Ok, so lets have some fun. This is NOT A NAME CHANGE ARTICLE. Nope. I actually just happened to stumble upon the background behind a team name I was totally unaware of (the Eagles) and it made me think, "hey I wonder what other teams have weird name backstories." So here you go. The connection/history/reference behind the names of all 32 two teams.
Some are surpising.
Some are clever.
Some are borderline politically offensive.
And of course some teams… well, in the words of Pulp Fiction’s "Butch",
"I’m American honey… Our names don’t mean shit"
Spoiler alert: One of these team’s names is a direct and intentional race/culture reference. Bet it’s not the one you think.
(Quick jumping off points. 1. Back before football was "a thing" teams had to piggy back on baseball teams’ fanbase, so they would often use the same name, or a reference to it. 2. After that I guess all the owners just got lazy and had "name our team" contests. )
49ers – Gold Rush of course
Bears – Shared a field with the Cubs
Bengals - Because early owner Paul Brown used to coach a team called the tigers. Don’t they also play in Paul Brown stadium? We get it. You like the guy.
Bills: The name was picked as the result of a fan contest. Well TWO contests. No really. The current Bills had a contest, and the winning suggestion was to use "Bills" which had been the previous name of the AAFC team in Buffalo. How’d that AAFC team get its name? A freakin’ fan contest. What is this just the default method? (spoiler: YES.) The previous name had been "Buffalo Bison" but that got confusing since every minor league anything team in the league thought the exact same wordplay was oh so clever. (Well aren’t you just Oscar F*n Wilde then?) The original contest winner thought Buffalo Bill as the calf of an adult Buffalo OR the famous cowboy was a better play on words. He was kind of right.
Broncos – Contest
Browns – Named after Paul Brown, despite Brown’s objections. Geez, you guys REALLY liked this guy. Getting stalkery, Ohio. Real Stalkery. Do you have a lock of his hair too?
Buccaneers – Contest. A reference to Pirate Legends of Florida
I don’t know. I guess there are Cardinals there? Update: Thanks to some help from the rest of the readership we've got this one pinned down and corrected. It turns out, Before the St Louis, and Before Chicago, they were the "Racine Cardinals". Apparently the original owner bought a bunch of used maroon jerseys from a nearby college for the team Upon seeing how faded the jerseys were, he remarked that they were more like "Cardinal Red", and with that the Cards gained their place on the list of "weirdest ways to establish a permanent team name".
Chargers – Contest. Differing stories on what it "means" but that’s how it came up.
Cowboys – Owner just liked it. First they were "Steers" but that sucked. (and it would have sucked all the logic out of R.Lee Ermey’s "Steers and Queers" joke in FMJ). Then they were rangers, but they didn’t want to share a name with other teams in the area.
Dolphins - Name the team contest
Falcons – Another contest. Ironically, considering the history of race relations in the deep south, these names were also highly voted suggestions (according to Wikipedia): Knights, Bombers, Rebels, Crackers, Thrashers Lancers, Firebirds, Fireballs and Thunderbirds. Boy, those first few could have been awkward…
Eagles – Ok so you obviously know this one right? WRONG. Post depression era, F.D.R. passed the NIRA (National Industrial Recovery Act). The idea was to stop "cut throat competition" by standardizing prices and salaries in the industrial sector. Basically, price setting and government legislated labor agreements. Sucked for consumers and independent contractors. Great for factory owners. The NRA (National Recovery Administration) managed the program. If you were in compliance with their rules, you would carry a logo and use a sign like this:
That little log is known as the "Blue Eagle" (Not to be confused with the Marine Corps' feared "blue falcon".
The owner of the Eagles, who was also profiting from and thus supportive of the NIRA adopted the "Blue Eagle" as the basis for his team mascot. (NIRA was later found unsuccessful and unconstitutional. It was struck down after about 2 years)
Giants – After the NY Giants baseball team. Thus why the team to this day is officially titled the "New York Football Giants". No idea why Jerry uses "Football Cowboys". He doesn’t need to. I think maybe he is just so old he thinks he still does?
