How All 32 NFL Teams Got Their Names

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Patrick Smith/Getty Images

What do newspaper headline type and the New Deal have to do with the Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles? Here are the stories behind the nicknames of the NFL’s 32 teams—and what they were almost called.

ARIZONA CARDINALS


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The franchise began play in Chicago in 1898 before moving to St. Louis in 1960 and Arizona in 1988. Team owner Chris O’Brien purchased used and faded maroon jerseys from the University of Chicago in 1901 and dubbed the color of his squad’s new outfits “cardinal red.” A nickname was born. The team adopted the cardinal bird as part of its logo as early as 1947 and first featured a cardinal head on its helmets in 1960.

ATLANTA FALCONS

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Shortly after insurance executive Rankin Smith brought professional football to Atlanta, a local radio station sponsored a contest to name the team. Thirteen hundred people combined to suggest more than 500 names, including Peaches, Vibrants, Lancers, Confederates, Firebirds, and Thrashers. While several fans submitted the nickname Falcons, schoolteacher Julia Elliott of nearby Griffin was declared the winner of the contest for the reason she provided. “The falcon is proud and dignified, with great courage and fight,” Elliott wrote. “It never drops its prey. It is deadly and has great sporting tradition.” Elliott won four season tickets for three years and a football autographed by the entire 1966 inaugural team.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

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Ravens, a reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem, beat out Americans and Marauders in a contest conducted by the Baltimore Sun. Poe died and is buried in Baltimore.

Of the more than 33,000 voters in the Sun’s phone-in poll, more than 21,000 picked Ravens. “It gives us a strong nickname that is not common to teams at any level, and it gives us one that means something historically to this community,” said team owner Art Modell, who had attempted to buy the Colts nickname back from the franchise that left Baltimore for Indianapolis in 1984. The Marauders nickname referenced a B-26 built during World War II by the Glenn L. Martin Company, a predecessor to Lockheed Martin that was based in Baltimore. Other names considered included the Railers, Bulldogs, Mustangs, and Steamers.

BUFFALO BILLS


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The Bills nickname was suggested as part of a fan contest in 1947 to rename Buffalo’s All-America Football Conference team, which was originally known as the Bisons. The Bills nickname referenced frontiersman Buffalo Bill Cody and was selected over Bullets, Nickels, and Blue Devils. It helped that the team was owned by the president of Frontier Oil, James Breuil. Buffalo was without a team from 1950 to 1959, when owner Ralph Wilson acquired a franchise in the AFL. Wilson solicited potential nicknames from fans for his new franchise and ultimately chose Bills in homage to the city’s defunct AAFC team.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

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Panthers team president Mark Richardson, the son of team owner Jerry Richardson, chose the Panthers nickname because "it's a name our family thought signifies what we thought a team should be—powerful, sleek and strong." Richardson also chose the 1995 expansion team’s color scheme of black, blue, and silver, a choice that initially came under scrutiny from NFL Properties representatives. According to one newspaper report, the concern was raised at the 1993 NFL meetings that a team nicknamed the Panthers that featured black in its color scheme would appeal to street gangs and reflect poorly on the league.

CHICAGO BEARS

Chicago Bears
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In 1921, the Decatur Staleys, a charter member of the American Professional Football Association, moved to Chicago and kept their nickname, a nod to the team’s sponsor, the Staley Starch Company. When star player George Halas purchased the team the following year, he decided to change the nickname. Chicago played its home games at Wrigley Field, home of baseball’s Cubs, and Halas opted to stick with the ursine theme.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

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Team owner, general manager, and head coach Paul Brown nicknamed Cincinnati’s AFL expansion franchise the Bengals in 1968 in honor of the football team nicknamed the Bengals that played in the city from 1937-1942. According to Brown, the nickname “would provide a link with past professional football in Cincinnati.” Brown chose Bengals over the fans’ most popular suggestion, Buckeyes.

