Right Name/Wrong Name: Fixing the names of NFL teams

Right Name/Wrong Name is an ADHD-fueled exercise I started a while back when I was thinking about how little sense the name Utah Jazz makes to me and how sports-angry it makes me that it’s still the name of the basketball team in Salt Lake City. I started writing way-too-long blog entries about the good and bad names of teams in the United States professional sports leagues, and now I’m here to talk about the teams of the National Football League.

Quick spoiler alert: I didn’t find that many teams that were really glaringly badly named in the NFL. Most of the team names and mascots work, and a satisfying amount of them are even based on histories local to the city they play in. But I did use my power as omnipotent overseer of this sparsely updated blog to correct a few of these teams, even so. Read on:

Wrong name: Arizona Cardinals
This is a weird one. The Cardinals are the oldest continuous professional football team in the league, with roots going back to Chicago in 1898. They moved to St. Louis for a bit, which is where they picked up the Cardinals moniker, then in 1988, ended up in Arizona, where there aren’t a heck of a lot of cardinals.

So it’s a name with a ton of history, but nothing really that recent (last championship: 1947, the longest drought in American professional sports), and certainly no history tied to its current locale. Would their fans really be that upset if they changed their mascot? It’s hard to know, I don’t think I’ve ever met a Cards fan.

Right name: Arizona Redhawks
As a fan of bird mascots, I’m loathe to eliminate one, even if it doesn’t make sense for the team. So I’ll go for a compromise: Let’s have a new, more-relevant bird and keep the current colors. Redhawks, or red-tailed hawks, are more common in Arizona, not to mention more killer than Cardinals, who usually just peck at seeds and little bugs.

Right name: Atlanta Falcons
It’s another bird mascot, but this one is more appropriate. Not only are there actually falcons in Georgia, not only are falcons pretty killer birds, but the name was chosen by the populace of Atlanta back when the team was formed in 1965. And even if I changed the name, there’d be no way I’d change those badass uniforms.

Right name: Baltimore Ravens
One more bird mascot done right. The Baltimore expansion franchise leaned on its literary history for this one, calling back to one of the most famous poems by famed poet and Baltimore native Edgar Allen Poe.

Right name: Buffalo Bills
Even as a kid, I thought this was one of the cleverest names in sports, even if Buffalo Bill has no ties to Buffalo, N.Y. (though he apparently lived for a while in nearby Mississauga, Ontario), and even if the team’s iconography is more on the buffalo (animal) side than the legendary frontiersman side.

Wrong name: Carolina Panthers
I feel like a lot of my beef with NFL team names is pedantic rather than vibes-based. To wit: There aren’t technically panthers in North Carolina. There ARE big cats, and thankfully for us, there’s a species of big cat with a name much better suited to this team’s iconography and location.

Right name: Carolina Cougars
It was right there! Cougars are native to the Carolinas and the name is alliterative with “Carolina.” You could even change it to Charlotte Cougars for the town in which they play, and it still works better. You don’t even have to change the logo, really!

Right name: Chicago Bears
Bears and Bulls: great names inspired by the capitalist orgy known as the Chicago Board of Trade. Plus, they’re great sports team names with a shitload of history and importance at this point. There aren’t any bears in Chicago, except for the occasional bear market, but I’ll let it slide.

Right name: Cincinnati Bengals
I didn’t know this until I did research for this post, but “Bengals” was the name of previous professional football teams in Cincinnati when Paul Brown came to town in 1965 and decided to establish this franchise. I’d known the story about there being a rare white bengal tiger at the city’s zoo, but I didn’t know the previous teams’ history in the city. Cool! I like the specificity of “Bengal” over the generic “Tiger” too.

Wrong name: Cleveland Browns
When the first Browns team, named for and co-founded by longtime coach Paul Brown, was relocated to Baltimore and given the sick-ass Ravens name, I was glad. “Browns,” even if it’s the name of a beloved coach/owner, is kind of lame. Reds works for Cincinnati’s baseball team, Blues is a style of music and the name of a St. Louis hockey team, but Browns? Makes you think of poop, right? Definitely made 12-year-old me think of poop. Who wants to root for poop?

