The Sports Lounge presents… What’s Behind a Nickname: The NFL

Every sports fan has their favorite team. Whether it be based on their geographic location, hometown, or just a favoritism of a logo, everyone has “their” team. But do you know why your team is named what they are? Or why any other team has their nickname? In this blog, I’ll look at each NFL team and the reason why they are named what they are. Some are self-explanatory, such as Steelers and Texans. But some have deeper meanings that I will look at right here.

For the meaning behind the nicknames of teams in other leagues, check out my blogs on the NBA, MLB, and NHL.

AFC EAST

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1. Buffalo Bills: The Buffalo Bills nickname goes back to their days as a member of the All-America Football Conference. Originally named the Bisons, they changed their name to the Bills, a nod to Buffalo Bill Cody. When Ralph Wilson was trying to think of a name for his AFL franchise, he chose to stick with the Bills nickname as an homage to the old AAFC team.

2. Miami Dolphins: There is not too much to say about the Dolphins nickname. It was the winner of a name-the-team contest when Miami was awarded an expansion team in the AFL in late 1960’s.

3. New England Patriots: Patriots was another winner of a name-the-team contest. But the name makes perfect sense for a team located in a region rich in history from the Revolutionary War and the beginnings of this country.

4. New York Jets: The team once named the Titans were renamed after being sold. While names such as Dodgers, Gothams, and Borros were considered, Jets was finally choosen for one major reason: the team was to play at Shea Stadium which is near LaGuardia Airport.

AFC WEST

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1. Denver Broncos: The name Broncos was submitted by Ward M. Vining in a contest to name the team. But the Broncos name was also a part of Denver’s sports history as the city had a baseball team in the Midwest Baseball League with the same nickname in the 1920’s.

2. Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs were originally the Dallas Texans in the AFL. When they made the move to Kansas City, owner Lamar Hunt chose Chiefs over other names such as Mules, Royals, and Stars. The name Chiefs was selected mainly as a tribute to the Native Americans that once inhabited the are.

3. Oakland Raiders: The franchise held a contest to name the team and the winner was Senors. The name however was mocked and laughed at and eventually the change was made to Raiders. The Raiders name was also a finalist in the contest and it is safe to say it is a way better choice than their original name.

4. San Diego Chargers: The team held a name-the-team contest and Chargers won after owner Barron Hilton liked it. Some speculate that it is because of the obvious reference to his credit card business. Others say it is because Hilton liked the “Charge!” bugle music that played at the Los Angeles Coliseum. No exact reason has ever been given, but I would say those two make the most sense.

AFC NORTH

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1. Baltimore Ravens: After the Cleveland Browns made the move to Baltimore, the name Ravens was choosen in a poll in reference to the Edgar Allen Poe poem. Poe is buried in Baltimore.

2. Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals nickname was taken from a football team that played in the city in the early 1900’s. Team owner, general manager, and coach Paul Brown chose the name to link the team with its football history.

3. Cleveland Browns: The name Browns was the winner of a fan contest but coach Paul Brown vetoed the name as he didn’t want the team named after him. He wanted to name the team the Cleveland Panthers, but after being informed that he couldn’t, he gave in to the nickname Browns.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers: Pittsburgh’s football franchise shared the Pirates nickname with the baseball until Art Rooney decided to rename the team. A worker at the Pittsburgh Steel mill submitted the name Steelers and the rest is history.

AFC SOUTH

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1. Houston Texans: When the city of Houston was awarded a franchise after the Oilers left, owner Bob McNair chose Texans as an obvious nod to the state of Texas.

2. Indianapolis Colts: The nickname came with the team when they moved to Indianapolis in 1984 from Baltimore. They were originally named the Colts because of Baltimore’s history of horse breeding and the name began with a team in the AAFC.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: The name Jaguars was selected by fans in 1991, two years before the city was even awarded a franchise and four years before they would even take the field. It isn’t certain why Jaguars was chosen over other names like Sharks and Stingrays, but the oldest living jaguar in North America was held at the Jacksonville Zoo at the time.

