This week we’ll resume our look at how the teams of today’s NFL came to get their names, picking up with the 1960 formation of the American Football League, which would merge with the NFL a decade later.

Starting close to home, the Boston Patriots, who were given their name by a panel of the city’s sportswriters, became the New England Patriots after the NFL rejected the name Bay State Patriots following their move to Foxboro Stadium in 1971.

In Denver, team owner Bob Howsam held a statewide contest to name the new team and settled on Broncos, after a former baseball team and because broncos “were tough and typified the West.”

Named the Houston Oilers by their owner, oilman Bud Adams, the team would leave their Texas digs for Nashville in 1997. For their first two years there, the squad played their home games in Memphis and were known as the Tennessee Oilers. They changed their name to the Titans upon relocating to their new stadium in Nashville because the moniker fit well with the city’s image as “the Athens of the South.”

Also in the Lone Star State, Lamar Hunt’s Texans played in Dallas for three years before moving to Kansas City in 1963. There they became the Chiefs in honor of the area’s Native Americans — and also after the city’s mayor, Harold Roe Bartle, whose nickname was “Chief.”

The other Dallas team, which was owned by Tex Schramm, would become the Cowboys after briefly being called the Steers and the Rangers.


Since Oakland Raiders owner Chet Soda liked to call his male associates “Señor,” the plural of that word almost became the team’s name. It was nixed after the local newspaper protested that it didn’t have the capacity to print the diacritical mark over the “n” — called a “tilde” — and because of confusion over how to spell its plural.

Farther south, the Los Angeles Chargers got their name, the story goes, because team owner Barron Hilton liked the word for its affiliation with his new Carte Blanche credit card.

Back on the East Coast, the New York Titans would change their name to the Jets for the planes flying over them all the time following their move from the Polo Grounds to Shea Stadium, which was close to LaGuardia Airport in Queens. Across the state in Buffalo, owner Ralph Wilson finally settled on the Bills after having considered the names All Americans and Bison.

Minnesota’s 1961 NFL expansion team was called the Vikings “because it represented both an aggressive person with the will to win and the Nordic tradition in the northern Midwest.” Four years later, owner Rankin Smith would name his new Atlanta football team the Falcons based on a contest entry from school teacher Julia Elliot, who noted that the bird “is proud and dignified with great courage and fight.”

The Miami Dolphins got their team name in 1966 after owner Joe Robbie selected it from a naming contest because they’re “one of the smartest and fastest creatures in the sea.”

A couple years later in Cincinnati, owner Paul Brown chose for his new team the same shade of orange used by his old squad (the Browns), added the color black, and called his new team the Bengals. Brown chose the name in honor of an earlier Cincinnati team and because the city’s zoo had a rare white Bengal tiger.


Since they were awarded their franchise on All Saints Day in 1966, choosing a name for the New Orleans team was a no-brainer. Other reasons for naming the team the Saints are said to have been the area’s large Catholic population and love of the song “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

In Seattle, a 1974 name-the-team contest resulted in its team being called the Seahawks. The name was chosen because it’s synonymous with the osprey, which is an aggressive predator.

On the other coast, the folks in the Tampa Bay area selected Buccaneers as the name for their new team based on the region’s history with pirates, specifically one named Gasparilla, who is said to have “constantly invaded” the west coast of Florida.

It was owner Jerry Richardson’s son Mark who came up with the name for the Carolina Panthers in 1993 (because they’re “powerful, sleek and strong”) over the objections of the NFL (which suggested Rhinos as possible name) because the league felt that the Panthers’ dark, black and blue color scheme “might appeal to street gangs.”

Having passed on the Panthers as a team name that same year (as well as on the Sharks and Stingrays), the Jacksonville squad selected the Jaguars from a team-naming contest because the oldest jaguar in North America lived at the Jacksonville Zoo at the time.

After having gone without football for more than a decade, Baltimore finally got another team in 1996. Going with the obvious, the team was christened after the “stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.” (The team’s mascots are: Edgar, Allan and Poe).

In 2002, Houston owner Bob McNair passed on calling his new squad the Apollos or Stallions, and settled instead on the Texans after checking with the Chiefs to see if he could use the team’s old name.

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.” He can be reached at [email protected]

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