In Edgar Allan Poe’s glorious short story “Hop-Frog,” the title character, a court jester, plays a practical joke on the king he serves—a king who “seemed to live only for joking”—and on the king’s seven joke-loving ministers. What’s the joke, you ask? He dresses them up as ersatz orangutans (his costume materials are tar and flax), binds them together, hoists them into the air by a chandelier chain, and proceeds, in front of an assembled crowd of masqueraders, to light them on fire. Introducing himself to the crowd, our hero says, “As for myself, I am simply Hop-Frog, the jester—and this is my last jest.” The eight corpses swing in their chains, “a fetid, blackened, hideous, and indistinguishable mass.” A good joke! You never know where it’s going to take you.
I thought about Poe yesterday while watching the Super Bowl. I had read somewhere that no football team named after a bird had ever won the title game—a claim that only holds up if you agree the Baltimore Ravens are named after a poem. (The Seahawks’ torching of the Broncos ends that 47-year streak, of course, leaving the Eagles, Falcons, and Cardinals to continue their trophy-less flapping.) When Baltimore chose the Ravens as its post-Colts identity, I was living in South Korea—about as far from my hometown and from American football as possible. But I clearly remember the pleasure and pride I felt when I heard the news. Baltimore! Honoring Poe! And naming its football team after a poem that features a bad-news-bearing bird that overstays its welcome! How weird. How wonderful.
Baltimore doesn’t have a basketball team, the Bullets having relocated to Washington in 1973. (And then becoming—alakazam!—the Wizards in 1997.) Seattle’s basketball team was stolen by some Oklahoma City moneymen in 2008. Can somebody please get one of these cities a team? And can that team please (c’mon now, you saw it coming) be named the Hop-Frogs?