How the “Fighting Irish” Fought


Is it odd that the University of Notre Dame nickname is the Fighting Irish? After all, Notre Dame cathedral is in Paris. That aside, what’s up with the fighting stance in the little cartoon logo they use? Why does the feisty little Irishman hold his fists palms in and curled back? What kind of a way is that to fight?

We can’t say for sure, but it seems to be taken from 19th century pugilism. Not to be confused with boxing, pugilism was akin to what they now call ultimate fighting. There was punching, grappling, kicking, kneeing, elbowing and even head-butting in some cases. Depends on where the fight took place as different places had different rules. The most no-holds-barred rules were in Lancaster, England where they called it catch as catch can. We think, but don’t hold us to that.

Since combatants could punch or grapple a fighter needed to defend against both. Holding the fists turned that way, pronated, kept the arms and elbows tucked up against the body closing the opening for an opponent to grapple. Without the protection of gloves bare knuckle fighters had to both punch and defend differently than modern boxers. To protect the vulnerable hands they curled them back against strikes. That’s why in old films you sometimes see brawlers milling their fists in little circles, made them harder to hit.

In bare knuckle fighting hooks and round punches were rare because they wanted to strike with the bigger, stronger first knuckles to avoid breaking their hand and so used straight punches. They also punched with the thumb upward, rather than supinated with the thumb on the bottom. This was to avoid catching the thumb on the opponents guard and possibly snapping it back and breaking it. This can still happen when wearing boxing gloves, but is mitigated by the glove’s shape, padding and stiffness.

Anyway, that all might explain the little Fighting Irish cartoon man’s fighting style. And why they’re the Fighting Irish and not the Boxing Irish. Though, being pugilists, they could have been the Pug Irish.

Still, Notre Dame is not a Gaelic name. Though it’s not really French, it comes from Latin. Catholic services were in Latin. Notre Dame is a Catholic school and Ireland is a Catholic country. So it fits together. At least to us. You can work it out any way you want. Anyway, the name makes more sense than the Boston Celtics. The people were Celts not Celtics. It’s like calling Notre Dame the Fighting Irishes.

Filed 2/3/17

Sports Pirates


Some pro sports teams have mythical names: San Francisco Giants, Tennessee Titans. Others have fierce animal names: Chicago Bears, Detroit Tigers. Others are not-so-fierce animals: Toronto Blue Jays, Indianapolis Colts. And yet others are just plain stupid: Miami Heat, Utah Jazz. But this is Pirate Week so we can ignore all that. Here are the pirate related team names.

Pittsburgh Pirates  Story goes the team was originally the Spiders, but due to their raiding other teams rosters for talent folks started calling them pirates. So they changed the name to Pirates.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers  Another name for pirate is buccaneer, which comes from the French boucanier, from boucaner, to smoke meat. So that’s bacon…bacon maker…pirate. Connect the dots on that one, ‘cause we can’t.

Oakland Raiders  Not pirates strictly speaking, but their logo has a guy with an eyepatch and crossed swords, pretty darn piratey in our book.

Minnesota Vikings  Not exactly pirates, Vikings were sea raiders that looted towns instead of other ships. Still, they sailed around plundering like pirates, so that’s close enough for us.

Los Angeles Clippers  Man a clipper ship with a crew of violent thieves, hoist the Jolly Roger and there you go. Pirates.

Buffalo Sabers  Admittedly pirates used cutlasses and not sabers. We list them all the same because pirates and swords go together like mom and apple pie. Actually pirates are nothing like your mom or ours, but you know what we mean.

Vancouver Canucks  Most folks don’t know that canuck is the native Chinook word for pirate. Not buying it? Didn’t go for the Saber bit either? Oh well, guess that pretty much means we’re out of pirate material and Pirate Week is well and truly over.

Filed 1/14/17

The Year, and the Page, Has Only Just Begun


Obviously the year is young and there isn’t much to include on our page for 2017. Yet. Here’s a rerun from last year to help you get into the swing of things. To see more “Casual Sportsman” click one of the links above or at the bottom of the column.

British Sports Rule the World


Before the English started England, the Greeks had the Olympic games. The sports of which were somewhat basic and martial in nature. Running, jumping, wrestling, boxing, throwing weapons around, chariot racing. Yet the ancient Greeks didn’t leave us a legacy of any great team sport that we’re aware of. Did they even have any team sports? Tug-of-war maybe?

These contests were primitive, even primal. Who can go fastest? Who can throw or jump farthest? Who can beat the snot out of whom? Cavemen probably competed in fisticuffs, foot races and spear chucking. One might imagine the only team game Cro-Magnons had was warfare, which isn’t very sporting really.

Motor sports is thought to have started in France. But then that’s simply chariot racing with motorized chariots. Le Tour de France is more of the same on bicycles. Bobsledding is chariot racing down a slippery slope. Speed skating is foot racing on ice. A whole lot of sports are simply races, about the simplest type of contest you could imagine. How inventive is any of that?

It seems most popular sports around the world these days that aren’t races or folks fighting came out of Britain. Soccer, rugby, cricket, golf, snooker, and curling are all well known to be British concoctions. The familiar modern versions of darts and tennis, also devised by the Brits.

You could argue American football and baseball are derived from English rugby and cricket respectively. Both North American sports made the scene when America was largely British by heritage. Ice hockey fits that bill, too. As might basketball and volleyball. You could take a page out of the Winston Churchill book and credit it all to the English Speaking Peoples.

Even in boxing you have the English Marquess of Queensberry rules. So there is that. Wrestling and other martial arts on the other hand, not so British. As for fighting among the spectators, the Brits have a reputation for that, but we’re not so sure they started it.

In the end one wonders why so many sports from the British Isles conquered the world. Something to do with the British Empire maybe? Do Brits just know how to have more fun than other folks? We dunno, but the Industrial Revolution and the sports revolution seem to have started in the same place by our reckoning.

Filed 12/5/16

MORE:  CURRENT  2016-15  2014-13  2012-11  2010-09  OLDER