Well apparently Clevelanders do, because when they got an expansion team a few years later, they just named it the Browns again. I get it, history and all that, but come on, your guy Brown even went and founded your in-state rival, the Bengals. That family’s scion sits in their owner’s box! Your team is named for the owners of your in-state, in-division rival. How does that taste, Cleveland? Like poop, maybe?

Right name: Cleveland Bulldogs
The Browns, being named for poop, don’t have a set mascot, really. They have two that have been used throughout their history: A football-playing elf (like a tiny Keebler elf, not a Lord of the Rings archer warrior elf) and a bulldog named Chomps. What’s wrong with being the Bulldogs? There was a Cleveland Bulldogs way back in the 1920s, even won a championship in the proto-NFL before running out of money and getting absorbed into the New York Giants (presumably they don’t hold the copyright to “Bulldogs” anymore, but maybe we would need to check on that). You can keep the colors and everything else, just elevate the Bulldog logos to first-string. If you don’t want to sully your plain-ass orange helmets, you don’t have to. Just go with a better name that doesn’t make us all make jokes about “Taking the Browns to the Super Bowl” when we need to shit.

Right name: Dallas Cowboys
These days, there aren’t a lot of cowboys in Dallas, but the wild west/frontier tradition of cattle wrangling certainly has a lot of roots in Texas, and of course this name has a lot of history for this franchise, so I can’t really argue against it. Just get your silvers and blues matched up on your uniforms, jeez.

Right name: Denver Broncos
Like Cowboys, Broncos is one of those frontiers-y names that makes sense in a place where horse ranches still exist. Plus, there’s a giant statue of a blue horse at the Denver airport that would make even less sense if we changed this team’s name.

Right name: Detroit Lions
Detroit has Lions and Tigers in its sports team family, and both are very old names for very old teams that reach back to the days when sports teams were so new, generic-ass names like “Lions” and “Tigers” were still exciting. Wow, we’re named after the kings of the jungle! I’m a fan! Get me another one of those Coca-Colas with cocaine in it and a pack of your most tar-filled cigarettes! My doctor told me I can smoke at least a pack a day and savor the flavor!

As much as I’d like to change the Lions name to give the long-suffering Detroit fans an infusion of freshness and hope, I think there’s officially too much history here, for better and for worse, to even suggest another franchise name. Sorry, Detroit!

Right name: Green Bay Packers
As much as I sports-hate the Packers, I must admit they seem to be doing something right. They have that whole fan-supported ownership concept (which is maybe a little bit of a dog and pony show at this point, but still more than any other team is doing to engage their fans), they have an ancient but revered stadium, they have classic uniforms that they haven’t monkeyed with in decades, they somehow make it all work in the tiniest professional sports town in the United States, AND their team name is:
1. Wholly local, referring to the local packing company that originally bankrolled the team way back in the 1920s
2. Wholly unique
3. Wholly steeped in team history

Damnit, Packers.

Wrong name: Houston Texans
I don’t think this name is really THAT bad. It’s a name with some history, having been the name of a World Football League team (plus some other Texas-based teams had used “Texans” throughout the years), and it’s at least somewhat local and unique in that it’s not an animal or a warrior of some sort, just a person from Texas. But it’s also lame, I can’t deny it. And the uniforms look like “Generic Football Team” in a movie about a wily veteran QB who gets another shot at glory, but it’s not even the team he plays for, it’s the team they beat in week 2.

Right name: Houston Oilers
The Oilers had some of the sickest uniforms in league history, with that baby blue, red, and white. And oil is STILL the life blood of the Houston economy, so the name makes more sense from a local standpoint than “Texan,” which is something people from rival team Dallas could also credibly call themselves. The Tennessee Titans, nee Oilers, still sorta use baby blue in their uniforms, but not in the same way, so I think it’s safe to bring that color set back.

