BEARS - George Halas moved the Decatur Staleys to Chicago in 1921. The Staleys played at Wrigley Field, the home of baseball’s Cubs. Halas determined that if the baseball tenants were Cubs, then his more rugged gridiron combatants should be known as the Bears.
BENGALS - Paul Brown chose this nickname for Cincinnati’s 1968 AFL expansion team because there had been earlier football teams in the city called the Bengals. The elder Bengals were members of the AFL in 1937, competed as an independent club in 1938, then played in a new AFL from 1939-41 before the league again folded.
BILLS - The nickname refers to William F. Cody, who was known as “Buffalo Bill.” Buffalo had a football team called the Bisons, but the city’s minor league baseball and hockey teams had the same name. The football team held a contest to select a new nickname following the 1946 season. More than 4,500 entries were submitted and Bills beat out Bullets, Nickels and Blue Devils.
BRONCOS - This nickname was also selected through a contest in January of 1960. Broncos was the winner, referring to Denver’s Wild West heritage. Denver’s 1921 entry in the Midwest Baseball League team was also named the Broncos.
BROWNS - Cleveland’s All-American Football Conference entry was founded in 1946. Paul Brown was named the team’s first coach and general manager. The Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996, but the team’s history remained, paving the way for the Browns to be resurrected as an expansion team in 1999.
BUCCANEERS - This name defeated more than 400 entries in a radio-sponsored competition, held one month after Tampa was awarded the first of two expansion franchises on April 24, 1974. Buccaneers was the winner, beating out such noble competitors as Buzzards, Sea Horses and (yes) Mafia.
CARDINALS - A football club on the southwest side of Chicago was formed in 1898. The team was known as the Normals until 1901, when founder Chris O’Brien secured some hand-me-down jerseys from the University of Chicago. The jerseys were actually maroon, but the color had faded, striking O’Brien as more of a cardinal tint. The team became the Racine Cardinals, keeping the nickname as the club moved from Chicago (1922) to St. Louis (1960) and, finally, to Phoenix (1988).
CHARGERS - The Los Angeles AFL franchise held a contest in 1960. Hollywood resident Gerald Courtney was awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to Mexico City and Acapulco after submitting Chargers. Three reasons for choosing Chargers have been offered - it sounded dynamic; the club’s new stationary featured a horse; and owner Baron Hilton had recently instituted the Carte Blanche card. The team kept the name when it moved to San Diego the following year.
CHIEFS - This original AFL franchise was originally the Dallas Texans but relocated to Kansas City. Owner Lamar Hunt picked Chiefs as a nickname to honor Kansas City mayor Roe “The Chief” Bartle for his efforts in securing the team. Bartle promised to enlarge Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium and guaranteed Hunt three times as many season ticket sales as his club had in Dallas.
COLTS - In 1946, the Miami Seahawks of the All-American Football Conference were relocated to Baltimore. Charles Evans of Middle River, Md., won a name contest by submitting Colts. His reasoning? “Colts are the youngest entry in the league, Maryland is famous for its race horses and it is short, easily pronounced and fits well in newspaper headlines.” The franchise kept the name when it moved to Indianapolis in 1984.
COWBOYS - This name might seem like an easy choice in Dallas, but Rangers was actually the first name suggested. The club went with Cowboys since Rangers might cause confusion with a local minor-league team of the same name.
DOLPHINS - After Miami was awarded an AFL expansion franchise in 1965, a contest was held to determine the name. A dozen names were forwarded to a seven-member screening committee of local media and Dolphins was the runaway winner. Although 622 entrants submitted Dolphins, Mrs. Robert Swanson of Miami won the two lifetime passes to Dolphins games. The tiebreaker was picking the winner and score of a 1965 tilt between Notre Dame and the University of Miami. The game ended in a scoreless tie.
EAGLES - The NFL’s Frankford Yellowjackets were awarded to a syndicate headed by Bert Bell and Lud Wray in 1933. Bell named the new Philadelphia team Eagles in honor of the symbol of the New Deal’s National Recovery Act.
FALCONS - Atlanta held a contest in 1965 and many chose Falcons for the NFL’s newest team. The best argument was submitted by Julia Elliot, a teacher from Griffin, Ga. - “the Falcon is proud and dignified, with great courage and fight. It never drops its prey. It is deadly and has a great sporting tradition.”
