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How every NFL team got their name (33 Photos)
The Arizona Cardinals (originally the Chicago Cardinals) were established in 1898, making them oldest team still in the NFL. When the teams 1st owner bought them used uniforms from the University of Chicago in 1901 they were faded maroon. They called it Cardinal Red.
Like many teams, when the Falcons were founded in 1966 they held a naming contest. More than 500 different names were sent in including the Atlanta Confederates, and the Atlanta Peaches. The name Falcons was entered by several people, but the winning entry was awarded to Julia Elliot for describing the Falcon as “proud and dignified and it never drops its prey”.
She won 3 years worth of season tickets and an autographed football for her team spirit.
When the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996, Owner Art Modell attempted to purchase back the name “Colts”. The name of the Baltimore football team that moved to Indianapolis. He was unsuccessful and a newspaper ran a poll to select the new name. The Ravens was a reference to a poem by Edger Allen Poe, one of Baltimore’s most famous residents.
The Buffalo Bills was the name of a defunct AAFC team in Buffalo when the NEW Buffalo team was being established. They took on the name as homage to the old team. Acknowledging the city’s roots in football.
Mark Richardson, Panthers President up until 2009, named the team when it was created in 1995. He said that the Panther was “powerful, sleek and strong”. He also decided on the teams colors to the disapproval of NFL officials who thought the name Panther combined with black in the color scheme could become associated with gang violence.
The Decatur Staleys were named in honor of their sponsor, the Staley Starch Company. The team was often referred to by fans as the Bears as a nod to their cross town city mate the cubs. When the team was purchased away from the Staley Starch Company they made the name official.
Though a fan poll asked for the team to be named the Buckeyes, The Bengals first owner, GM, and head coach (who were all the same man) Paul Brown decided to name the team the Bengals in honor of an earlier team that played in the city (much like how the Bills did earlier). He was also the former coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team, so that may have contributed to the teams avoidance of the name as well.
There is some disagreement as to the origin of the name “Brown” but the popular story goes that the owner of the team told coach Paul Brown (hey, that guy again) to name the team. Brown held a newspaper poll which selected the name “Browns” after the popular coach, which he did not like. He then named the team the Panthers, but 2 months later owner Mickey McBride overruled him and told the Coach the team would be the Browns.
It is myth as to whether the name Brown refers to the coach or boxer Joes Louis (Nicknamed the Brown Bomber).
CLEVELAND BROWNS… AGAIN
The Browns moved from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996 and changed their name to the Ravens. Cleveland, being the big football city that it is was instantly awarded an expansion franchise for 1999, which they named the Browns. Interestingly enough both teams claim the history of Browns as their own team history.
The original team name for the boys in Dallas was the Steers. Team GM Texas E. Schramm thought that this left them open to mockery (a steer is a castrated bull) so they changed the team to the Rangers. There was another Rangers team in the Dallas area though (minor league baseball), and it wasn’t long before there was concern of confusion so they finally settled on the name Cowboys.
Denver held an essay naming contest in 1960 to name its charter AFL team. 162 fans wrote in. The winning entry went to Ward M. Vining whose essay consisted of a mere 25 words.
The Detroit Lions were the Portsmouth Spartans before being moved to Detroit and renamed in 1934. Owner George A. Richards said that “The lion is the monarch of the jungle, and we hope to be the monarch of the league.”
The Lions have 4 NFL Championships, but have never played in a super bowl.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The Packers first sponsor, the Indian Packing Company was the teams real namesake. Later sponsored by the Acme Packing Company the team name remained, and when ACME went out of business the Packers were able to sustain operation by selling public stock in the team.
The Houston Texans are strangely enough the 6th professional football team to be known as the Texans. The team was so named by owner Bob McNair instead of other suggested named, the Appollos and the Stallions.
The Baltimore Colts were named for the areas history of horse breeding back when they played in the All-America Football Conference. They relocated to Indianapolis in 1984 amid a huge controversy, and kept the name Colts.
The Jaguar name was selected through a fan contest a full 2 years before a team was actually awarded to the city by the NFL. It would be another 2 years after that until they would play. Jaguars are not native to Florida, but the oldest living Jaguar at the time was hosted by the Jacksonville Zoo.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
The Chiefs were originally the Dallas Texans, but when they moved to Kansas City a name change seemed prudent. Some of the rejected names included the Mules, the Stars and the Royals (which would eventually become the city’s Major League Baseball Franchise). The name Chiefs was selected to honor the city’s mayor, H. Roe Bartle, who was nicknamed “The Chief”.
The Dolphins, like many others, held a fan contest when it was announced that a team in Miami would be joining the AFL. 20,000 entries were made and 600 of them were for the Dolphins. The tie-breaker was held in another contest, where Marjorie Swanson won by correctly predicting the score of a 1965 college football game between Notre Dame and the University of Miami.
When the Vikings joined the NFL in 1961 GM Bert Rose selected the name Vikings to represent the areas Nordic traditions along with aggressive tendency.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The Boston Patriots were so named after a fan poll in 1960, and was renamed to New England in 1971.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Three theories on this one. The first, is that the city was awarded the rights to an NFL team on All Saints’ Day. The second is a fan poll held by the New Orleans States-Item. The third, and easiest to corroborate is that team owner John Mecom selected the name from the jazz song “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
NEW YORK GIANTS
The Giants blatantly attempted to play off of the good will of the Baseball team of the same name. They didn’t deny it, but later changed their name to the New York Football Giants to avoid a potential lawsuit.
NEW YORK JETS
The New York Titans was renamed to the Jets in 1963 when they were purchased by new ownership. It was planned for the team to play in Shea Stadium next to LaGuardia Airport and the name Jets seemed to represent a modern team name.
One of the weirder stories, the Oakland Raiders held a fan contest and the winning entry was… The Oakland Señors. The name was heavily ridiculed and newspapers complained that they didn’t have the type set for an accented “n”. The backlash was enough that the investors went with the next best entry. The raiders.
In 1933, amid the great depression the Frankford YellowJackets football team went bankrupt. In homage to the symbol of President Roosevelt’s “New Deal” National Recovery Act Administration, the new owners selected the Eagle as their team symbol.
For the first 7 years of the teams existence the Steelers shared their name with the city’s baseball team, the Pirates, but having never posted a winning record, owner Art Rooney decided to hold a renaming contest. The winning entry went to mill worker Joe Santoni, who was given season tickets, which he renewed every year until his death in 2003.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
The Chargers held a naming contest during their expansion in 1960. Team Owner Barron Hilton liked the name Chargers so much that he supposedly did not open any other entries after reading that. They moved from LA to San Diego after their first season.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The 49ers were named after the panhandlers who travelled to San Francisco during the 1849 gold rush.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
The Cleveland Rams, who would later move to Los Angeles, and then later St. Louis, were named after the Fordham University Rams. Team GM Buzz Wetzel chose the name because Fordham was his favorite team.
The Seahawk name comes from another fan contest, the bird pictured in their logo is of an Osprey.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
The Bucs name was selected from a think tank of representatives from local newspapers, management, and NFL Executives. The name comes from the pirate raids that plagued the Florida coast during the 16th century.
The Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee and for two season continued playing as the Oilers, but seeing as Tennessee has no oil, a change was deemed necessary. A combination of fan voting and ownership decision, team owner Bud Adams selected the name Titans over the Tornadoes, the Copperheads, and the Wranglers.
The Boston Braves were purchased and moved to Washington, then renamed to the Redskins in honor of head coach and Native American William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz, though it has later come into question if this was true.