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How NFL Teams Got Their Names

Updated on June 14, 2014

TEAM NAMES

Have you ever wondered how your favorite team was named? Does it have something to do with the area that they play in? Was it the owner, the fans, or the players who came up with the name? Actually its all of the above! Listed below are all the current NFL teams and how their names came to be.

Current NFL teams

ARIZONA CARDINALS

The franchise began as a Chicago neighborhood football team called the "Morgan Athletic Club." In 1901, team owner Chris O'Brien got an exceptional deal on some used red football uniforms from the University of Chicago. When the uniforms arrived, upon unloading the jerseys, the team manager commented that the jerseys were "faded red," to which O'Brien exclaimed that they weren't faded red but indeed "cardinal red. After that, the club was known as the "Racine Cardinals." The Cardinals moved from Chicago to St. Louis in 1960 and became the "St. Louis Cardinals." In 1988, the club relocated to Tempe, Arizona and was christened the "Phoenix Cardinals." Then in 1994, the franchise endured another name change and became the "Arizona Cardinals", based in the Phoenix area.

ATLANTA FALCONS

In a "name-the-team" contest, 558 separate nicknames were submitted. Several suggested "Falcons", but the entry of school teacher Julie Elliott was chosen with her summation that "the falcon is proud and dignified with great courage and fight."

BALTIMORE RAVENS

A "name-the-team" contest was held. Baltimore management poured through the entries and came up with a list of 17. From there, it was narrowed down to six and then to three: Americans, Ravens and Marauders. The last step was for the fans to vote on the final three entries. From the 33,288 voters, "Ravens" won out to honor author Edgar Allan Poe, who lived and is buried in Baltimore.

BUFFALO BILLS

Buffalo was one of the first franchises named in the AFL. Owner Ralph Wilson was quite wealthy and had attempted to purchase a NFL expansion team, but like all the rest was repeatedly turned down. Because of the success of the AAFC Bills, it was a natural fusion with the newer rendition. The nickname originally came from the fabled Wild West showman, William "Buffalo Bill" Cody.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

The Panthers joined the NFL as an expansion team in 1995 owned by Jerry Richardson. Richardson's son Mark is responsible for the selection of the team name "Panthers." Mark felt that there should be some "synergy" between the name and the team colors and also suggested the team colors of black, blue and silver.

CHICAGO BEARS

The "Chicago Staleys" were able to lease Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs., and captured the 1921 NFL title. In 1922, after the affliation with Staley was completed, Halas renamed his team the "Chicago Cubs" in hopes that fans would support both sports. Upon consideration, he noted that football players were bigger than their baseball counterparts, so if baseball players were cubs, then football players must be "Bears."

CINCINNATI BENGALS

From 1937-1941, a team called the Bengals competed in the third American Football League. In 1966 Paul Brown would become head coach as well as part-owner. He named the team the "Bengals" in order to give the new team a connection with the city's professional football past. Oddly enough, at the time, the city's zoo housed a rare white Bengal tiger. Brown chose as one of the team colors the familiar orange his former team, the Browns, used. He then added black to represent colors associated with a tiger.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Paul Brown was head coach and became known as one of pro football's most prominent strategists. The team got its name from a "name-the-team" contest prior to its first season. Navy sailor John Hartnett won the contest with the name "Panthers." However, local businessman C. X. Zimmerman contacted management and informed them that he owned the rights to the name "Cleveland Panthers." So it turned out, the new Panthers needed a new nickname. With all the recognition and notoriety, while searching for a new nickname, the press and fans would routinely refer to the club as "Brown's team." A second contest was held with "Browns" being the most submitted.

DALLAS COWBOYS

Before any owner or staff was assembled, the team was nicknamed the "Steers." The team was renamed the "Rangers", which at the time was also the name of the local AAA minor league baseball team. A problem crept up when the baseball Rangers changed Major League affiliates and decided to stay put. Dallas management didn't want to create confusion and decided to change nicknames. Although Dallas wasn't exactly the center of the livestock universe, the nickname "Cowboys" was catchy.

DENVER BRONCOS

The Broncos competed in the first-ever AFL game. In 1965, the club came close to relocating to Atlanta, but a local ownership group headed by Gerald and Allan Phipps put together a package and kept the team in Denver. Fan support subsequently increased from 7,993 season ticket holders to almost 23,000.

A "name-the-team" contest was held in 1960. "Broncos" were the most submitted partly because of the popularity of a minor league baseball team in the 1920s of the same name.