CLEVELAND BROWNS


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There’s some debate about whether Cleveland’s professional football franchise was named after its first coach and general manager, Paul Brown, or after boxer Joe Louis, who was nicknamed the “Brown Bomber.” Team owner Mickey McBride conducted a fan contest in 1945 and the most popular submission was Browns. According to one version of the story, Paul Brown vetoed the nickname and chose Panthers instead, but a local businessman informed the team that he owned the rights to the name Cleveland Panthers. Brown ultimately agreed to the use of his name and Browns stuck.

DALLAS COWBOYS

Cowboys QB Dak Prescott
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The Cowboys, who began play in the NFL in 1960, were originally going to be nicknamed the Steers. The team’s general manager, Texas E. Schramm, decided that having a castrated bovine as a mascot might subject the team to ridicule, so he decided to go with Rangers instead. But fearing that people would confuse the football team with the local minor league baseball team nicknamed the Rangers, Schramm finally changed the nickname to Cowboys shortly before the season began.

DENVER BRONCOS

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Denver was a charter member of the AFL in 1960 and Broncos, which was submitted along with a 25-word essay by Ward M. Vining, was the winning entry among 162 fans who responded in a name-the-team contest. A Denver team by the same name played in the Midwest Baseball League in 1921.

DETROIT LIONS

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Radio executive George A. Richards purchased and moved the Portsmouth Spartans to Detroit in 1934 and renamed the team the Lions. The nickname was likely derived from Detroit’s established baseball team, the Tigers, who won 101 games and the AL pennant that year. As the team explained it, “The lion is the monarch of the jungle, and we hope to be the monarch of the league.”

GREEN BAY PACKERS

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Team founder Earl “Curly” Lambeau’s employer, the Indian Packing Company, sponsored Green Bay’s football team and provided equipment and access to the field. The Indian Packing Company became the Acme Packing Company and later folded, but the nickname stuck.

HOUSTON TEXANS

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Houston’s 2002 expansion franchise became the sixth professional football team nicknamed the Texans. The Dallas Texans were an Arena Football League team from 1990 to 1993 and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones revived the team in 2000. He was planning to keep the old nickname, but ultimately renamed the team the Desperados. Houston owner Bob McNair chose Texans over Apollos and Stallions.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

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The Baltimore Colts, a member of the All-America Football Conference from 1947-1950, were named in honor of the region’s history of horse breeding. The name remained when a new franchise began play in 1953 and after the team relocated to Indianapolis in 1984.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

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The Jaguars nickname was selected through a fan contest in 1991, 2 years before the city was officially awarded an expansion team and 4 years before the team would begin play. Other names considered included the Sharks and Stingrays. While Jaguars aren’t native to Jacksonville, the oldest living jaguar in North America was housed in the Jacksonville Zoo.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS


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The Chiefs began play in the AFL in 1960 as the Dallas Texans. When the team moved to Kansas City in 1963, owner Lamar Hunt changed the team’s name to the Chiefs after also considering Mules, Royals, and Stars. Hunt said the name was locally important because Native Americans had once lived in the area. Hunt may have also been swayed by Kansas City mayor H. Roe Bartle, whose nickname was The Chief. Bartle helped lure the team to Kansas City by promising Hunt that the city would meet certain attendance thresholds.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

LA Chargers quarterback Phil Rivers
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Team owner Barron Hilton sponsored a name-the-team contest and promised a trip to Mexico City to the winner in 1960. Gerald Courtney submitted “Chargers” and Hilton reportedly liked the name so much that he didn’t open another letter.

There are varying accounts as to why Hilton chose Chargers for his franchise, which spent one year in Los Angeles before relocating to San Diego. (The franchise moved back to the Los Angeles area before the 2017 season.) According to one story, Hilton liked the name, in part, for its affiliation with his new Carte Blanche credit card. The owner also told reporters that he was fond of the “Charge!” bugle cry played at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

LOS ANGELES RAMS

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The Rams, who originated in Cleveland in 1936 and spent 1946 through 1994 in the Los Angeles area before moving to St. Louis, came back to LA in 2016. The team traces their nickname to the college ranks. Principal owner Homer Marshman and general manager Damon “Buzz” Wetzel chose the nickname because Wetzel’s favorite football team had always been the Fordham Rams. Fordham—Vince Lombardi’s alma mater—was a powerhouse at the time.

