How Your Favorite NFL Team Got Its Name

The NFL Name Game

There are 32 NFL teams, each with a fascinating cultural identity. With football on the brain, we’re taking a close look at the history behind the naming of some top NFL franchises. Ready...set...HIKE!

Los Angeles Chargers

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

However, official team history states otherwise. Apparently the name was chosen as part of 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 prospectors who came to California as part of the frantic Gold Rush of 1849, searching for “gold in them thar hills.” These days, the 49ers hope for the gold of Super Bowl rings.

Some historians believe the gold rush was instrumental in the development of San Francisco’s LGBT community. Countless male prospectors let loose at burlesque and Vaudeville theater events in San Francisco’s Barbary Coast.

Green Bay Packers

Way back 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 wanted the team to be called the Packers.

Minnesota Vikings

Vikings were ruthless pirates who looted the coasts of Europe in the 8th to 10th centuries. The team’s first GM picked the name because Minnesota is known for its Scandinavian heritage.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks are one of the handful of major sports teams that chose their name with a fan contest. Close to 2,000 different names were submitted, but "Seahawks" was submitted about 150 times, making them the winner. A seahawk 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. President Roosevelt’s New Deal plan included the National Recovery Act (this was post-Depression), and the Blue Eagle was its symbol. The two owners chose Eagles as the team name in its honor.

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. Starting in 1981, they adorned their bright orange helmets with ferocious tiger stripes.

Los Angeles Rams

The Los Angeles Rams owe their identity to a college team! Principal owner Homer Marshman and general manager Damon “Buzz” Wetzel decided on the name "Rams" as the Fordham (University) Rams were Wetzel’s favorite college football team.

New York Giants

The New York Giants kinda, sorta 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 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!

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