DETROIT LIONS

This team began in 1930 as the Portsmouth Spartans. In 1934, a group from Michigan led by George Richards purchased the club for $7,952 and relocated it to Detroit. Richards named his club the "Lions" to go along with baseball’s Tigers. He would comment that the lion was the monarch of the jungle, and he intended him team to become the monarch of the NFL.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Curly Lambeau and George Calhoun were high school rivals and wanted to start a football team. At the time, Lambeau was a shipping clerk for the Indian Packing Company. Lambeau solicited his employer into becoming the team sponsor. The company agreed and put up $500 for equipment and also agreed to allow the team to use its athletic field for practices. The stipulation the company placed on Lambeau for its generosity was that the team would be named after the sponsor in order to advertise. They were nicknamed, "PACKERS". Today, the Packers are the only non-profit, community-owned major league professional sports team in the United States.

HOUSTON TEXANS

The Houston Oilers left town for Nashville in 1997, the city felt the void left from not having pro football for the first time in 36 years. At the owner’s meeting in October of 1999 the NFL owners voted 29-0 to award an expansion franchise. Months of extensive focus groups brought forward five nicknames as finalists: Stallions, Bobcats, Texans, Wildcatters and Apollos. On September 6, 2000, before thousands of fans and a live ESPN2 audience, owner Bob McNair unveiled the logo, colors and nickname of the "Texans."

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

This storied franchise first began in South Florida. In 1946, the AAFC placed a team in Miami called the Seahawks. The following season, the club was purchased by a group led by Robert Rodenburg and the team was relocated to Baltimore. In 1983, the Colts began talking with prospective cities for a possible relocation, such as Phoenix, Jacksonville, Birmingham, Indianapolis, Memphis and New York. The team moved to Indianapolis in 1984. The team got its nickname from a “name-the-team” contest won by Charles Evans of Maryland. The nickname "Colts" was chosen because of the tradition and history of horse racing and breeding in the area.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

In 1993, the NFL unveiled plans to expand to two new areas. Eventually Charlotte, North Carolina was granted the first franchise. The other would be between St. Louis, Jacksonville, Baltimore or Memphis. On November 30, 1993, Jacksonville was announced as the winner. A “name-the–team” contest brought forth thousands of nicknames. The finalists were Stingrays, Sharks, Jaguars and Panthers. With "Jaguars" the choice, fan Ray Potts was randomly selected as the contest winner.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

1960, It was originally based in Texas and called the "Dallas Texans."The club relocated to Kansas City for the 1963 season. At first, the team was to be called the Kansas City Texans. As a secondary thought, the owner offered a "name-the-team" contest to drum up fan interest. A total of 1,020 different names were submitted amongst 4,866 entries. After the finalists were formulated, Lamar Hunt chose "Chiefs" in honor of Mayor Bartle, whose nickname was Chief. Other finalists were Royals and Mules.

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MIAMI DOLPHINS

A "name-the-team" contest was held with a total of 19,843 entries. A committee comprised of local media selected Mustangs, Moons, Sharks, Dolphins, Suns, Mariners, Missiles and Marauders as the nickname finalists. "Dolphins" was selected and submitted by 622 entrants.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Minnesota is known as the hub of Scandinavian-American culture. Bert Rose, the first general manager of the club, named the team the "Vikings" because so many people in the state of Minnesota and the surrounding area traced their heritage back to Scandinavia.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

The Boston Patriots began as a charter member of the AFL in 1960. A more regional team label was desired to attract fans between Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, so the appellation "New England" was inserted. The franchise got their nickname from suggestions from fans. "Patriots" was chosen from the entries to reflect the area's role in the American revolution.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

The Saints became a franchise as a direct result of the AFL-NFL merger. When the budget bill passed on October 21, 1966, the NFL and AFL got their merger and New Orleans got an immediate franchise. At a league meeting on November 1, it became official. That date just happened to be the Catholic holiday All-Saints Day. New Orleans has a large Catholic population and numerous centuries-old Catholic churches. It was only fitting to nickname the team the "Saints" for the day they were officially conceived.

NEW YORK GIANTS

The New York Football Giants were founded in 1925 by Tim Mara. Tim Mara named the team after the National League baseball Giants. At the time, baseball was the king of professional sports, so owner Tim Mara wanted the same name recognition in hopes that fans would support both clubs. The baseball Giants got their name from all the giant buildings that made up New York City.