4. Tennessee Titans: The franchise moved from Houston to Tennessee and kept the name Oilers for two seasons before switching to Titans after it was selected in a statewide contest. Titans was the winning name over Tornadoes, South Stars, Wranglers, and Copperheads.

NFC EAST

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1. Dallas Cowboys: The team was originally named the Dallas Steers, but fearing they would be mocked for having a castrated cow as their mascot, team owner Texas E. Schramm changed the name to Rangers. Then, after worrying about confusion between them and the minor league baseball team of the same name, he changed the name to Cowboys soon after.

2. New York Giants: Simply put, the name was copied from the baseball team of the same name.

3. Philadelphia Eagles: After purchasing the bankrupt Frankford Yellowjackets, owners Burt Bell and Lud Wray renamed the team the Eagles in honor of the symbol of the National Recovery Act, part of Roosevelt’s New Deal.

4. Washington Redskins: After purchasing a franchise in Boston, owner George Preston Marshall changed the nickname from Braves to Redskins reportedly to honor head coach and Native American William Henry Dietz. They kept the nickname when they moved to Washington, D.C. where it has become a source of controversy of late.

NFC WEST

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1. Arizona Cardinals: The franchise started in Chicago before moving to St. Louis and eventually Arizona. But while in Chicago, the franchise wore old faded maroon jerseys from the University of Chicago that were said to be “cardinal red” and thus a nickname was born.

2. San Francisco 49ers: The team that began play in the AAFC was named after the settlers that came to California during the gold rush of 1849.

3. St. Louis Rams: Whether located in Cleveland, Los Angeles, or St. Louis, the nickname has remained the same. It was chosen because one time general manager Damon Wetzel was a fan of the Fordham Rams, once a college powerhouse.

4. Seattle Seahawks: Seahawks won a contest over many other names. The name was used in the 1950’s by a Seattle minor league hockey team and Miami’s AAFC franchise, but no other teams since. And while the Seahawk is not a real bird, the logo is based off of the osprey, a fish-eating hawk of the Northeast.

NFC NORTH

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1. Chicago Bears: When George Halas purchased the Decatur Staleys of the American Professional Football Association, he decided to rename the team. Since the team was playing home games at Wrigley Field, home of baseball’s Chicago Cubs, Halas stuck with a similar name, the Bears.

2. Detroit Lions: When the Portsmouth Spartans were purchased and moved to Detroit in 1934, they were renamed the Lions. The name was chosen to go along with baseball’s Detroit Tigers.

3. Green Bay Packers: The team’s founder, Earl “Curly” Lambeau, worked for the Indian Packing Company. The company sponsored the team, which was named the Packers. The company later changed to the Acme Packing Company and eventually closed, but the nickname remains unchanged.

4. Minnesota Vikings: Bert Rose, the franchise’s general manager when the team entered the NFL in 1961, suggested the name because “it represented both an aggressive person with the will to win and the Nordic tradition in the northern Midwest.”

NFC SOUTH

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1. Atlanta Falcons: When the franchise began, a contest was held and featured numerous names. Some of the names were Peaches, Vibrants, Confederates, Thrashers, and of course, Falcons. But Falcons was not chosen until a schoolteacher provided a detailed reason why Falcons should be the name for their team.

2. Carolina Panthers: Team President Mark Richardson, son of owner Jerry Richardson, chose Panthers because “it’s a name our family thought signifies what we thought a team should be—powerful, sleek and strong.” Although some within the NFL feared that the Panthers name with black in the color scheme would appeal to gangs, the name has not changed since the team’s inception.

3. New Orleans Saints: The city of New Orleans was awarded an NFL franchise on All Saint’s Day, November 1, 1966 and the nickname was picked by then owner John Mecom because of this and a nod to the jazz heritage of the city, especially the song “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The name was picked from a list of over 400 names and was liked because it was an acknowledgment of the pirates that raided the coasts of Florida long ago.

Thanks to the following sites for information: NFL, Wikipedia, and mental_floss

Daryl Karpinski Jr.

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