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NFL Franchise Nicknames

One of the most frequently asked questions of the Hall of Fame?s research staff is how a particular NFL team chose its name. Sometimes the answer is obvious and other times it is not so clear-cut.

For individual team histories, click on team logo.

Arizona Cardinals
ARIZONA CARDINALS - The Cardinals originally played in Chicago as a charter member of the American Professional Football Association (APFA). The team moved to St. Louis in 1960 and then to Phoenix in 1988. Contrary to popular logic, the team was not named after the beautiful bird but instead because the team played in used maroon jerseys the original team (in pre-NFL years) had purchased from the University of Chicago. When an observer scoffed that the jerseys were “faded red,” team owner Chris O’Brien countered that they weren’t “faded red,” they were “cardinal red.”
Atlanta Falcons
ATLANTA FALCONS - A fan contest was held and the team received more than 1,300 entries suggesting 558 different names. Although several entries in a fan contest suggested Falcons, a schoolteacher was declared the winner because of her reason ? the falcon is proud and dignified with great courage and fight.?
Baltimore Ravens
BALTIMORE RAVENS - On March 29, 1996, Baltimore?s NFL team became the Ravens. The nickname was selected from among three finalists in a poll conducted by the Baltimore Sun. Baltimore fans selected the name in honor of Edgar Allan Poe, the American poet who penned his famous poem, ?The Raven? while living in Baltimore.
Buffalo Bills
BUFFALO BILLS - Buffalo?s team in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) in 1946 was the Bisons. In 1947 a contest was held to rename the team, which was owned by James Breuil of the Frontier Oil Company. The winning entry suggested Bills, reflecting on the famous western frontiersman, Buffalo Bill Cody. Carrying the ?frontier? theme further, the winning contestant further offered that the team was being supported by Frontier Oil and was ?opening a new frontier in sports in Western New York.? When Buffalo joined the new American Football League in 1960, the name of the city?s earlier pro football entry was adopted.
Carolina Panthers
CAROLINA PANTHERS - Team owner Jerry Richardson?s son Mark is responsible for the selection of Panthers as the team name. Mark, who felt that there should be some ?synergy? between the name and the team colors also suggested the team colors of black, blue and silver.
Chicago Bears
CHICAGO BEARS - When this team became a charter member of the American Professional Football Association (APFA) in 1920, the team was located in Decatur, IL, and was named after team sponsor, the Staley Starch Company. The team moved to Chicago in 1921 and became the Chicago Staleys. In 1922, after team founder-manager and star end George Halas purchased the team, he changed the name to the Bears. Halas reasoned that because football players were generally bigger than baseball players, and the city?s baseball team was the Cubs, then logically the football team should be the Bears.
Cincinnati Bengals
CINCINNATI BENGALS - Paul Brown selected the name because there had once been a pro football team in Cincinnati named the Bengals and adopting that name ?would provide a link with past professional football in Cincinnati."
Cleveland Browns
CLEVELAND BROWNS - The Cleveland All-America Football Conference franchise conducted a fan contest in 1945 to name the team. The most popular submission was ?Browns? in recognition of the team?s first coach and general manager Paul Brown, who was already a popular figure in Ohio sports. Brown at first vetoed the choice and the team selected from the contest entries the name ?Panthers.? However, after an area businessman informed the team that he owned the rights to the name Cleveland Panthers, from an earlier failed football team, Brown rescinded his objection and agreed to the use of his name.
Dallas Cowboys
DALLAS COWBOYS - In the initial months following the its formation, the Dallas team was known as the ?Steers.? After a few weeks, however, the name was changed to ?Rangers.? At the same time, a baseball team operated in Dallas under that name, but was scheduled to fold before the 1960 football season. However, when the baseball team decided to play one more season, Clint Murchison Jr. and Bedford Wynne, two owners of the new NFL team, selected the name of Cowboys to avoid confusion.
Denver Broncos
DENVER BRONCOS - ?Broncos? was the winning entry in a fan contest held in 1960 by the original AFL team. The football team, however, isn?t the first to be called the Denver Broncos. Denver's 1921 entry in the Midwest Baseball League was also called the Broncos.
Detroit Lions
DETROIT LIONS - The Lions name was chosen by George A. Richards, the Detroit radio executive who purchased the Portsmouth Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934. "The lion is monarch of the jungle," a team spokesperson said, "and we hope to be the monarch of the league."
Green Bay Packers
GREEN BAY PACKERS - The name was a natural since the team was sponsored first by the Indian Packing Company and later the Acme Packing Company. Although both companies went out of business, the team prospered under the name Packers.
Houston Texans
HOUSTON TEXANS - After Houston was awarded the NFL's 32nd franchise on October 6, 1999, a series of focus groups were formed to help come up with a nickname for the team. On March 2, 2000, the team announced five choices, the Apollos, Bobcats, Stallions, Texans and Wildcatters. The list was then shaved to the Apollos, Stallions and Texans a month later. After careful deliberation, the team unveiled the Texans' name, colors, and logo at a rally held in downtown Houston on September 6, 2000.
Indianapolis Colts
