Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sticking with the Jets moniker all about loyalty

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The unthinkable is about to happen.

The National Hockey League appears poised to return to the small Canadian market it probably never wanted to, much less ever thought it would ever have to.

For Winnipeg's hockey fans, there's something else that was unthinkable 15 years ago during those frenzied, desperate and ultimately futile days when thousands rallied in the city centre to "Save our Jets."

That today, thousands more would be online trying to do what amounts to the same thing.

Save the Jets' name.

And all the memories and meaning attached to the storied franchises the name represents.

David Kehler, who once shared Jets season tickets with his grandfather, started the petition last October in anticipation of the NHL returning and the possibility that the prospective owners, True North Sports and Entertainment Inc., would jettison the Jets in favour of a new name and a new start.

At last look, more than 3,000 people have signed the online petition that reads: "We, the undersigned, respectfully suggest that if Winnipeg once again becomes home to an NHL team, it should be named the Winnipeg Jets."

You can find it at: http://www.gopetition.com/petition/39649.html

Kehler was one of the many Jets fans from Winnipeg and all over North America who contacted me after Saturday's column, wherein I made my initial pitch for bringing back the Jets.

"I hope, like you, that True North comes to realize that not only is it what the majority of the fans want, it makes the most business sense, as well."

Since then, Mayor Sam Katz has said the new team won't be called the Jets, while a True North spokesman has said His Worship is only speculating.

Interestingly, years ago, Katz went through a similar process with his own professional baseball enterprise, and wisely resurrected the Winnipeg Goldeyes name, the warm memories and the tradition associated with a St. Louis Cardinals farm team that played in Winnipeg Stadium during the 1950s and early 1960s.

Maybe, in part that's why Katz, the shrewd entertainment marketing man, is on record as personally preferring resurrecting the Jets brand.

He gets it.

So, I discovered, does someone else who knows all about the importance of relationships and how they work.

Maureen Scurfield, the Free Press's own Miss Lonelyhearts, dropped me the following piece of advice for potential team owners Mark Chipman and David Thomson to ponder.

"When you long for a certain lover to come back -- one who was ripped away -- one whose name you called out over and over again in your sleep, you don't want that lover back again asking to be called some other name."

Who knew Miss Lonelyhearts had a crush on the Jets?

Hugh McFadyen, Manitoba's Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, is someone else who would prefer the Jets, as I learned when I asked.

Speaking of loyal, that's really what's at the heart of the matter and at the heart of being a fan of any team.

Being loyal.

Loyalty also is what owners rely on from the ticket-buying fans, especially when a team is losing more than it's winning, which is what the Atlanta Thrashers, the franchise we're hoping to bring north, have a history of doing. You might think having the Jets name on the players' chests, and the loyalty that evokes, would make tough times easier to skate through at the gate.

There's a Wall Street Journal columnist named Eric Felten who has written a recent book called Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue, which covers the subject over time in all its complex and fascinating variations. But in his introduction, Felten puts the subject in contemporary, post-Wall Street meltdown, post-Bernie Madoff, perspective.

"At this time of shaky institutions and shabby friendships, we need to rescue loyalty from contradictions and disuse and make it a functioning part of our lives once more."

If True North wants us to have a deep and abiding loyalty to their enterprise, maybe they need to consider expressing their own loyalty to the fans who have never forgotten the Jets.

Particularly the ones who rallied a decade-and-a-half ago to Save our Jets.

And not just the fans who still live here. Les Puchala resides in Abbotsford, B.C., now, but he is still a Winnipeg Jets loyalist.

"I fought in the protests to keep them and did the rallies," he wrote on the weekend. "The least we could have is the name back."

That's one way of saying it.

Another fan delivered a message meant for True North even more pointedly.

We lost the Jets once.

Please don't do it to us again.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2011 A3

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