Welcome to a captivating journey into the heart of America’s favorite sport and the stories that define it. In this blog, we delve deep into the intriguing origins of NFL team names and uncover the fascinating tales behind them. Yes, it’s all about how NFL teams got their names, and you’re about to embark on a thrilling exploration of history, culture, and the enduring spirit of competition that has shaped the National Football League.
From the iconic to the obscure, these football team names carry the weight of tradition, regional pride, and the collective identity of their fans. So, join us as we unravel the mysteries of how NFL teams got their names, revealing the unique inspirations, historical ties, and community connections that have forged an indelible link between these teams and their supporters. Strap in for an exciting ride through the annals of football history, where the stories of how NFL teams got their names come to life.
New York Jets
Originally known as the Titans, the franchise changed its name to the Jets in 1963. The reason behind this change was closely tied to the team’s home stadium at the time, Shea Stadium, located near LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York. The ownership group also appreciated the fact that “Jets” rhymed with the MLB team that played at Shea Stadium, the New York Mets. Thus, the New York Jets were born, and their name has stuck ever since.
The Atlanta Falcons joined the NFL in 1966, but before they could take the field, they needed a name. A naming contest was held, and the winning entry came from Julia Elliott, a local teacher. She chose the name “Falcons” because she believed it represented pride, dignity, courage, and a strong fighting spirit. To her, the falcon embodied these qualities, and it became the symbol of Atlanta’s newest football team.
The Tennessee Titans have a more complex naming history. After two seasons as the “Tennessee Oilers,” team owner Bud Adams decided it was time for a change. Initially considering the name “Pioneers,” Adams appointed an advisory committee to decide on a new name that would resonate with Nashville. The chosen name, “Titans,” was a nod to Nashville’s nickname, “Athens of the South,” due to its abundance of colleges, classical architecture, and a full-scale replica of the Parthenon. With this new name, the team embraced a powerful and heroic identity.
The Washington Commanders, formerly known as the Washington Football Team, underwent a significant rebranding in 2022. Their previous name, “Redskins,” had long been a source of controversy and was seen as offensive by many. The team’s founder, George Preston Marshall, had changed the name from Braves to Redskins to honor head coach William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz, who was believed to be a Native American. However, this claim was questioned over the years. In 2021, the team updated its stadium protocol to prohibit fans from wearing Native American-inspired ceremonial headdresses or face paint. With a desire for a fresh start and a more inclusive identity, the team became the Washington Commanders.
The Carolina Panthers, established in 1995, have a unique story behind their name. Panthers team president Mark Richardson, the son of team owner Jerry Richardson, chose the name because it symbolized power, sleekness, and strength. However, the choice of the color scheme – black, blue, and silver – initially raised concerns from NFL Properties representatives. Some worried that a team named the Panthers with black in its color scheme might appeal to street gangs and reflect poorly on the league. Despite these concerns, the Carolina Panthers have become a respected and formidable franchise in the NFL.
The Minnesota Vikings joined the NFL in 1961, and their name holds a unique distinction. According to the team’s website, Bert Rose, the team’s general manager, recommended the name “Vikings” because it represented both an aggressive spirit with the will to win and the Nordic tradition in the northern Midwest. The franchise also became the first pro sports team to feature its home state, rather than a city, in the team name. This innovative choice has solidified the Vikings’ identity over the years.
The Chicago Bears have a history that dates back to the early days of the NFL. Originally known as the Decatur Staleys, the team moved to Chicago in 1921. When star player George Halas purchased the team in 1922, he decided it was time for a name change. Chicago played its home games at Wrigley Field, home of the baseball’s Cubs, and Halas opted to stick with the ursine theme. Thus, the Bears were born, and they have been a part of the NFL since its inception.
Kansas City Chiefs
In 1960, Kansas City welcomed a new football team that needed a name change. The franchise’s previous name, the Texans, was not suitable for its new home. Former Kansas City Mayor H. Roe Bartle was nicknamed “Chief,” and as a tribute to his efforts to bring the team to the city, the ownership chose the name “Chiefs.” It was a fitting choice for a franchise with deep ties to its community.