Wrong name: Indianapolis Colts
If you’ve read my other Right Name/Wrong Name entries, you’ll see that I have attacked some golden geese in my renaming schemes for having very wrong names. Namely, I think the Lakers and Dodgers of L.A., both with names borrowed from their original locations that have nothing at all to do with their current locale, need to consider picking new names despite all the loads of history that those names carry.

The Colts of Indianapolis are like a very light version of that. The Colts were originally named for the horse-racing tradition in their original home of Baltimore, Md. (Pimlico, home of the Preakness Stakes, is in Baltimore). When they moved to Indy, they kept the name, despite their new home being much more known for auto racing than the horsies. But they persisted, even winning a Super Bowl with their wrong name in their new home. Can we undo that history to correct this name that is honestly pretty dumb when you think about it for a second? In my opinion, yes. We can.

Right name: Indianapolis Memorials
Sometimes it pays off to swerve a little on these. I was thinking of all the different things Indianapolis is known for, and to be honest, it’s not a ton. The Indianapolis Speedway is the obvious thing, but I was also thinking about the fact that Indy is known as the Circle City. It is a planned city, with a number of memorials at its center, including the Indiana World War Memorial Plaza, memorials for presidents Lincoln and Washington, a monument to Schuyler Colfax (longtime Indiana politician who became President Grant’s VP), and the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in the dead center like a bullseye, serving as the physical and mental heart of the city and the state of Indiana.

So what if we went with the Indianapolis Memorials to tie in those physical places that are so key to the city as well as the fact that the city’s premiere event, the Indy 500 race, happens every year on Memorial Day? No reason to change the colors or even the classic uniforms (love that shoulder stripe), but twist that horseshoe logo into a blue and white ribbon, a universally understood icon for memorials, and go from there. Honestly, the main negative with this name is that “Memorials” doesn’t shorten well for snappy newspaper headlines. “Mems?” “Memos?” “M’s?” Maybe just stick to “Indy.”

Right name, I guess: Jacksonville Jaguars
Getting pedantic with animal habitats once again, I must note that the jaguar has not been found in Florida since prehistoric times. Nowadays it’s pumas and panthers, but no jags. BUT, the fact that jaguars do at least have a fossil record in the state, the fact that jaguars are cool killer cats, the fact that “jaguar” is an under-used and somewhat unique mascot choice, AND the fact that this creates alliteration with the name of the second-most unexpected NFL city behind Green Bay, Wis., makes it work fine in my book.

Right name, believe it or not: Kansas City Chiefs
Using stereotypes of ethnic groups for your sports mascot is becoming, day by day, a more untenable position to defend. Unless the ethnic group in question is totally and vocally on board — as the Seminole tribe of Florida apparently is with Florida State University using Seminoles as their sports mascot, for instance — it’s kind of a bad look in 2022, you know? Until recently, the Washington, D.C., football team using a particularly vile racial epithet for native people as its team mascot was the worst case in U.S. sports. Then it was the Cleveland MLB team, who used the misnomer “Indians” along with, for years, an insulting cartoon drawing of a native man as its hat logo. Now the worst case is probably the Atlanta Braves MLB team, which has an obvious, unique, and enjoyable remedy sitting RIGHT THERE as I discussed previously.

The NFL’s Chiefs of Kansas City would be in the conversation, though, had they not started taking steps about a decade ago to engage the Native American community in the Missouri region. It’s a weird situation: Technically the name “Chief” refers to the nickname of H. Roe Bartle, the mayor of Kansas City who worked to bring the team to the area from Texas. But then once the team was established, they started using stereotypical Native American iconography, including on-field mascots dressed in war paint, doing whooping chants and dancing around the sidelines. This went on for decades.

