is basically a temple with a huge statue and six quotes.

Now, however, they've added several other monuments, and quite frankly they're all rather muddled and unfocused. First there's the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. "What?" I hear you say, "a simple granite wall with the names of the soldiers who died or went missing is muddled and unfocused?" No, it's not. But that's not the entire memorial. It was the first part, but apparently people found it too depressing, and war monuments are supposed to be cheery because war is such a happy thing. So they "improved" it by adding two more statues in a more traditional format. This is fine except for a couple of things. First, these statues aren't really that cheery, either. Second, no one ever thinks of these things when they think of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. They think of the Wall of Death.

Then there's the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Again, the main portion of the memorial (statues of soldiers on patrol) is fine. But then there's a granite wall with images from the war in it; another wall with a list of the countries involved in the conflict (on our side, of course); a pool whose surrounding wall lists the number of soldiers killed, wounded, etc.; another wall or two, and some bushes.

Along the Tidal Basin you've got the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Complex. Okay, "Complex" isn't part of the official name, but if you've seen it you know why I call it that. The FDR Memorial is divided into somewhere between four and six "chapters", detailing each of his terms, plus maybe one for before his first term, maybe one for his legacy...I'll be honest, I don't remember. That's how muddled it was. There were more statues than I can remember (three or four just of FDR himself, plus several of people waiting in soup lines, his dog and several other things I can't remember), quotes galore, and an artificial waterfall in each chapter. If the guy in charge of this thing had made the Lincoln Memorial, there'd be a marble statue of his damn log cabin sitting to the left of the chair, and a train circling the Reflecting Pool to represent the funeral train that carried his body around the country.

But the worst offender has got to be the World War II Memorial. All sense of restraint went out the window on this one. To give you an idea, here's a description of the memorial. There are two large semicircles, each consisting of 28 pillars (each pillar has the name of a state or U.S. territory on it), with a large arch (one saying "Atlantic" and the other "Pacific") in the middle of each semicircle. A pool sits between the two arches. To the west sits the Freedom Wall, where each of the 4,048 gold stars represents approximately one hundred American deaths in the war. There are bas-reliefs of soldiers, bas-reliefs of airmen, bas-reliefs of sailors, and bas-reliefs of ordinary Americans, including one of a family listening to the radio. Quotes regarding the war fill most of the remaining space -- quotes about D-Day, about WACs, about the Battle of Midway, quotes about building planes and tanks, quotes about heroism...

Enough! We get the point. There is so much minute symbolism (why, precisely, do we need each pillar to be named after a state?) that one quickly loses sight of the whole point. The point of the war was to defeat the Nazis. But you might get confused looking at this memorial, because one can not look at this architecture and not think that this was a monument that Adolf Hitler would have been proud of. It's all symbols and larger-than-life objects and pillars made of right-angles, and even the bas-reliefs fail to instill a sense of humanity into this thing. This is, in all honesty, the sort of thing Hitler would have found inspiring. I don't find it inspiring. I find the Iwo Jima statue in Arlington inspiring. I find the World War II Memorial appalling.

So the long and short of what I'm saying is that simpler memorials are more inspiring, more moving, and just plain better. And Mount Rushmore, despite being designed to be a mile-high history textbook, wound up being simple and inspiring because they ran out of money and couldn't afford to screw it up. So let's hear it for the Great Depression.

But now the government has money again, so they won't leave well enough alone. There are plans now for a "Hall of Records". Already they've added a chamber behind the carved faces with porcelain enamel panels that have text from the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Oh, and biographies of the four presidents. Oh, and a biography of the Klansman who designed the thing. Oh, and a history of...

Oh, and by the way: Oh, dear.

They should knock it off. I have no problem with a museum at the site, and you can put all of that in the museum. But leave the mountain alone. The sculpture may not have been completed, but it's finished. Don't add any more faces (you hear that sort of suggestion periodically), don't complete the sculptures that are there, and don't add any chambers with porcelain enamel panels. Leave it alone. Drop your hammer and chisel, put your hands in the air, and move away from the monument.

The original monument, incidentally, cost less than a million dollars. Even adjusted for inflation it comes out under $15 million. And do you know how many people died in its construction? Zero. That's right: four 60-foot high sculptures took 400 workers some fourteen years to carve (if you can use the word "carve" to refer to a process that involves dynamite), and there wasn't a single death involved in the project. There are miniature golf courses that can't make that claim. There may even be a few that can't claim they cost under $15 million to make. Like it or not, the construction of the statue at Mount Rushmore was an impressive feat.

And there are (of course) those who don't like it. Remember what I said a few paragraphs ago about the United States government having legally stolen the mountain from the Lakota? Well, it turns out that some Lakota aren't too crazy about that. In fact, they consider the mountain sacred and would like it back, thankyouverymuch. In response, a memorial to Crazy Horse is being built some eight miles away. When finished, it will be bigger than Mount Rushmore (the face, which has been completed, is almost half again as high as any of the Mount Rushmore faces). This has the support of the leaders of the Lakota nation, but many other Lakota are opposed to it. It turns out that Thunderhead Mountain (where this sculpture is being made) is sacred to the Lakota too, and they oppose the desecration of Thunderhead Mountain as much as they oppose the desecration of Mount Rushmore. I can see their side of it, but with all due respect, one begins to wonder if there are any hills in the area that aren't sacred to the Lakota. One also begins to wonder how long it's going to be before someone comes up with the idea of appeasing them with yet another mountain carved into a huge statue. Indeed, one can see the day that the state is littered with hundreds of ginormous statues intended to placate those offended by the other statues, not to mention bring in tourists. Pretty soon the official state slogan of South Dakota will be "We've got ginormous statues!" They might even change the name of the state to Statue Dakota.

Maybe by then, they will be reduced to making statues of movie stars. If so, here's hoping they don't make a statue of Tom Cruise. The U.S. has enough earthquakes as it is.

Final Score: 31 points.
Penalties: Singular, 6 pts; Wordplay, 7 pts; Alliteration, 2 pts; Name-Logo (quadruply egregious), 7 pts; Yucky-Logo, 5 pts; Yucky-Name, 4 pts. Bonuses: None.

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