Dr. Jeffrey Gurock on Maccabee sports teams (link):
The most famous figures of the Chanukah story, the mythic Maccabees, have been appropriated as symbols of Jewish sport -- no small irony considering the Maccabees rebelled against the worship of athletic prowess that characterized Hellenistic civilization...
Jeffrey Gurock, a history professor at Yeshiva University and author of a book about Judaism's encounter with sports, says that sports teams should more aptly be called the "anti-Maccabees." The shift in thinking about the Maccabees, Gurock said, is linked to the Zionist thinker Max Nordau, who sought figures in Jewish history as models for what he called "muscular Judaism."
"It was an appropriation of a particular moment in ancient Jewish history that's revived and used in modern times," Gurock sad. "Jews were fighters in the ancient world. And they want to go back to this image of Jews."