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How NYCFC’s “Night Owl” Nickname Came to Be

A quick retrospective

Eagle owl landing in creepy branches and trunk of dead tree silhouetted against blue night sky with full moon over spooky forest. Photo by: Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The date is August 11, 2021. New York City FC is slated to take on struggling Liga MX side Pumas UNAM in their first appearance in the Leagues Cup, a tournament formed by MLS and Liga MX to provide their best teams that didn’t make the CONCACAF Champions League with a headache something else to do. There’s some negative discourse about the tournament — “it’s a cash grab”, or “it’s a waste of time.” Initially, I feel the same way, too. But the wise words of Roberto Abramowitz (follow him @RobAbramowitz, he’s a great guy) has warmed me to the fixture. If it grows the way it’s supposed to, it could become CONCACAF’s version of the Europa League. Who knows?

Scheduled for an 8:00 PM (EST) kickoff, I’m raring to go. Hudson River Blue’s newest writers, Jack Blanchard and Arjun Ahuja, are excited to help out with coverage. In case you can’t tell, I cannot wait for this game to start!

Shortly before kickoff, however, a report comes through saying that the game has been delayed due to a thunderstorm. I’m not expecting it to be much, but over time, the situation becomes a bit more murky. The delay to 8:30 becomes 9:00. Then 9:30 and so on. Some people at Yankee Stadium start leaving according to reports. Others wait it out. Some people on Twitter hypothesize that the game might be postponed altogether.

I slide into the HRB Slack chat and tell Jack and Arjun that they are not obligated to stay up and if they need to check out, it’s no problem. (This is on a Wednesday night, just FYI) But they tell me that they’re gonna stick it out and hope for the best.

Eventually, NYCFC and Pumas do kick off at around 11 PM and stretch it past 1 AM after going to penalty kicks. City lose due to some poor efforts on frame, but something cool has just happened: the seeds have been planted for a new movement in NYCFC fandom.

A few weeks later, the Boys in Blue travel over the bridge to take on bitter rivals, the New York Red Bulls, in the first Hudson River Derby of 2021 and the first with fans since August of 2019. While the rivalry cannot be understated in its potency among supporters, the on-pitch action isn’t expected to be nearly as closely contested — NYCFC come into this game in decent form and nearly at full strength, while the depleted Jersey Boys are languishing outside of playoff positioning in perhaps the worst form they’ve seen in a long time. Any fans of City are relishing this matchup as it poses a legitimate opportunity to see NYC pound the Red Bulls into submission in their own house, something they sort of did once (but not really) back in 2017.

But again, in an odd and cruel twist of fate, thunderstorms — namely the conditions of Tropical Storm Fred (screw you, Fred!) — descend upon Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey and delay NYCFC’s vengeance.

Like last time against Pumas, I make assurances to the NYCFC Twittersphere that no matter what time kick-off is to be, HRB will be there with minute-by-minute coverage. And also like last time, the game’s start is pushed back. And again. and again.

It is at this point that something catches my eye. Mark McClure, a digital content producer for MLS, makes mention of City’s recent kickoff delays, jokingly crossing out the “Pigeons” nickname and replacing it with “Night Owls.” I thought it was a pretty clever chirp (no pun intended) so I quote retweet it and jokingly say that Night Owls should be the club’s new nickname.

Even if it’s kinda tongue-in-cheek, I start seeing positive feedback as some people completely run with it. So I fuel the flames! I make at least one mention of it in every subsequent tweet that night until I exhaust myself.

The Hudson River Derby itself unfortunately never started that night as the torrential rain from Tropical Storm Fred waterlogged the pitch at Red Bull Arena. But, unbeknownst to me, a movement had begun.

As we spend the remainder of the week trying to get more focused on the upcoming match against the MLS-leading New England Revolution, I start seeing the HRB Twitter page get mentioned in a number of tweets from people who have wholeheartedly embraced the “Night Owls” moniker as a new identity of sorts.

GIFs pop up.

I discover that the Daily News once had a “Night Owl” edition.

All of this cool lore fortifying this unwitting new alias just pops out of nowhere! And I’ll be honest, it was a rush for me. In many ways, my love and passion for NYCFC has more or less defined me since the club was announced. And to see something I said on a whim catch on with a significant amount of people gives me this weird sense of validation — a feeling that I have contributed something of substance to the community that loves this team just as much as I.

Recently, however, there has been some pushback from supporters who think (jokingly or not) that the rise of the Night Owls nickname is in direct opposition to the older, more established “Pigeon” nickname that many have also gotten behind.

I’ll be completely honest: I’ve never liked the Pigeons nickname. If NYCFC is to be associated with anything, I would hope it isn’t a rat with wings that steals your slice or just sits there as Jelle Van Damme kills it. But to set the record straight: no, I didn’t propose “Night Owls” be a new nickname to get rid of the Pigeon title. It was just a silly thing to say while passing the time and engaging with anyone who was following our timeline on Derby Night.

But make no mistake about it: I HATE THE PIGEONS NAME!

One of the biggest proponents of the “Night Owl Nation” has been @TheManInSeat9 (we’ll call him Nine) on Twitter. Over the past several weeks, Nine has been responsible for getting so many people behind the new movement, creating the aforementioned GIFs and even espousing better geneses for the Night Owl name.

Here’s an amazing Twitter thread that he posted earlier today.

This is just soul food to me. To see Nine put so much thought and love into the name tells me that this is more than just a cheeky joke at this point. It’s a source of happiness. It’s a rallying cry. It’s a sign of strength.

Yes, outside of the odd one getting stuck in a Christmas tree, owls aren’t too common in NYC. Being a night owl, however, is not foreign to the City That Never Sleeps. New York City rewards those who put in that extra bit of effort and can keep up with its breakneck pace. It rewards those who sit through three hours of rain and thunder just to catch of glimpse of that City Blue shirt, even if that game never starts in the first place. Because game or no game, win or loss, we still have each other to help us through the night.

Rise up, Night Owl Nation! We’re glad to have you with us.