NFL Background Checks: The Origin of Every Team's Nickname

J FCorrespondent IMarch 11, 2011

NFL Background Checks: The Origin of Every Team's Nickname

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    Most people don't take time to consider why sports teams are dubbed with seemingly irrelevant nicknames.

    Some have their own ideas of where they came from, others never even thought about it and some just simply don't care.

    For those curious sports fans out there and those who like to know a little history about their team, I've compiled some interesting facts about why each NFL franchise was given the title they are known by today.

     Note: If you are also interested in NCAA, NHL, NBA, and MLB nicknames, check my profile for the articles.

Detroit Lions

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    When the Portsmouth Spartans moved to Detroit in 1934, they changed their name to the Lions to complement the city's other professional team, the Tigers.

    The Detroit Lions first owner, George Richards, hoped his team would become the king of the NFL just as the lion is the king of the jungle.

Minnesota Vikings

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    The Vikings' nickname was selected over other suggestions including the Chippewas, Voyagers and Miners.

    Most Vikings were Scandinavian warriors as well as early explorers of the New World. Minnesota is considered the center of Scandinavian culture in America.

Chicago Bears

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    The Bears were also named to complement the city's MLB team, the Cubs.

    They played their games at Wrigley Field from 1921 to 1970.

Green Bay Packers

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    The Packers are still named after their first sponsor, the Indian Packing Company, when the team was founded in 1919.

    The nickname is the oldest in the NFL that is still in use.

Miami Dolphins

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    A contest was held in 1965 to determined the nickname of Miami's new professional football franchise.

    The finalists included the Dolphins, Mariners, Mustangs, Missiles, Moons, Sharks, Suns and Marauders.

    The Dolphins won as just over 600 of nearly 20,000 entries had chosen the name, partly because Flipper the dolphin was a popular TV character at the time.

    Dolphins owner, Joe Robbie, claimed that dolphins can kill sharks and whales because they are one of the fastest, and most intelligent sea creatures.


New England Patriots

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    A fan contest also decided the name of the Boston Patriots.

    People knowns as Patriots during the Revolutionary War opposed Great Britain, and fought for independence.

    Boston was a center of rebellion in colonial America primarily because of the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre.

New York Jets

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    New York's team was known as the Titans before being sold for $1 million in 1963.

    A committee of 500 people chose the new name, the Jets, over the Dodgers, Gothams and Borros because they played at Shea Stadium, which sat between two major airports.

    Now the nickname rhymes with two other New York area teams, the Nets and the Mets.

Buffalo Bills

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    The Bills were first known as the Bisons, copying the nickname of a local baseball team and hockey team.

    In 1947, the franchise sought distinction and decided to hold a fan contest to find a more original name. Bills was selected as a tribute to the western frontiersman, Buffalo Bill Cody.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Gold miners flocked to California during the 1849 gold rush.

    The team's name is a tribute to the daring pioneers of this time in U.S history.

Seattle Seahawks

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    The new franchise held a public naming contest in 1975. Seahawks was selected out of 1,700 different entries.

    It was entered by Peninsula High School, whose teams were the first to go by the nickname.

    Seahawks, or osprey, are local to the Seattle area.

Arizona Cardinals

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    In 1898, the team was founded in Chicago and came to be known as the Racine Normals, simply because they were located at Normal Park on Racine Avenue.

    In 1901, the team purchased used jerseys from the University of Chicago. The jerseys had a faded maroon color, which owner Chris O'Brien claimed was actually cardinal red.

    Surprisingly, the team changed its name to the Cardinals because of O'Brien's statement, not directly because of the bird.

St. Louis Rams

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    The team was founded in Cleveland and given its nickname in 1936 as a tribute to GM Damon Wetzel's favorite football team, the Fordham Rams.

    Homer Marshman, the Rams' first owner, agreed to the name because he like the way it sounded.

Dallas Cowboys

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    The team was first called the Steers, then the Rangers and finally the Cowboys to reduce confusion with the Dallas Rangers' minor league baseball team, which existed at the time.

Washington Redskins

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    The franchise began in 1932 as the Boston Braves.

