NFL: How All 32 Teams Got Their Names

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NFL: How All 32 Teams Got Their Names
USA TODAY Sports

There is no spectator sport today that commands such an enthusiastic following as professional football. Every year, more and more sports and non-sports fans are drawn to the spectacle that has become America’s Game.

As much as the polished look that today’s National Football League (NFL) projects, it was not always that way. Clubs entered the league and folded or moved almost every year and often were based in small towns.

Team members were men from the community instead of players drafted live on ESPN in primetime. Most often, these men were coal workers, farm hands and policemen during the day, while engaging as gridiron gladiators on the weekends.

Players used to have jobs during the offseason. Oftentimes, teams had sponsors just as your softball team might have. Equipment was nominal and crude. Players had to supply their own shoes.

At one time, there was an unwritten rule by which black players weren’t hired. In fact, even as late as the 1960s, the Redskins were under the threat of civil rights legal action by the Kennedy administration, which forced them to draft (and hire) black players.

For the first 13 years of existence, the NFL was totally devoid of a playoff system. The league champion wasn’t even crowned until a vote at the owner’s winter meetings. When a playoff system was finally instituted, it wasn’t called the Super Bowl but rather the NFL Championship Game. The winner of the league title won a cup named after a referee.

But things change, and the NFL has undergone a transformation along the parallel of society over the years.

Out of the current 32 NFL teams, only half are still in their primary location or called by their original nickname. And in that group, 11 clubs were outright expansion teams. That leaves five franchises out of 32 that are still in the city in which they began and with the same nickname that has always brandished their identity.

So, how did each NFL team get its name?

First off, let’s do a clarification. There are two parts to every team name: 1) the location name which the team calls home and 2) the nickname of the team.

The location name doesn’t necessarily have to be the city’s actual appellation. The Golden State Warriors of the NBA wanted a more area-pleasing location name. After moving from Philadelphia, they were known as the San Francisco Warriors. Since the team was the only NBA team in the Bay Area, their desire was to attract fans regionally. And since their current home arena is based in nearby Oakland, the moniker still makes a lot of sense. 

The second portion of an NFL team name is the nickname, which is both a verb and a noun by definition. The City of New Orleans has several nicknames, one being “The Big Easy.” But the NBA team’s nickname is the Hornets.

Therefore, “The Big Easy” is the noun, whereas “Hornets” is the verb connotation. So, both are properly used.

Often, team nicknames are derived from people, places or things that are indicative of the area’s culture. Such was the case with the Indiana Racers (Indy 500 annual race) of the defunct World Hockey Association or the Minneapolis Lakers. Another good example is the Dayton Triangles in the early days of the NFL. Their name came from three area factories which aligned in a triangle.  

Let’s take a look at how each NFL team got its name. And for no particular reason, this list is presented in reverse alphabetical order.

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