NEW YORK JETS

As with a lot of teams, the Jets were members of the AFL in its first season of 1960. It was important for the new league to anchor a club in New York City. And so, the New York Titans were born. The NFL already had the Giants. New owner Harry Wismer called his team the "Titans" because he accessed “titans are bigger and stronger than giants.” A five-man group headed by Sonny Werblin purchased the club in 1963. Werblin changed the colors to green and white to honor his St. Patrick’s day birthday, moved the club into Shea Stadium and renamed them the "Jets." His reasoning was that the United States was entering the space age and also that the new stadium was located between LaGuardia and JFK airports. Shea was also the home of the Mets, and the name association was friendly.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

Oakland businessman Chet Soda was head of a group that purchased the final franchise. The team was first dubbed the "Señors" in April of 1960 via a "name-the-team" contest held by the local paper. The public hated the name, and several weeks later, the nickname was dropped for the supposedly runner-up choice the "Raiders."

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

The Eagles began as the "Frankford Yellow Jackets." Frankford is a section of Philadelphia. Owner Bert Bell renamed the club the "Eagles" after the eagle logo on the National Recovery Administration's emblem. The emblem was in honor of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deals National Recovery Act.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

In 1933 Pittsburgh native Art Rooney was awarded an NFL franchise. He named his club the "Pirates" after the city's baseball team. In 1939 Rooney wanted a new start and decided a new nickname was in order. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette promoted a "name-the-team" contest. Several different entries were submitted, but in the end Rooney chose the moniker "Steelers."

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

The "Los Angeles Chargers" were charter members of the AFL in 1960 and one of the first franchises awarded in the new league. In 1961, the Chargers relocated to San Diego. A "name-the-team" contest was held the first year. From the finalists, General Manager Frank Ready chose "Chargers".

SAN FRANCISCO 49ers

The 49ers began as charter members of the "All-America Football Conference" (AAFC) in 1946. In 1950, the 49ers were one of three teams which merged into the NFL. After San Francisco was awarded a franchise, the wives of the two original owners, Tony Morabito and his younger brother Victor, suggested the nickname "49ers" in honor of the men who were part of the 1849 gold rush in the Sierra Nevada mountains east of San Francisco.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

In 1974, the City of Seattle was granted an expansion franchise. A "name-the-team" contest was offered with over 1,742 different nicknames amidst 20,365 entries. "Seahawks" was suggested by 151 entrants and selected by new General Manager John Thompson. A Seahawk is another name for an osprey, which are fierce hawks whose main diet is fish. They are found near bodies of water and can have up to a six-foot wingspan.

ST. LOUIS RAMS

"Cleveland Rams" became a member of the one of the NFL's first rival leagues, the American Football League in 1935. The AFL II was in shambles after its first year, so Rams owner Homer Marshman applied for a spot in the NFL. In 1946, the Rams moved to Los Angeles and became the NFL's first Pacific Coast team. Then in 1995, the "Los Angeles Rams" relocated again and became the "St. Louis Rams." The team got its nickname from the Rams' general manager Damon Wetzel. His favorite football team was the Fordham University Rams. Marshman liked the nickname and coined his own team as such.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

"Tampa Bay" is not an actual city but simply a label commonly used for the region it represents, as well as the bay's actual title. The Buccaneers got their nickname from pirate invasions of long ago. Florida's western coast (including Tampa Bay) was invaded almost annually during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. When Tampa was awarded an NFL expansion team in 1976, the team held a "name-the-team" contest. From there, an advisory board selected "Buccaneers" from over 400 nickname possibilities based on the local pirate legend.

TENNESSE TITANS

The Titans began as an original member of the 1960s American Football League (AFL) as the "Houston Oilers. In 1997, the Oilers announced that the club would relocate to Nashville. Owner Bud Adams wanted a nickname change. In Nashville, there is a full-scale replica of the Parthenon and other Greek influences and the city was already known as "the Athens of the South." Adams chose "Titans" from a list of suggestions to reflect heroic qualities. Adams elected to call his team by the state name instead of "Nashville" to better represent the entire region instead of only one city

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

The franchise was first based in Boston, in 1932 named the "Boston Braves" after the city's existing baseball team. The team had head coach Lone Star Dietz, a Native-American, as well as many other Native-American players. The Native-American players disliked the name Braves so it was changed to "Boston Redskins."

SUPERBOWL 2014-15

Wow!, 3 out of 4 repeated to the finals!!

Congratulations to the Baltimore Ravens on their Superbowl win!! It was a great game that went to the very last play.

Who from the 2013-14 top 4 has the best shot to get to the 2014-15 Superbowl?

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    • Otto Phillips profile image

      Otto Phillips 4 years ago

      Wonderful information on the history of the NFL teams nicknames. Great Lens.

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      FantasyFootballRankings 4 years ago

      Thanks for the information about how NFL teams got their names. I will be back to see what else you have to say.

    • wolvyz profile image

      wolvyz 5 years ago

      Definitely interesting to read how some of the teams got their names.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      A very interesting lens, great job!