The Detroit Lions owe their name to a nod to the city’s existing baseball team, the Tigers. According to historical accounts, the NFL team’s owner, Tim Mara, borrowed the name “Lions” as a counterpart to the baseball team. The choice was made to signify strength and the desire to be the “monarch of the league.” While the Lions have never reached a Super Bowl, they remain a proud franchise in the NFL.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers, formerly known as the San Diego Chargers, have an interesting story behind their name. Team owner Barron Hilton sponsored a name-the-team contest in 1960, with the promise of a trip to Mexico City as the grand prize. Among the thousands of entries, one name stood out: “Chargers.” Gerald Courtney was the person behind this winning suggestion, and Hilton was so impressed with it that he didn’t bother opening any other letters. There are varying accounts as to why Hilton chose the name, but one story suggests it was because of the affiliation with his new Carte Blanche credit card. The name stuck, and the Chargers became a prominent NFL franchise.
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans was awarded an NFL franchise on Nov. 1, 1966, which happened to be All Saints’ Day. As a result, the team became known as the Saints. While the Saints struggled for much of their history, often referred to as the “Aint’s” by fans, they experienced a remarkable turnaround with Drew Brees as their quarterback, culminating in their first Super Bowl victory in 2010.
San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers trace their name back to the settlers who ventured to the San Francisco area during the gold rush of 1849. These individuals, often referred to as the “49ers,” were in pursuit of riches and a better life. The team’s name pays homage to the pioneers and the rich history of the region.
The Philadelphia Eagles took inspiration from former President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which used the American eagle as a symbol of strength and resilience. Philadelphia’s football team adopted the name “Eagles” as a nod to this powerful symbol. Locals have welcomed the moniker, shouting “E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!” at home games and celebrating their first Super Bowl triumph in 2018.
When Seattle was awarded an NFL expansion team in 1975, fans were asked for suggestions on what the team should be called. Over 20,000 entries produced more than 1,700 different suggestions. Among the diverse array of options were nods to Pacific Northwest lore, weather, maritime industry, and aviation industry. The eventual winner, “Seahawks,” was proposed by 153 people. The name resonated with the region’s natural beauty and marine life. It was a choice that captured the spirit of Seattle.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers owe their name to pirate invasions of long ago. Florida’s western coast, including Tampa Bay, was frequently invaded during the late 18th and early 19th centuries by a Spanish captain named Jose Gaspar, known as Gasparilla. When Tampa was awarded an NFL expansion team in 1976, a “name-the-team” contest was held. An advisory board selected “Buccaneers” from over 400 nickname possibilities based on the local pirate legend. Today, the “Gasparilla Pirate Festival” is celebrated every year and draws almost 500,000 partiers, solidifying the Buccaneers’ pirate identity.
New York Giants
The New York Giants have a name that draws from the city’s rich sports history. Team owner Tim Mara borrowed the name “Giants” from John McGraw’s National League baseball team. This was a common practice in an era when baseball was the nation’s preeminent team sport. The Giants’ name has become synonymous with football greatness, boasting a storied history and multiple championships.
The Cincinnati Bengals, founded as a new AFL team, had initially considered calling themselves the “Buckeyes.” However, this idea was quickly scrapped due to strong associations with Ohio State University. Instead, they chose the name “Bengals” as a nod to former football teams from the Cincinnati area.
Before becoming the Browns, a contest was held to name the new team. “Browns” was the favored suggestion, named after Paul Brown, a revered figure in Ohio sports. After some convincing, Paul Brown allowed the franchise to use his name.
The Cowboys originally intended to name themselves the Rangers but had to change their name due to the existence of a major league baseball team with the same name in Arlington, Texas. They opted for “Cowboys” to avoid any confusion.
In 1996, fans chose the name for the relocated Browns franchise, and they settled on “Ravens.” The name pays homage to writer Edgar Allen Poe, who is buried nearby and wrote about a ghostly bird. This choice symbolized a fresh start for Baltimore’s NFL presence, exactly 12 years after the Colts moved to Indianapolis.