49ers - Owner Anthony J. Morabito chose 49ers for his All-America Football Conference squad because it reflected San Francisco’s link to the California Gold Rush. The 49ers kept the name when they joined the NFL in 1950.
GIANTS - In 1925, Tim Mara purchased New York’s first professional football team for a reported $500. Mara decided on Giants because his team would play at the Polo Grounds, the home of baseball’s New York Giants. The original Giants derived their name from the city’s giant buildings.
JAGUARS - Jacksonville held a contest in 1991, two years before the city was awarded the NFL’s 30th franchise. Jaguars claimed the majority of votes, besting a group that included Sharks, Stingrays and (ironically) Panthers.
JETS - New York’s AFL squad was originally the Titans. In 1963, after three seasons, a five-man syndicate bought the franchise. On the same day they hired Weeb Ewbank, the owners announced that they were changing the team’s name to Jets. It sounded like New York’s baseball Mets and LaGuardia Airport was nearby.
LIONS - Detroit radio executive George Richards purchased the NFL’s Portsmouth Spartans and moved them to the Motor City in 1934. Richards chose Lions. Felines were already prevalent in Detroit. Baseball could claim the Tigers and a Detroit football team called the Panthers had folded after two years in 1927.
PACKERS - In 1919, Earl “Curly” Lambeau and George Calhoun pieced together a group in the Green Bay Press-Gazette editorial room with the notion of starting a football team. Lambeau’s employer at the Indian Packing Company - Frank Peck - provided jerseys, equipment and use of its athletic field for practice. Early on, the club was identified as a project of the company, hence Packers became a natural fit.
PANTHERS - The nickname for Carolina’s 1995 expansion team was selected by team president Mark Richardson, the son of owner Jerry Richardson. The younger Richardson also chose the Panthers’ colors of Panther blue, silver and black.
PATRIOTS - A group of New England sportswriters picked Patriots as a tribute to Patriot Day, which celebrates Paul Revere’s ride.
RAIDERS - In 1960, Oakland held a contest to pick a name for its AFL team. The fans chose Senors, but Oakland management opted for Raiders.
RAMS - In 1936, Cleveland’s new AFL franchise decided to take its name from one of the top collegiate teams of the era, the Fordham Rams. The Rams name stuck with eventual moves to Los Angeles (1946) and St. Louis (1995).
RAVENS - After a 12-year void, Baltimore again acquired an NFL team in 1996 when the Cleveland Browns relocated. Baltimore then set up focus groups and fan polls to help secure a new name. Ravens won out over Americans and Marauders. The name refers to the mythical bird in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven.” Poe lived and died in Baltimore.
REDSKINS - George Marshall headed a syndicate that purchased an NFL team for Boston in 1933. The team would play at the home of baseball’s Boston Braves so it adopted the same name. The following year, the Braves moved to Fenway Park and changed their name to the Redskins. The name remained when the team moved to Washington in 1937.
SAINTS - The New Orleans NFL franchise was awarded on All Saints Day (Nov. 1) in 1966. Plus, the song “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” in often associated with the city of New Orleans.
SEAHAWKS - In a 1975 contest, Seattle’s expansion franchise received 20,365 entries, extolling 1,741 different names. Seahawks, a name denoting the city’s link to the sea, was on 151 ballots.
STEELERS - Pittsburgh’s professional football team (founded in 1933) was, like its baseball neighbors, initially dubbed the Pirates. In 1940, owner Art Rooney changed the name to Steelers, reflecting the city’s ties to the steel industry. The name was allegedly suggested by the wife of the team’s ticket manager.
TITANS - The Houston Oilers, who played at the Astrodome from 1960-96, moved to Nashville for the 1997 season. After two seasons as the Tennessee Oilers, owner Bud Adams announces the team will change its nickname to the Titans. “Titans come from early Greek mythology and the fact that Nashville is known as the ‘Athens of the South’ makes the Titans name very appropriate,” Adams said.
VIKINGS - General manager Bert Rose recommended Vikings to Minnesota’s Board of Directors in 1960. The name represent both an aggressive person and the Nordic tradition inherent in the region.

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