I won’t belabor the point any further, but the team did the right thing in starting an ongoing relationship with actual indigenous populations when — let’s be frank here — white people started to become aware of the fact that sports team names based on caricatures aren’t very nice. You can read more about the team’s efforts here.

Putting aside the optics, the Chiefs are one of the building blocks of the NFL, having played in the first Super Bowl. They haven’t done much to alter their classic uniforms throughout the years, either. With the work they’re doing to honor indigenous people, the name stays.

Wrong name: Los Angeles Chargers
Did you know the Chargers were originally a Los Angeles team before they moved to San Diego for all those years? It’s true, they were part of the AFL at first, and owner Conrad Hilton (of Hilton Hotels) liked the name “Chargers” because he liked when they did the bugle call and the crowd yelled “charge!” at USC football games.

I mean, honestly, that’s pretty lame, because they do that at a lot of sports games across the country, and have done for decades, so there’s literally no tie to the Los Angeles area or the San Diego area for that matter. Do the uniforms kick ass? Yes! Do the helmets with the lightning bolts kick ass? Yes! What the hell is a Charger, though?

Right name: Los Angeles Bolts
This is easy because everyone already calls them the Bolts, colloquially and in headlines (much shorter than Chargers for those narrow newspaper columns). It just makes more sense, it’s cooler, and it relates to the existing team iconography better than some rich dude having a giggle about a cheer all the little people were doing at the sports ball game.

Right name: Los Angeles Rams
The Rams history goes back to when they were a Cleveland team. To give you an idea how long ago this was, they were given the name Rams because the Fordham University football team — also the Rams — was an absolute powerhouse at the time, so it was a winning name. Oh, and get this, they considered the shortness of the name a boon to newspaper headline writers. Man, for that reason alone, I want to leave this name intact! Good job, Rams!

Right name: Las Vegas Raiders
If there was an award for “coolest sports team on the planet,” the L.A./Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders would be in the running. I live in Indiana, and I can’t tell you how many Raiders hats, jackets, shirts, and hoodies I saw on local kids growing up. It was a lot. They weren’t even THAT good back then, though they did eventually make a Super Bowl when I was in college. The silver and black is badass, their crazy fans who dress up like extras from “Mad Max” are badass, that logo with the helmeted pirate is badass (and crazy original), and of course the Raiders have a ton of history in the league. Now that they’re in Vegas, the (former?) home of organized crime in the United States, the Raiders name even kind of takes on a second meaning. Keep it.

Let’s do a lightning round here of several right names in a row:

Miami Dolphins: The team colors, the breezy iconography of a dolphin curling through the air, the history involved going back to Don Shula and the undefeated Dolphins of 1972 … it’s all good. Miami couldn’t have done a better job representing itself here.

Minnesota Vikings: The history of Scandinavian settlement in the upper Midwest adds local authenticity to a name that, like Raiders, evokes tough, badass warriors on the battlefield.

New England Patriots: As much as I’m kind of “meh” on the concept of representing an entire region, it’s clear the Pats are the team of choice for most of the region, even when they suck. The Patriots are obviously more of a reference to the Revolutionary War history in Massachusetts itself, but there’s enough of that kind of history to go around in the Northeast.

New Orleans Saints: Such a great, unique, classic name. What in the world else would we call this team?

New York Giants: The only team still standing from the inaugural group of NFL teams in 1925.

New York Jets: One of the airline hubs of the world gets a team honoring that heritage in the golden age of air travel … despite the crumminess of the team itself most years, I wouldn’t touch this one.

Philadelphia Eagles: Since 1933, a cornerstone franchise of the NFL.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Six Super Bowl rings, a very unique and local name, and killer classic uniforms = nothing here to work on.

San Francisco 49ers: Uh, read the Steelers entry again, but it’s five rings.

Seattle Seahawks: Alliteration, a local and unique name (not just hawks, Seahawks), good colors, say no more.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I like the amount of unique names in the NFL, and the Bucs/Buccaneers (rather than just Pirates) are in that number. And there’s an actual history of piracy in the Tampa Bay area!