The team now known as the Buffalo Bills was initially called the “Bisons” when it was founded in 1946 as part of the All-America Football Conference. However, after just one year, owner James Breuil held a contest to rename the team. The winning name, “Buffalo Bills,” was a reference to William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, known for his Wild West shows.
Joseph Robbie and Danny Thomas, founders of the AFL franchise, organized a naming contest in 1965. “Dolphins” gained popularity with nearly 20,000 entries, earning over 600 votes. Robbie was drawn to the name because he admired the speed and intelligence of dolphins.
Originally named the “Pirates” after the city’s baseball team, the Steelers got their name through a newspaper contest in 1940. Owner Art Rooney Sr. selected “Steelers” from thousands of submissions to honor the region’s steel production history.
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers, a storied football franchise, have a unique origin that ties them to their community’s rich heritage. The team’s name was derived from local packing companies that provided sponsorship, forging a deep connection between the Packers and their hometown. Over the years, this relationship has become a source of immense pride for Green Bay residents, who are affectionately known as “cheeseheads.” These dedicated fans often sport foam cheese hats as a symbol of their unwavering support when attending games at the iconic Lambeau Field.
Speaking of Lambeau Field, it’s the epicenter of a historic sports rivalry that transcends borders. The Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears share one of the biggest sports rivalries in the world. This fierce competition, rooted in decades of matchups and legendary clashes, is a testament to the passion and devotion that both franchises inspire in their fans.
The Houston franchise conducted extensive research to choose their name, considering options like Apollos, Bobcats, Stallions, Texans, and Wildcatters. “Texans” won the contest and was announced live on ESPN2.
Just like how many other NFL teams got their names, the Colts were named through a fan contest. Interestingly, when football returned to Baltimore in 1996, the team that eventually became the Ravens tried to buy the rights to the Colts’ name for $5 million.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams have a colorful history. They started as the “Cleveland Rams” before moving to Los Angeles in 1946 and later relocating to St. Louis in 1995. The team’s nickname came from the Rams’ general manager, Damon Wetzel, who was a fan of Fordham University’s Rams.
When the AFL needed a name for one of its charter members, they held a contest. The judging panel declared the winning entry, which presented a compelling explanation for nicknaming the team “Broncos” in just 25 words.
In 1993, Jacksonville held a naming contest for its new NFL team. “Jaguars” was the winning entry submitted by a local resident, Ray Potts, who won season tickets and a trip to the Super Bowl.
Las Vegas Raiders
Originally, in the early days of the team, they briefly adopted the name “Senors” after winning a name-the-team contest. However, due to a significant backlash from fans and the community, they decided to hold a new contest to determine their identity. That’s when “Raiders” emerged as the winning name, forever etching itself into NFL history. Notably, the iconic silver and black colors that we associate with the team today came later, when Al Davis took over in 1963. This transformation in both name and image showcases just how NFL teams got their names and evolved over the years.
New England Patriots
When owner Billy Sullivan bought an AFL team in Boston in 1959, he asked the public for nickname suggestions. A panel of sportswriters chose the name “Patriots” from 74 different entries to honour Boston’s role in the nation’s founding. They initially went by the name “Boston Patriots” until 1971 when they relocated to Foxborough, Massachusetts.
In conclusion, delving into the intriguing history of how NFL teams got their names provides us with a deeper appreciation for the league’s origins and the diverse stories behind each team’s identity. These names aren’t merely labels; they are symbolic representations of the communities, traditions, and values that have shaped the NFL.
As we’ve journeyed through the tales of team names, from the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Miami Dolphins, we’ve uncovered the fascinating blend of history, culture, and regional pride that makes each name unique. How NFL teams got their names is a reflection of America’s diverse heritage, its reverence for legends, and its connection to the very essence of the sport.
So, the next time you watch an NFL game, take a moment to reflect on the rich history encapsulated in those team names. Understanding how NFL teams got their names reminds us that football is more than just a game; it’s a tapestry of stories and legacies that continue to evolve with each passing season, honoring the past while building the future.