MIAMI DOLPHINS


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A name-the-team contest drew nearly 20,000 entries and resulted in the nickname for the Miami franchise that entered the AFL as an expansion team in 1966. More than 600 fans suggested Dolphins, but Marjorie Swanson was declared the winner after correctly predicting a tie in the 1965 college football game between Miami and Notre Dame as part of a follow-up contest. Swanson, who won a lifetime season pass to Dolphins games, told reporters she consulted a Magic 8-Ball before predicting the score of the game. Miami owner Joe Robbie was fond of the winning nickname because, as he put it, “The dolphin is one of the fastest and smartest creatures in the sea.”

MINNESOTA VIKINGS


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According to the Vikings’ website, Bert Rose, Minnesota’s general manager when it joined the NFL in 1961, recommended the nickname to the team’s Board of Directors because “it represented both an aggressive person with the will to win and the Nordic tradition in the northern Midwest.” The expansion franchise also became the first pro sports team to feature its home state, rather than a city, in the team name.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

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Seventy-four fans suggested Patriots in the name-the-team contest that was conducted by the management group of Boston’s original AFL franchise in 1960. “Pat Patriot,” the cartoon of a Minuteman preparing to snap a football drawn by the Boston Globe’s Phil Bissell, was chosen as the team’s logo soon after. While the first part of the team’s name changed from Boston to New England in 1971, Patriots remained.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS


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New Orleans was awarded an NFL franchise on All Saints’ Day, November 1, 1966. The nickname was a popular choice in a name-the-team contest sponsored by the New Orleans States-Item, which announced the news of the new franchise with the headline, “N.O. goes pro!” The nickname, chosen by team owner John Mecom, was a nod to the city’s jazz heritage and taken from the popular song, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

NEW YORK GIANTS

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New York owner Tim Mara borrowed the Giants nickname from John McGraw’s National League baseball team, a common practice by football teams during an era when baseball was the nation’s preeminent team sport.

NEW YORK JETS


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Originally nicknamed the Titans, the team was renamed the Jets in 1963 after Sonny Werblin led an investment group that purchased the bankrupt franchise for $1 million.

According to a contemporary New York Times story, the franchise considered calling itself the Dodgers, but nixed the idea after Major League Baseball didn’t like it. Gothams also got some consideration, but the team didn’t like the idea of having it shortened to the Goths, because “you know they weren’t such nice people.” The last finalist to fall was the New York Borros, a pun on the city’s boroughs; the team worried that opposing fans would make the Borros-burros connection and derisively call the squad the jackasses.

Eventually the team became the Jets since it was going to play in Shea Stadium, which is close to LaGuardia Airport. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the name was supposed to reflect the “modern approach of his team.”

OAKLAND RAIDERS

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Chet Soda, Oakland’s first general manager, sponsored a name-the-team contest in 1960. Helen A. Davis, an Oakland policewoman, submitted the winning entry, Señors, and was rewarded with a trip to the Bahamas. The nickname, an allusion to the old Spanish settlers of northern California, was ridiculed in the weeks that followed, and fans also claimed that the contest was fixed. Scotty Stirling, a sportswriter for the Oakland Tribune who would later become the team’s general manager, provided another reason to abandon the nickname. “That’s no good,” Stirling said. “We don’t have the accent mark for the n in our headline type.” Responding to the backlash, Soda and the team’s other investors decided to change the team’s nickname to Raiders, which was a finalist in the contest along with Lakers. The Raiders have been back and forth between Oakland and Los Angeles, and the franchise will relocate to Las Vegas in 2020.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

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In 1933, Bert Bell and Lud Wray purchased the bankrupt Frankford Yellowjackets. The new owners renamed the team the Eagles in honor of the symbol of the National Recovery Act, which was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

