Ever wanted to know how your favourite, or least favourite, NFL team got its name?
Well wonder no more as Fan Fuel has all the answers.
Editor’s note: As we get close to kickoff for Super Bowl XLVII between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltiomore Ravens, we decided to present one of our more popular Fan Fuel blogs. Enjoy the history behind how each NFL team got their name.
In 1898, a football club was formed on the southwest side of Chicago. Known as the Normals until 1901, the team changed names when founder Chris O’Brien secured some hand-me-down jerseys from the University of Chicago. The jerseys were actually maroon, but the color had faded, striking O’Brien as more of a cardinal tint. The team became the Racine Cardinals, keeping the nickname as the club moved from Chicago (1922), to St. Louis (1960) and, finally, to Phoenix (1988). I guess “Cardinals” also sounds better than the “The Faded Reds”…
When Atlanta was awarded a franchise in 1965, the team held a contest and many chose Falcons for the NFL’s newest team. The best argument was submitted by a Georgia teacher – “the Falcon is proud and dignified, with great courage and fight. It never drops its prey. It is deadly and has a great sporting tradition.”
After a 12-year absence, Baltimore again acquired an NFL team in 1996 when the Cleveland Browns relocated. Owner Art Modell allowed the Browns’ name, colors and history to remain in Cleveland. Baltimore then set up focus groups and fan polls to help secure a new name. Ravens won out over Americans and Marauders. The name refers to the mythical bird in “The Raven”, a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, who lived and died in Baltimore.
The nickname refers to William F. Cody, who was known as “Buffalo Bill.” Buffalo had a football team called the Bisons, but the city’s minor league baseball and hockey teams had the same name. The football team held a contest to select a new nickname following the 1946 season. More than 4,500 entries were submitted and Bills beat out Bullets, Nickels and Blue Devils.
The nickname for Carolina’s 1995 expansion team was selected by team president Mark Richardson, the son of owner Jerry Richardson. The younger Richardson also chose the Panthers’ colors of Panther blue, silver and black.
In 1921, George Halas moved the Decatur Staleys to Chicago. The Staleys played at Wrigley Field, the home of baseball’s Cubs. Halas figured that if the baseball tenants were Cubs, then his more rugged football players should be known as the Bears.
When Paul Brown broke away from the Cleveland Browns, he chose this nickname for Cincinnati’s 1968 AFL expansion team because there had been earlier football teams in the city called the Bengals. The elder Bengals were members of the AFL in 1937, competed as an independent club in 1938, then played in a new AFL from 1939-41 before the league again folded.
Cleveland’s All-American Football Conference team was founded in 1946. Paul Brown, a coaching legend in Ohio, was named the team’s first coach and general manager. The Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996, but the team’s history remained, paving the way for the Browns to be resurrected as an expansion team in 1999. The Browns, by the way, are the only NFL team that doesn’t have a logo. It fits in with the city’s “no-frills” mentality.
This name might seem like an easy choice in Dallas, but believe it or not, in the initial months following the its formation, the Dallas team was known as the “Steers.” After a few weeks, however, the name was changed to Rangers. The club went with Cowboys since Rangers might cause confusion with a local minor-league team of the same name.
This nickname was selected through a contest in January, 1960. Broncos was the winner, referring to Denver’s Wild West heritage. Denver’s 1921 entry in the Midwest Baseball League team was also named the Broncos.
Detroit radio executive George Richards purchased the NFL’s Portsmouth Spartans and moved them to Detroit in 1934, changing the name to “Lions” in the process. Felines were already prevalent in Detroit. Baseball could claim the Tigers and a Detroit football team called the Panthers had folded after two years in 1927.
Green Bay Packers
In 1919, Earl “Curly” Lambeau and George Calhoun pieced together a group in the Green Bay Press-Gazette editorial room with the notion of starting a football team. Frank Peck, Lambeau’s employer at the Indian Packing Company provided jerseys, equipment and use of it’s athletic field for practice. Early on, the club was identified as a project of the company and was later owned by the Acme Packing Company, hence Packers became a natural fit.
After Houston was awarded the NFL’s 32nd franchise in 1999, a series of focus groups were formed to help come up with a nickname for the team. In March, 2000, the team announced five choices, the Apollos, Bobcats, Stallions, Texans and Wildcatters. The list was then reduced to Apollos, Stallions and Texans a month later. After careful deliberation, the team unveiled the Texans’ name, colors, and logo at a rally held in downtown Houston in September of 2000.
In 1946, the Miami Seahawks of the All-American Football Conference were relocated to Baltimore. Charles Evans of Middle River, Md., won a name contest by submitting Colts. His reasoning? “Colts are the youngest entry in the league, Maryland is famous for its race horses and it is short, easily pronounced and fits well in newspaper headlines.” The franchise kept the name when Jim Irsay moved his franchise to Indianapolis in the middle of a winter night in 1984.
