How All of the NFL Teams Got Their Names

David Johnson, Writer

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Have you ever wondered how the NFL teams get their names, like the Packers, or the Steelers? This is an article on how each NFL team got their name and even what it might have been.

 

Washington Redskins  

One year after he acquired an NFL franchise in Boston, George Preston Marshall changed the team’s nickname from Braves to Redskins. According to most accounts, the nickname was meant to honor head coach and Native American William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz, though some question whether Dietz was a Native American. The Redskins kept their controversial nickname when they relocated to Washington, DC.

 

Tennessee Titans

After relocating from Houston to Tennessee in 1995, the team played two seasons as the Oilers before owner Bud Adams held a statewide contest to rename the team. Titans was chosen over nicknames such as Tornadoes, Copperheads, South Stars, and Wranglers. “We wanted a new nickname to reflect strength, leadership and other heroic qualities,”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A panel of local sportswriters and representatives from the NFL expansion team, including owner Hugh F. Culverhouse, chose Buccaneers from an original list of more than 400 names in 1975. The nickname, which was a popular choice among fans in a name-the-team contest, was a nod to the pirates who raided Florida’s coasts during the 17th century.

 

Seattle Seahawks

There were 1,700 unique names among the more than 20,000 submitted in a name-the-team contest in 1975, including Skippers, Pioneers, Lumberjacks, and Seagulls. About 150 people suggested Seahawks. A Seattle minor league hockey team.

 

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers, who began play in the All-America Football Conference in 1946, were named after the settlers who ventured to the San Francisco area during the gold rush of 1849.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh’s football team shared the same nickname as the city’s baseball team, the Pirates, from 1933 to 1940. Before the 1940 season, the team’s owner held a rename-the-team contest. A change couldn’t hurt, as Pittsburgh had failed to post a winning season in its first 7 years. Joe Santoni, who worked in a mill for Pittsburgh Steel, was one of several fans who suggested Steelers.

 

Philadelphia Eagles

In 1933, Bert Bell and Lud Wray purchased the bankrupt Frankford Yellowjackets. The new owners renamed the team the Eagles in honor of the symbol of the National Recovery Act, which was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

 

Oakland Raiders

Oakland’s first general manager, sponsored a name-the-team contest. An Oakland police woman, submitted the winning entry, Señors. The nickname, a remark to the old Spanish settlers of northern California, was ridiculed in the weeks that followed, and fans also claimed that the contest was rigged. A sports writer for the Oakland news paper, provided another reason to abandon the nickname. “That’s no good,” they said. “We don’t have the accent mark for the n in our headline type.” Responding to the backlash, Soda and the team’s other investors decided to change the team’s nickname to Raiders.

 

New York Jets

Originally nicknamed the Titans, the team was renamed the Jets in 1963 after Sonny Werblin led an investment group that purchased the bankrupt franchise for $1 million.

 

New York Giants

New York owner Tim Mara borrowed the Giants nickname from John McGraw’s National League baseball team, a common practice by football teams during an era when baseball was the nation’s preeminent team sport.

 

New Orlean Saints

New Orleans was awarded an NFL franchise on All Saints’ Day, November 1, 1966. The nickname was a popular choice in a name-the-team contest sponsored by the New Orleans States-Item, which announced the news of the new franchise with the headline, “N.O. goes pro!” The nickname, chosen by team owner John Mecom, was a nod to the city’s jazz heritage and taken from the popular song, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

 

New England Patriots

Seventy-four fans suggested Patriots in the name-the-team contest that was conducted by the management group of Boston’s original AFL franchise in 1960. “Pat Patriot,” the cartoon of a Minuteman preparing to snap a football was chosen as the team’s logo soon after. While the first part of the team’s name changed from Boston to New England in 1971, Patriots remained.

 

MInnesota Vikings

According to the Vikings’ website, Bert Rose, Minnesota’s general manager when it joined the NFL in 1961, recommended the nickname to the team’s Board of Directors because “it represented both an aggressive person with the will to win and the Nordic tradition in the northern Midwest.” The expansion franchise also became the first pro sports team to feature its home state, rather than a city, in the team name.

 

Miami Dolphins

A name-the-team contest drew nearly 20,000 entries and resulted in the nickname for the Miami franchise that entered the AFL as an expansion team in 1966. More than 600 fans suggested Dolphins, but Marjorie Swanson was declared the winner after correctly predicting a tie in the 1965 college football game between Miami and Notre Dame as part of a follow-up contest. Swanson, who won a lifetime season pass to Dolphins games, told reporters she consulted a Magic 8-Ball before predicting the score of the game. Miami owner Joe Robbie was fond of the winning nickname because, as he put it, “The dolphin is one of the fastest and smartest creatures in the sea.”’