     A year later the name was changed to the Redskins to honor their American Indian coach Lone Star Dietz.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    When the franchise began in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had recently introduced the "New Deal" from the National Recovery Act.

    The symbol of the program was the eagle. Bert Bell, the team's first owner, hoped his franchise was headed for a fresh start, so he selected the insignia for his team's nickname.

New York Giants

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    Technically, the team was named the New York Football Giants to distinguish them from the baseball team, which has since moved to San Francisco.

    Today, Football Giants is still the legal name of the franchise.

Cincinatti Bengals

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    The new team was named after an older Cincinnati Bengals that had played in AFL during the late 1930's.

    The city was also famous worldwide for its zoo that showcased a rare white bengal tiger.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The team began in 1933 as the Pittsburgh Pirates to mimic the city's baseball team.

    In 1940, its name was changed to the Steelers because Pittsburgh was famous for the steel industry.

Cleveland Browns

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    In 1945, the team selected Ohio State's coach, Paul Brown, to lead their team as a GM and head coach.

    A naming contest was held, and the most popular entry was "Browns" in honor of Paul Brown. However, he objected and "Panthers" was next in line.

    Cleveland Panthers had already been copyrighted by a former team, so Paul eventually agreed to the "Browns."

Baltimore Ravens

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    The franchise went through focus groups, phone surveys and finally a fan contest until "Ravens" was selected.

    Edgar Allan Poe, the author of the famous poem The Raven, lived in Baltimore for a majority of his career and is also buried in the city.

    Marauders and Americans were the other two finalists in the fan contest.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    A fan contest also determined the name of Florida's newest franchise, which began play as the Jaguars in 1995. Sharks, Stingrays and Panthers were the other finalists.

    The Carolina Panthers became the other expansion team to enter the league in '95.

    Jaguars aren't native to Florida, but at least it starts with a "J" to match with Jacksonville.

Indianapolis Colts

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    The Colts originated in Baltimore, a city rich in horse racing and horse breeding history.

    They kept the name upon their move to Indianapolis in 1984.

Houston Texans

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    Focus groups came up with five possibilities for the name of the NFL's 32nd franchise: Wildcatters, Stallions, Apollos, Texans and Bobcats.

    In 2000, the final decision was made known to the public, and Texas' new team became known as the Texans.

    Original, huh?

Tennessee Titans

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    The Tennessee Oilers became the Titans in 1999, two seasons after moving from Houston.

    Fans wanted a new name and owner Bud Adams chose "Titans" because it represented heroic qualities such as strength and leadership.

Carolina Panthers

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    There are panthers in the Carolinas, but it is said that Mark Richardson, the son of the owner, wanted the nickname to match with the team colors.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    The team held a naming contest, and the winning entry was the Buccaneers.

    For those of you who don't know, buccaneers were pirates that sailed the waters surrounding Florida during the 1600's.

New Orleans Saints

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    The Saints came into existence on November 1, 1966, a day revered by Catholics as All Saints Day.

    New Orleans is also a predominantly Roman Catholic city, and the name was the most popular in a fan contest.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Julia Elliott and 40 other contestants suggested "Falcons" in a fan contest. 

    In her essay she explained her choice, describing falcons as proud, dignified and courageous fighters.

    Other popular entries included the Knights, Rebels, Bombers, Thrashers, Lancers, Crackers, Fireballs, Firebirds and Thunderbirds.

Denver Broncos

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    The nickname was selected in a fan contest upon the team's entrance into the AFL in 1960.

    It may have originated from Denver's team in the Midwest Baseball League in 1921, also dubbed the Broncos.

Oakland Raiders

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    The Oakland Tribune held a fan contest, and the team spent several weeks as the Señors.

    After being subject to speculation and jokes, the name was later changed to the Raiders, the third-place winner in the contest.

San Diego Chargers

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    Gerald Courtney was the winner of Los Angeles's name the team contest, and his entry stuck with the team when it moved to San Diego.

    For entering "Chargers", Courtney won a free trip to Mexico.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    "Chiefs" rose above "Mules" and "Royals" in the naming contest after the Dallas Texans moved to Kansas City in 1962.