Jacksonville held a contest in 1991, two years before the city was awarded the NFL’s 30th franchise. Jaguars claimed the majority of votes, besting a group that included Sharks, Stingrays and (ironically) Panthers. Little known fact: The Jaguars had to change their logo at the last minute. Their original logo was too reminiscent of the Jaguar car symbol and the team faced a lawsuit from the auto manufacturer if it didn’t change its logo.
Kansas City Chiefs
This original AFL franchise was originally the Dallas Texans but relocated to Kansas City. Owner Lamar Hunt picked Chiefs as a nickname to honour Kansas City mayor Roe “The Chief” Bartle for his efforts in securing the team. Bartle promised to enlarge Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium and guaranteed Hunt three times as many season ticket sales as his club had in Dallas.
After Miami was awarded an AFL expansion franchise in 1965, a contest was held to determine the name. A dozen names were forwarded to a seven-member screening committee of local media and Dolphins was the runaway winner. Although 622 entrants submitted Dolphins, Mrs. Robert Swanson of Miami won the two lifetime passes to Dolphins games. Then-owner Joe Robbie liked the name because “The dolphin is one of the fastest and smartest creatures in the sea.”
General manager Bert Rose recommended Vikings to Minnesota’s Board of Directors in 1960. The name represent both an aggressive person and the fact that many people in Minnesota and the surrounding area traced their heritage to Scandinavia.
New England Patriots
A group of New England sportswriters picked Patriots as a tribute to Patriot Day, which celebrates Paul Revere’s ride and because of the area’s heritage as the birthplace of the American Revolution.
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans NFL franchise was awarded on All Saints Day (November 1) in 1966. Plus, the song “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” in often associated with the city of New Orleans.
New York Giants
In 1925, Tim Mara purchased New York’s first professional football team for a reported $500. Mara decided on Giants because his team would play at the Polo Grounds, the home of baseball’s New York Giants. The original Giants derived their name from the city’s giant buildings.
New York Jets
New York’s AFL squad was originally the Titans. In 1963, after three seasons, a five-man syndicate bought the franchise. On the same day they hired Weeb Ewbank, the owners announced that they were changing the team’s name to Jets. It sounded like New York’s baseball Mets and LaGuardia Airport was nearby.
For a brief period, the new AFL team was known as the Señors but by the time the 1960 season started, the Oakland team was known as the Raiders. The origin of the Raiders name is not known but, since it is doubtful a fan contest would have been staged in Oakland since the first team would have to play in San Francisco, it is most likely the name was chosen by principal owner Chet Soda and his partners.
The NFL’s Frankford Yellowjackets were awarded to a syndicate headed by Bert Bell and Lud Wray in 1933. Bell named the new Philadelphia team Eagles in honour of the symbol of the New Deal’s National Recovery Act.
Founded in 1933, Pittsburgh’s professional football team was, like it’s baseball neighbours, initially dubbed the Pirates. In 1940, owner Art Rooney changed the name to Steelers, reflecting the city’s ties to the steel industry. The name was allegedly suggested by the wife of the team’s ticket manager.
San Diego Chargers
The Los Angeles AFL franchise held a contest in 1960. Hollywood resident Gerald Courtney was awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to Mexico City and Acapulco after submitting Chargers. Three reasons for choosing Chargers have been offered – it sounded dynamic; the club’s new stationary featured a horse; and owner Baron Hilton had recently instituted the Carte Blanche card. The team kept the name when it moved to San Diego the following year.
San Francisco 49ers
Owner Anthony J. Morabito chose 49ers for his All-America Football Conference squad. The name was selected as a recognition of the pioneering and adventurous spirit of the men of the 1849 gold rush in the Sierra Nevada mountains east of San Francisco. The 49ers kept the name when they joined the NFL in 1950.
In a 1975 contest, Seattle’s expansion franchise received 20,365 entries, extolling 1,741 different names. Seahawks, a name denoting the city’s link to the sea, was on 151 ballots and judged by the team ownership as the best choice.
St. Louis Rams
In 1936, Cleveland’s new AFL franchise decided to take its name from one of the top collegiate teams of the era, the Fordham Rams. The Rams name stuck with eventual moves to Los Angeles (1946) and St. Louis (1995).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This name defeated more than 400 entries in a radio-sponsored competition, held one month after Tampa was awarded the first of two expansion franchises on April 24, 1974. Buccaneers was the winner, beating out such noble competitors as Buzzards, Sea Horses and (yes) Mafia.
The Houston Oilers, who played at the Astrodome from 1960-96, moved to Nashville for the 1997 season. After two seasons as the Tennessee Oilers, team owner Bud Adams formed an advisory committee to research names and a “Guess the Name” contest to gain additional feedback was also held. The committee selected Titans citing the desire to have a nickname that reflected “strength, leadership and other heroic qualities.” Considering that Nashville is known as the “Athens of the South”, the entire connection made the Titans name very appropriate.
George Marshall headed a group that purchased an NFL team for Boston in 1933. The team would play at the home of baseball’s Boston Braves so it adopted the same name. The following year, the Braves moved to Fenway Park and changed their name to the Redskins. The name remained when the team moved to Washington in 1937.
This piece was originally published in September, 2012 and was researched by Michel Gonzalez.