Jaguars – fan contest. again.
Jets. Oh the Jets. LOL. (that’s right, I did it. Just this once) When first awarded a team, the owner received the name "Titans". He then immediately started boasting that "The Titans would show they were stronger and more powerful than the Giants". (How’d that work out for you?) That team tanked, and quickly. The guy who bought the team out was all about media and marketing, and thought "Jets" would sell people on this image of the fast paced "Jet Age". (Yeah, Don Draper my a**. This is the stuff those Mad Men guys actually thought would work) The new guy released this to the press: "The site of the new stadium between New York's two major airports, symbols of this speedy, modern age, influenced the selection of the new name ‘Jets’ ".
Wait, but didn't some guy say that using "Hail" was obviously Native American minstrelsy?
Lions – Shared a town with the Tigers
Packers – After the Indian packing company. A guy working at IPC asked the company to help sponsor the team. They agreed if the team would use the company’s name.
1919 sponsorship cost to have a franchise named after you? 500$
Patriots – Contest. They were originally in Boston, so "Boston Patriots" was a great name. Of course, they moved to Foxborough and thought "Well Foxborough Patriots just sounds dumb" Owner suggested "Bay State" Pats, but that was lame too. New England Pats finally stuck.
Panthers – No idea. Sounded cool I guess? I’m going to just cheat here and guess "fan contest"?
Rams – Original owner named team after Rams mascot at Fordham University
Raiders – Name the team contest. Raiders didn’t even win. (The name I mean, not the team. Oh wait, the team too I guess.) The winning entry was "Oakland Señors". After realizing everybody was making jokes about it, they picked a runner up.
Ravens – Get it? Because Edgar Allen Poe wrote "The Raven" (granted Poe moved around A LOT and was doesn’t really seem to have been living in Baltimore when he wrote it or published it… but hey whatever right?)
Redskins – If you are 98% of the regular readers on HH, you don’t need to be told, so move along. For any random person who maybe just discovered the site yesterday (foreign exchange students, recent prison parolees, Amish on Rumspringa, etc) here you go: Way back when the Skins were in Boston, and shared Braves field, owned by the Boston Braves baseball team, (Yes, the ones now in Atlanta) they shared the Braves name. When they moved out of Braves stadium across town to Redsox stadium, they had to drop the Braves name, but still wanted to maintain their Native American marketing theme. "Redskins" did both. It kept the Native theme, while tying in nicely with "Red Sox". Done and done.
Saints – A reference to the NO Catholic Population and "When the Saints Go Matching In Song"
Seahawks – Naming contest.
Steelers – Formerly the Pirates. (See? There’s that baseball thing again) Held a contest. Named for steel industry.
Texans – Chosen by market research surveys. Lame. Houston Oilers was still owned by former titans guys. Side note: The team that used to call themselves the Houston Texans is now called the "Shreveport Steamer". Sound way too much like a ridiculous comedy sexual maneuver doesn’t it? Gave that chick the old Shreveport Steamer last night. She gave me her O-face.
Titans – Formerly the Oilers, the owner just figured, new stadium? Let’s have a new name, instead of just using Houston’s hand me downs. Owner asked for some strong, heroic sounding, swag. I would have picked Tennessee Truckasaurus, but hey Titans is cool too I guess. Wikipedia claims the name is also a nod to Nashville’s nickname as "The Athens of the south"
Vikings – Contest. Name is actually an deliberate play on the fact that Minnesota has far and away highest concentration of Scandinavian American citizens in the U.S. (See? Didn’t I promise you a racial/cultural team name?) Next time you hear the "Vikings" defense and some name change proponent says youre being silly… haha Bam! Drop a knowledge bomb. (Or a knowledge Rex Grossman pass.)