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Pittsburgh’s football team shared the same nickname as the city’s baseball team, the Pirates, from 1933 to 1940. Before the 1940 season, owner Art Rooney held a rename-the-team contest. A change couldn’t hurt, as Pittsburgh had failed to post a winning season in its first 7 years. Joe Santoni, who worked in a mill for Pittsburgh Steel, was one of several fans who suggested Steelers. Santoni received a pair of season tickets, which he would renew every year until his death in 2003.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS


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The 49ers, who began play in the All-America Football Conference in 1946, were named after the settlers who ventured to the San Francisco area during the gold rush of 1849.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS


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There were 1,700 unique names among the more than 20,000 submitted in a name-the-team contest in 1975, including Skippers, Pioneers, Lumberjacks, and Seagulls. About 150 people suggested Seahawks. A Seattle minor league hockey team and Miami’s franchise in the All-America Football Conference both used the nickname in the 1950s. “Our new name suggests aggressiveness, reflects our soaring Northwest heritage, and belongs to no other major league team,” Seattle general manager John Thompson said. The Seahawks’ helmet design is a stylized head of an osprey, a fish-eating hawk of the Northwest.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS


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A panel of local sportswriters and representatives from the NFL expansion team, including owner Hugh F. Culverhouse, chose Buccaneers from an original list of more than 400 names in 1975. The nickname, which was a popular choice among fans in a name-the-team contest, was a nod to the pirates who raided Florida’s coasts during the 17th century.

TENNESSEE TITANS


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After relocating from Houston to Tennessee in 1995, the team played two seasons as the Oilers before owner Bud Adams held a statewide contest to rename the team. Titans was chosen over nicknames such as Tornadoes, Copperheads, South Stars, and Wranglers. “We wanted a new nickname to reflect strength, leadership and other heroic qualities,'' Adams told reporters.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS


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One year after he acquired an NFL franchise in Boston, George Preston Marshall changed the team’s nickname from Braves to Redskins. According to most accounts, the nickname was meant to honor head coach and Native American William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz, though some question whether Dietz was a Native American. The Redskins kept their controversial nickname when they relocated to Washington, DC, in 1937.

The first version of this post originally appeared in 2010.

5 Fast Facts About Muhammad Ali

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Kent Gavin/Getty Images

Muhammad Ali is one of the most important athletes and cultural figures in American history. Though he passed away in 2016, the heavyweight boxing champ was larger than life in and outside of the ring. The man who coined the phrase "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” won 37 knockout victories. Here are five more fast facts about Muhammad Ali, a.k.a. The Greatest.

1. Cassius Clay was named for a white abolitionist.

Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. and named after his father, who had in turn been named for a white abolitionist. The original Cassius Clay was a wealthy 19th-century planter and politician who not only published an anti-slavery newspaper, but also emancipated every slave he inherited from his father. Cassius Clay also served as a minister to Russia under President Abraham Lincoln.

2. Muhammad Ali's draft evasion case went to the Supreme Court.

In the early 1960s, Clay converted to Islam, joined the Nation of Islam, and took the name Muhammad Ali. According to his religious beliefs, Ali refused to serve in the Vietnam War when he was drafted in April 1967. He was arrested and stripped of his boxing license and heavyweight title. On June 20, 1967, he was convicted of draft evasion and banned from fighting while he remained free on appeal. His case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which unanimously overturned his conviction in 1971.

3. He received a replacement gold medal.

At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Ali won the gold medal for boxing in the light heavyweight division. But, as he wrote in his 1975 autobiography, The Greatest: My Own Story (edited by Toni Morrison!), he supposedly threw his medal into the Ohio River in frustration over the racism he still experienced in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Some historians dispute this story and suggest that Ali just lost the medal. Either way, he was given a replacement when he lit the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

4. Muhammad Ali was an actual superhero.

In 1978, DC Comics published Superman vs. Muhammad Ali—an oversize comic in which Muhammad Ali defeats Superman and saves the world. In real life, Ali did save a man from suicide. In 1981, a man threatened to jump from the ninth story of a building in L.A.’s Miracle Mile neighborhood. Ali’s friend Howard Bingham witnessed the unfolding drama and called the boxer, who lived nearby. Ali rushed into the building and successfully talked the man down from the ledge.