Wrong name: Tennessee Titans
Why are the Titans the Titans? I looked it up, and it’s an alliterative attempt to call in Nashville’s history as the “Athens of the South.” Anybody else never heard that before in their lives? Apparently, the team owner wanted to call the team the Pioneers when they moved from Houston, which I actually like better than Titans, but it upset someone in Memphis for reasons I admit I don’t feel like Googling any further to understand. So they pivoted to Titans and used Tennessee, rather than Nashville.

And here’s where we have to do a little consideration on geography: Is this a state team or a city team? When they moved from Houston, they played games in Memphis and at Vanderbilt University before settling into their permanent home in Nashville. I don’t know if the decision to use “Tennessee” is a way to recognize the participation of those locales as well or what, but the more I think about it, the less I like it. First of all, who is to say Memphis won’t ever get an NFL team? Memphis is a sneaky good sports town, and if the NFL experiment dies in a marginal city like Jacksonville (sorry, Jags, but you know I’m right), I could see Memphis being a leader in the race to relocate. So let’s make this a Nashville team, and let’s get real funky with it.

Right name: Music City Miracles
Come on! Have fun with this, Nashville! The Titans’ biggest football moment to this point in their history is known as the Music City Miracle. You might be saying “Andrew, that wasn’t even a Super Bowl win, do you think the team wants to tie its identity to a great moment that led to a runner-up finish?” but I think the fun/unique factor of the name plus the hyper local specificity of it plus the mouthfeel (it’s fun to say) make it a really intriguing option. If they like their colors (and I’m not crazy about them, but whatever), they can keep them, just change the generic T logo to a music note logo, maybe add a halo around it or something, and shazaam, you’re selling truckloads of merch.

Wrong name: Washington Commanders
When it came time for the team with the most racist, offensive nickname in United States professional sports to choose a new mascot, people were not optimistic. The team is known for having inept, tone deaf ownership. They spent a couple of seasons just known as the Washington Football Team, for Pete’s sake, that’s how slow off the block they were in figuring out a solution to a problem they knew they had for at least a decade. How did they not have a couple of good options just sitting on the shelf waiting for this eventuality?

Well, the answer to that is they have inept, tone deaf ownership. Dan Snyder was hellbent on not changing the name for so long, clearly he never even entertained the idea of making contingency plans behind the scenes. What a leader, huh? Anyway, once they finally got around to revealing the new name they took two years to pick last offseason — Commanders — it went over like a lead balloon full of farts. Immediately, everyone started calling them the “Commies” (see? Having a good shrinkable name is important!) and picking fun at Snyder for being a big dumb-dumb.

I think the negative reaction is at least partially because there are just so many good options. The nation’s capital is chock-full of imagery that would lend itself well to sports team names, particularly in a war-like game. Commanders is lazy, uninspired, and generic. I said before that the fact that no team has taken “Washington Monuments” is nuts, but because I used my powers as Blog King of the World to bestow that name upon the Washington NBA team, I won’t use it for the football team, where it could almost be considered a better fit.

Right Name: Washington Hogs
The Hogs was a nickname given to the team’s amazing offensive line during the late 1980s and early 1990s when Washington won a pair of Super Bowls. Since then, though, the name has metastasized to become a moniker for the team’s most hardcore fans, who dress up in pig masks and vintage jerseys for gameday.

So on the one hand, this is a unique, short name with a very strong tie to the team’s history and its fans. It’s also a sneaky reference to “pork-barrel” politics if you want to look at it that way. On the other hand, and I don’t know any D.C. football fans to ask, would the fans see this move as the team taking THEIR identity? Or would they be proud of it?

I don’t know, but I can imagine the vast majority of them would prefer it to “Commanders.” And the merch practically designs itself. The new logo could be a toothy, tusky, prickly, mean-looking wild pig, and we know that can work as a logo, because the University of Arkansas Razorbacks have been using one for a long time.

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