by David Beck
EEEEEE! Contributing Editor
In honor of the upcoming pro football season, I thought I would take a thoughtful look at each NFL football team name. It is admittedly not the most exhaustive treatment (nor is it intended to be), but it is most times definitely whimsical. I will provide a little history of each team's name, give my opinions about it, and as an extra added feature, look critically at each team's helmet emblem. I rank name and emblem from 1 to 32 (the extra team is the Browns), with "1" being the best in my view and "32" being the worst.
I figure too that if Gregg can elaborate on major league baseball team names, I can do the same with pro football names for those of us who like a little bone-crunching with our ballpark franks.
We begin with the team that really got pro football moving: George Halas' team, Da Bears.
But they weren't the Bears at first. They were the Staleys.
"The what!!?" you gag as you choke on your Polish sausage.
Yes, it was the Staleys, a name that -- just like the Bears -- instills great fear into the heart of any opponent or business rival.
Well, that was actually the idea, for the Staleys did not initially represent Chicago per se, but rather the A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company in Decatur, Illinois.
Staley hired Halas as your average-Joe employee, but he also asked him to play on the company baseball team and to organize a pro football team. Halas brought together some guys who were actually known for their football and not for their starching abilities, and then initiated the loose formation of a league, one that eventually -- with Halas' guidance -- became a somewhat less loose collection of teams than the one around at the time.
It began play in October of 1920, and the Staleys first game was against a team with a name that was then probably much more impressive, but today is a tad more comical: the Moline Tractors. I could imagine the trash talk they offered: "Here we come -- huff, puff -- we're gonna plow you under and after a while -- like, say, in a few months or so when you've grown out of the ground -- we'll hack you off and throw you in the bailer whaddya thinka that?!!" The Staleys won, 20-0.
Their second game was against the Kewanee Walworths. I'm certain that after this there was a lot less naming teams after people, because whoever this Walworth guy was, it sure sounded like a team made up of a bunch of chuckleheads, and that couldn't have helped much.
It wasn't until 1922 that Halas decided to change the name from the Staleys to the Bears. He wanted to make a connection with the popular and -- at the time -- very successful baseball Cubs, named by a sportswriter because of all the young players on the team. It was also in 1922 that Halas gave his league the name that would stick: the National Football League.
The Bears name is without question one of the better team names. Bears are generally fierce creatures and they perfectly link to a team characteristics associated with football. What's better is that bears are actually endearing fierce creatures, that is, there is something very likable about them without giving away any of their ferocity.
A thin "C" with a nipple on the back. I've always wondered, "What is the deal with the little nipple?" I haven't the faintest. Probably there for at least some style, and I imagine for those who like simplicity this is a good emblem.
An expansion team in 1968, it was named after the Cincinnati Bengals of the short-lived American Football Leagues of 1936 and 1940. Many teams that came into the NFL liked to at least consider the names of teams from some earlier time in history; this was a common practice in most professional team sports leagues. I'm sure there is a major nostalgia motivation, and I find this ironic in a time when teams seek to change names to gain an identity of their own.
The team name itself is really one of those contrived names created just for a sports team. There is no such thing as a "bengal," it only makes sense when used to describe a Bengal tiger. It is like naming your team the "Keel-Billed Toucans" and then shortening it to the Keel-Billeds.
"And here they come out onto the field, let's hear it for -- yooooooooour -- Cincinnati Keel-Billeds!!!"
The black tiger stripes against the orange is actually really cool looking. It is much better than simply having the word Bengals spread across the side of the helmet. That only made more glaring how dorky it was to have an essentially non-existent name, unless of course the team is somehow reflective of the Bengal region in Asia that makes up Bangladesh and part of India. And even that makes little sense. "Let's hear it for yooour Cincinnati Till Plains!!!"
An original AFL team in 1960, owner Ralph Wilson came up with this gem. Talk about being out-to-lunch on this one.
The city of Buffalo was not even named after buffaloes -- supposedly it was named by early settlers for a nearby creek . Much less did the town have any connection with Buffalo Bill, the marksman and showman from the American frontier otherwise known as William Cody.
Actually, the only explanation must be that Wilson knew what it would take for him to afford -- and for the fans to pay for -- those obscenely high-priced players, so he named the team after that cost to all of us.
Again, why the buffalo? And nowadays, what is the deal with the red streak coming out of the buffalo's ear?
Before, if you remember, it was this red buffalo just standing there ready to get shot. (Maybe it had already been shot, this explains the red color. We were just getting the picture from above seeing the animal lying there covered in its blood.)
Now we get the running buffalo with the streak. Ee-yachh. I suppose it is because it is charging and it is perhaps angry in some way.