5. Muhammad Ali starred in a Broadway show.

In Oscar Brown, Jr.'s 1969 musical adaptation of Joseph Dolan Tuotti's play Big Time Buck White, Ali played a militant black intellectual who speaks at a political meeting. The play ran for only five nights at the George Abbot Theatre in New York. His Playbill bio reported that Ali "is now appealing his five-year prison conviction and $10,000 fine for refusing to enter the armed services on religious grounds. The Big Time Buck White role that he has accepted is much like the life he lives off stage in reality.”

Can Watching the Super Bowl Give You a Heart Attack?

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iStock.com/skynesher

With the clock nearing zero, the 2006 divisional round playoff between the Indianapolis Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers looked to be over: It was the fourth quarter, with one minute and 20 seconds left, and the score was 21-18. Pittsburgh held the lead and, by all appearances, was about to score again.

Pittsburgh's offense lined up on the Indianapolis 2-yard line and handed the ball to future Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis, a cannonball of a man who famously went by the nickname "The Bus." Nearly everybody assumed Bettis would pound the ball through the goal line. Instead, Colts linebacker Gary Brackett forced a fumble. The Colts picked up the ball and nearly ran it back for a touchdown. For Steelers fans, it was a sudden and heartbreaking turn of events. Literally.

Watching from a bar, a diehard Steelers fan named Terry O'Neill watched the ball tumble to the ground and suddenly felt a pain in his chest. Luckily, two firefighters in the crowd helped resuscitate him.

"My heart just quit beating completely," O'Neill later told the South Pittsburgh Reporter. "For all intents and purposes, I died."

Research indicates he wasn't the first. Watching a high-stakes game could actually kill you.

A 2002 study in The BMJ, which focused on the health of English soccer fans, found that a "myocardial infarction can be triggered by emotional upset, such as watching your football team lose an important match." A 2008 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine followed the World Cup-watching habits of German soccer fans and found that watching a stressful game more than doubled viewers' chances of experiencing a cardiovascular event. A similar result was found when other researchers looked at cardiovascular deaths in the Netherlands after the country's soccer team lost the European soccer championships on a penalty shootout in 1996.

In 2011, a study published in Clinical Cardiology looked at the Super Bowl specifically and found that deaths increased after the big game in the losing city, finding an "absolute increase in all cause mortality" in people over the age of 65. The researchers argued:

"Acute risk factors usually involve some form of stress—physical, emotional, or both—that increase the sympathetic nervous system and releases catecholamines. The subsequent increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and ventricular contractility increase oxygen demand and may change the shear stress of blood against an atherosclerotic plaque, contributing to plaque fracture."

This particular study, however, has received some criticism. It only looked at mortality statistics for the 1980 and the 1984 Super Bowls, a relatively small sample. Some researchers said the study went too far in implying that the Super Bowl caused death, considering that the viewer's behavior and health history (and not the events of the game itself) could have been responsible. Super Bowl Sunday, after all, is a day filled with fatty fried foods and copious amounts of alcohol—all possible risk factors for a cardiovascular event.

As Gregg Fonarow, director of the Cardiomyopathy Center at UCLA, tells LiveScience, "It may be other behaviors associated with important sporting events rather than the stress of watching the home team lose that may explain these associations." Additionally, pre-existing conditions could be a huge contributing factor. (This was the case for our fateful Steelers fan.)

Study limitations aside, becoming invested in the outcome of a sporting match is undeniably stressful on the heart. A recent (though small) study out of Canada surveyed the heart rates of hockey fans during games, revealing "a mean increase of 92 per cent among the 20 test subjects, rising from an average rate of 60 to 114 beats per minute," according to the Montreal Gazette. In other words, people sitting and watching TV had heart rates equivalent to people undergoing mild exercise. Their heart rates only got higher when they watched games in person.

Of course, you don't have to do a study to learn that close games can cause a diehard fan's heart to pound—just go and ask one. And if they mutter, "This team is going to kill me!," kindly suggest that they step away from the TV before it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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