 

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams, who originated in Cleveland in 1936 and spent 1946 through 1994 in the Los Angeles area before moving to St. Louis, came back to LA in 2016. The team traces their nickname to the college ranks. Principal owner Homer Marshman and general manager Damon “Buzz” Wetzel chose the nickname because Wetzel’s favorite football team had always been the Fordham Rams. Fordham—Vince Lombardi’s alma mater—was a powerhouse at the time.

 

Los Angeles Chargers

The Chiefs began play in the AFL in 1960 as the Dallas Texans. When the team moved to Kansas City in 1963, owner Lamar Hunt changed the team’s name to the Chiefs after also considering Mules, Royals, and Stars. Hunt said the name was locally important because Native Americans had once lived in the area. Hunt may have also been swayed by Kansas City mayor H. Roe Bartle, whose nickname was The Chief. Bartle helped lure the team to Kansas City by promising Hunt that the city would meet certain attendance thresholds.

 

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs began play in the AFL in 1960 as the Dallas Texans. When the team moved to Kansas City in 1963, owner Lamar Hunt changed the team’s name to the Chiefs after also considering Mules, Royals, and Stars. Hunt said the name was locally important because Native Americans had once lived in the area. Hunt may have also been swayed by Kansas City mayor H. Roe Bartle, whose nickname was The Chief. Bartle helped lure the team to Kansas City by promising Hunt that the city would meet certain attendance thresholds.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars nickname was selected through a fan contest in 1991, 2 years before the city was officially awarded an expansion team and 4 years before the team would begin play. Other names considered included the Sharks and Stingrays. While Jaguars aren’t native to Jacksonville, the oldest living jaguar in North America was housed in the Jacksonville Zoo.

 

Indianapolis Colts

The Baltimore Colts were named in honor of the region’s history of horse breeding. The name remained when a new franchise began play, and after the team relocated to Indianapolis

 

Houston Texans

The Dallas Texans were an Arena Football League team from 1990 to 1993 and Dallas Cowboys owner revived the team in the year 2000. He was planning to keep the old nickname, but ultimately renamed the team the Desperados. But in a later contest to rename the team Houston’s owner chose Texans over Apollos and Stallions.

 

Green Bay Packers

The team’s founder’s employer, the Indian Packing Company, sponsored Green Bay’s football team and provided equipment and access to the field. The Indian Packing Company later folded, but the nickname stuck.

 

Detroit Lions

After the Portsmouth Spartans were moved to Detroit in 1934, they were renamed the  Lions. The nickname was likely derived from Detroit’s established baseball team, the Tigers, who won 101 games that year. As the team explained it, “The lion is the monarch of the jungle, and we hope to be the monarch of the league.”

 

Denver Broncos

Broncos, which was submitted along with a 25-word essay was the winning entry among 162 fans who responded in a name-the-team contest.

 

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys were originally going to be nicknamed the Steers. The team’s general manager decided that having a cow as a mascot might humiliate the team, so he decided to go with Rangers instead. But fearing that people would confuse the football team with the local minor league baseball team nicknamed the Rangers, he finally changed the nickname to Cowboys right before the season began.

 

Cleveland Browns

There’s some debate about whether Cleveland’s professional football franchise was named after its first coach and general manager, Paul Brown, or after boxer Joe Louis, who was nicknamed the “Brown Bomber.” The Browns team owner also conducted a fan contest and the most popular submission was Browns.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

Team owner, general manager, and head coach nicknamed Cincinnati’s AFL expansion franchise the Bengals in honor of the football team nicknamed the Bengals that played in the city from 1937-1942. According to Brown, the nickname “would provide a link with past professional football in Cincinnati.” He chose Bengals over the fans’ most popular suggestion, Buckeyes.

 

Chicago Bears

It was originally called the bears but when star player George Halas purchased the team, he decided to change the nickname. Chicago played its home games at Wrigley Field, home of baseball’s Cubs, and Halas opted to stick with the bear theme.

 

Carolina Panthers

Panthers team president chose the Panthers nickname because “it’s a name our family thought signifies what we thought a team should be—powerful, sleek and strong.”

 

Buffalo Bills

The Bills nickname was suggested as part of a fan contest to rename Buffalo’s All-America Football Conference team, which was originally known as the Bisons.

 

Baltimore Ravens

Ravens, a reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem, beat out Americans and Marauders in a contest conducted by the Baltimore Sun. Poe also died and is buried in Baltimore.

 

Atlanta Falcons

A local radio station sponsored a contest to name the team. Thirteen hundred people combined to suggest more than 500 names, including Peaches, Vibrants, Lancers, Confederates, Firebirds, and Thrashers. While several fans submitted the nickname Falcons, a teacher was declared the winner of the contest for the reason she provided. “The falcon is proud and dignified, with great courage and fight,” they wrote. “It never drops its prey. It is deadly and has great sporting tradition.”

 

Arizona Cardinals

The owner of the team purchased used and faded maroon jerseys from the University of Chicago in 1901 and dubbed the color of his squad’s new outfits “cardinal red.” A nickname was born. Later the team adopted the cardinal bird as part of its logo.

 

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