Why is the San Francisco football team called the 49ers? When the California Gold Rush began in 1848, American football didn’t exist. But those aggressive gold miners would give their nickname to a football team one hundred years later. Gold was first found in Northern California in January 1848, and it took about a year for the news to travel and inspire thousands of fortune seekers to head west. The miners who arrived in 1849 encountered a number of fortunate coincidences. They were relatively early compared to the competition that would follow over the next six years; they could put a pan in the river and pull out gold. Also, California was still disputed territory. Before 1850 (when California became a state), the gold was free. There were no taxes or land rights’ arguments. These fortunate early gold miners were quickly dubbed the “forty-niners.” There were published reports around the country about them, and there was a book, The Forty-niners, Or, The Pioneer’s Daughter published in 1879. Meanwhile, the first game of American football was played in 1869 in New Jersey, and even then it didn’t really look like football, more like soccer mixed with rugby. When the first Northern California football team was founded in 1946, the name came logically. The team’s mascot was a gold miner named Sourdough Sam (pictured above). Perhaps because of the name, the team has never left San Francisco.