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS - Baltimore's first pro football team was a member of the 1947 AAFC. A fan contest produced the Colts name reflecting the great tradition and proud history of horse breeding and racing in the Baltimore region. The original Colts disbanded after the 1950 season but the name was retained when a new Baltimore franchise began play in 1953. The team moved to Indianapolis in 1984.
Jacksonville Jaguars
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS - The Jaguars name was selected through a fan contest. Finalists for the name included the Sharks, Stingrays and even Panthers, but Jaguars was ultimately selected on December 6, 1991.
Kansas City Chiefs
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS - The AFL franchise began in 1960 as the Dallas Texans. When the team was moved to Kansas City in 1963, the new name was selected by a fan contest.
Miami Dolphins
MIAMI DOLPHINS - A fan contest drew 19,843 entries to name the AFL expansion team. A total of 622 contestants suggested "Dolphins." Team owner Joe Robbie said he liked the name because, "The dolphin is one of the fastest and smartest creatures in the sea."
Minnesota Vikings
MINNESOTA VIKINGS - Bert Rose, the first general manager of the Minnesota team that began NFL play in 1961, selected the Vikings name because so many people in Minnesota and the surrounding area traced their heritage to Scandinavia.
New  England Patriots
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS - The new AFL team originally located in Boston, was named the Patriots because of the area's heritage as the birthplace of the American Revolution.
New Orleans Saints
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS - The name Saints was the popular choice in a fan contest staged by the New Orleans States-Item. However, with or without the contest, the New Orleans team would most likely have been called the Saints. The franchise was awarded on All Saints Day, November 1, 1966. New Orleans was famous worldwide as the city of jazz and the famous marching song, "When the Saints Go Marching In."
New York Giants
NEW YORK GIANTS - Owner Tim Mara "borrowed" the Giants name from the city's Major League Baseball team of the same name. This was not unusual among early day pro football franchises. At one time or another there were NFL franchises named the New York Yankees, Brooklyn Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, and Detroit Tigers.
New York Jets
NEW YORK JETS - New York's original AFL team was called the Titans. When Sonny Werblin took over the franchise in 1963, he changed the team name to Jets to reflect the modern approach of his team and the star-studded performances he hoped his team would produce.
Oakland Raiders
OAKLAND RAIDERS - For a brief period, the new AFL team was known as the Senors but by the time the 1960 season started, the Oakland team was known as the Raiders. The origin of the Raiders name is not known but, since it is doubtful a fan contest would have been staged in Oakland since the first team would have to play in San Francisco, it is most likely the name was chosen by principal owner Chet Soda and his partners.
Philadelphia Eagles
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES - When Bert Bell established his NFL franchise in Philadelphia in 1933, the country was struggling to recover from the Great Depression. New president Franklin D. Roosevelt had introduced his ?New Deal? program through the National Recovery Administration, which had the Eagle as its symbol. Since Bell hoped his franchise also was headed for a new deal, he picked Eagles as the team name.
Pittsburgh Steelers
PITTSBURGH STEELERS - The original 1933 team was named the Pirates after the city's major league baseball team. In 1940, Owner Art Rooney Sr. changed the team name to Steelers to more properly represent the city's dominant steel industry.
San Diego Chargers
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS - Barron Hilton agreed after his general manager, Frank Ready picked the Chargers name when he purchased an AFL franchise for Los Angeles. The Chargers played in Los Angeles in 1960 and moved to San Diego in 1961. "I liked it because they were yelling "charge" and sounding the bugle at Dodgers Stadium and at USC games."
San Francisco 49ers
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS - The 49ers name was adopted when San Francisco obtained an AAFC franchise in 1946. The name was selected as a recognition of the pioneering and adventurous spirit of the men of the 1849 gold rush in the Sierra Nevada mountains east of San Francisco.
Seattle Seahawks
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS - The nickname Seahawks was the result of a fan contest that drew 20,365 entries and suggested 1,742 different names. Seahawks was suggested by 151 entrants and judged by the team ownership as the best choice.
St. Louis Rams
ST. LOUIS RAMS - The franchise was originated in Cleveland in 1936 as a member of the American Football League. In 1937 the team joined the NFL. Principal owner Homer Marshman and his general manager, Damon "Buzz" Wetzel picked the Rams name because Wetzel had said his favorite football team had always been the Fordham Rams and Marshman liked the sound of the name.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS - A team advisory board reviewed 400 name possibilities and selected Buccaneers.
Tennessee Titans
TENNESSEE TITANS - Originally located in Houston, the team was known as the Oilers. After playing two seasons as the Tennessee Oilers, team owner Bud Adams formed an advisory committee to research names and a "Guess the Name" contest to gain additional feedback was also held. The committee selected Titans citing the desire to have a nickname that reflected "strength, leadership and other heroic qualities"
Washington Redskins
WASHINGTON REDSKINS - George Preston Marshall acquired an NFL franchise in 1932 and named it the Boston Braves after the city's Major League Baseball team. However, after a financially devastating and poorly attended season in 1932, Marshall abandoned the Braves name in favor of the Redskins. The Redskins name was retained when the team was moved to Washington in 1937.