How Your Favorite NFL Team Got Its Name

The NFL Name Game

There are 32 NFL teams, each with a fascinating cultural identity. And snappy uniforms. With Superbowl LIII just around the bend, let's look at the history behind the names of some of the top NFL franchises.

Los Angeles Chargers

Rumors and urban legends suggest that business magnate Barron Hilton named the Chargers to promote his credit card company, Carte Blanche.

But official team history states otherwise. The name was apparently selected from a fan contest. Hilton liked "Chargers" because it reminded him of a fierce cavalry charge.

San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers were named after the wave of bright-eyed prospectors who came to California as part of the Gold Rush of 1849. Today’s 49ers, though, are more likely to wear gold than dig for it.

Some historians believe the gold rush was instrumental in the development of San Francisco’s LGBT culture. Countless male prospectors would let loose at burlesques and masquerade balls on the Barbary Coast–then the city’s red-light district.

Green Bay Packers

In 1919, a fellow named Curly Lambeau decided to start a football team in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He worked for a canned meat business called the Indian Packing Company. In return for their sponsorship, the company requested the team be called the Packers.

Minnesota Vikings

Vikings were ruthless pirates who looted the coasts of Europe in the 8th to 10th centuries. The Minnesota team’s first GM picked the name as an homage to the state’s Scandinavian heritage.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks are another major sports teams that chose their name with a fan contest. Close to 2,000 different names were submitted, but "Seahawks" won the day with roughly 150 votes. A seahawk, by the way, is another name for a bird called the osprey, a large hawk that feeds on fish.

Washington Redskins

Washington’s team name is one of the most politically charged issues in all of American sports. Critics insist the name is a racial slur and the team’s imagery exploits Native American stereotypes.

Owner Dan Snyder has officially stated he will never change the name. The team continues to assert that their mascot and name were chosen in 1933 to honor Native Americans.

Pittsburgh Steelers

When the team was founded in 1933, they were called the Pirates, the same as the town’s baseball team. By 1939, owner Art Rooney wanted to reboot the team’s image, so he went with a fan contest, and chose Steelers as a nod to Pittsburgh’s booming steel industry.

Philadelphia Eagles

In 1933, two gentleman named Bert Bell and Lud Wray bought a financially strapped team called the Frankford Yellow Jackets. They changed the name to the Eagles in honor of the National Recovery Act, a New Deal plan initiated by president Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose insignia was the Blue Eagle.

Cincinnati Bengals

For the record, Bengal tigers are an endangered species, found mainly in India and Bangladesh. Founder Paul Brown named his squad the Bengals after a historic team in Cincinnati of the same name. And if you’re curious what year they added tiger stripes to their helmets: it was 1981. You’re welcome.

Los Angeles Rams

Fun fact: the Los Angeles Rams owe their identity to a college football team. Principal owner, Homer Marshman, and general manager, Damon “Buzz” Wetzel, chose the name Rams because Wetzel’s favorite college football team was the Fordham University Rams.

New York Giants

The New York Giants kinda stole their name from the New York baseball Giants. It was easy to mistake one for the other until majority owner Horace Stoneham relocated his ballclub west to San Francisco in 1959.

To this day, you’ll occasionally hear sportscasters refer to them as the “New York Football Giants” as an homage to that bygone era when two teams shared one name.

New York Jets

The Jets were originally known as the New York Titans, since the team owner felt “Titans” were stronger than “Giants,” the other New York team. They were renamed the Jets in 1963 when they moved to Shea Stadium, which was close to New York’s airports.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals were originally founded all the way back in 1898. Around 1901, the team owner bought a set of used maroon jerseys from the University of Chicago. When the owner saw them, he remarked, “That’s not maroon, that’s cardinal.” Thus, the team name was born. The bird came later.

The New Orleans Saints founded their franchise auspiciously on All Saints Day, November 1st, 1966. Partial owner David Dixon even got the seal of approval from the (heavily Catholic) city’s Archbishop. The name is also said to honor the city’s rich jazz history, after popular jazz classic, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

 

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