What it looks like is that they've merely shifted the emphasis to the already dead buffalo to one that has just been shot and has blood gushing from a gigantic hole in its cranium. I firmly believe, however, that this is a profound statement for us to understand how guilty and indeed to truly feel how shamed we all must be for the demise of the great, vast bison herds of the sweeping epic whatever of the 19th-century American whatever.
Wanna know the truth? It is really just some buffalo bridesmaid frantically hurrying to arrive on time for a buffalo wedding and the red ribbon that adorned her buffalo mane has unraveled.
(And none of this is to even mention that we're not even supposed to use the word "buffalo" anymore -- it's "bison" you bigoted ignoramuses! Ee-gad!)
Surely the name is associated with horses that are really feisty. Not a bad name actually.
Traditionally was a capital "D" and out of the "D" was a rearing, snorting horse. Now it has been changed to simply the streamlined head of a white horse with a flowing orange mane following. No "D" and no snorts.
The colors are the same (with a darker blue) but the uniform has been changed, and it is absolutely atrocious. What are those on the uniform? Hyper-extended orange crab claws or something? Supposedly these new threads were designed by Nike, and if this is a trend, it reminds me of what was done to the major league baseball uniforms in the '70s.
Everyone seems to feel that the Browns were named after the first coach of the team, Paul Brown. That is partly true, but the whole story goes like this:
In 1946, the All-American Football Conference was formed and there was to be a team in Cleveland. The owners named Brown as coach -- he was practically a legend in Ohio for his high school and college coaching accomplishments. A $1,000 war bond was offered for fan who could come up with the team's name, and the winner obviously chose "Browns" -- not. The winner chose "Panthers," but Brown said, "No, sorry, because I want the team to be named after me."
Well, not, again. Brown did not like the name "Panthers" because there was a Cleveland Panthers team in the 1920s that stank, and he didn't want any part of that losing identity. So they all went back and looked through the entries sent in from the original contest, and they noted that some of them were indeed, "Browns."
Brown initially said no, he did not want the team to be named after him. It was then pointed out, however, that many of those who sent in the name "Browns" did so in honor of boxer Joe Louis, the "Brown Bomber." Brown relented.
As a team name, it leaves a lot to be desired. A lot. Certainly it may well have been the result of an honor for two highly respected men, but "Browns"? I'm sorry, but there are a lot of unsavory things in this world that are brown in color. Yes, I know there are some good things like yummy gravy and tree branches for climbing and comfy upholstery. It's just that it is not one of those brilliant colors in the spectrum. In fact, I learned in kindergarten that when I mixed all the colors together, I got brown. It is like a color without an identity. And even if it claimed an identity, what the heck is a "brown"? The closest thing I can think of is the brownie, as in a little rich cake-piece without the frosting.
When I was first beginning to get into the NFL back in the early 70's just before my teenage years, I was into looking over the image of all the teams and picking my favorites based on those images, much like most people still do. The Browns were easily one of my least favorite -- the name was bad enough, but the main reason was that they didn't even have an emblem on their helmet. My little eleven year-old mind thought, "What a bunch of dummies that they can't even think of something to put on the helmet."
Of course, the main answer is, what do they put on the helmet? A stylized likeness of Paul Brown? A letter "C"? (I seem to remember once seeing a picture of a Browns helmet with a kind of slanted "C" on it, and I just don't know... did they at one time wear a helmet with something on it?)
I think they all just came around to thinking, look, we don't need any kind of image or emblem or symbol for us to be somebody, we're just the Browns.
Okay, okay. Fair enough.
But what then is the deal with the colors?
Personally selected by Paul Brown himself, this simply defies explanation. Now the brown I can understand, it fits, as brutal as it looks. But what is with the ORANGE? Not only is there no emblem on the helmet, but it looks like all the players are wearing carved-out pumpkins on their heads with a tire-skid-mark stretching across the middle. A Browns game looked like the street in front of my house the morning after Halloween.
I can hear it now: "Try saying that to Otto Graham or Jim Brown."
You're right. Were I to address one of them I would say, "You look like you are wearing a carved-out pumpkin on your head with a tire-skid-mark stretching across the middle, sir."
The way I see it is this. Bad team name. Bad helmets. Really bad colors. I think this was all a part of the plan to make the Cleveland Browns nauseatingly endearing. That's pretty much how they've always been -- even in passing -- loved by all for some simpering reason.
I really think the reason is just that they've looked so bad that everyone simply feels sorry for them. Moving out of Cleveland made it just that much more acute. Not that everyone has the same feelings for the Ravens, they don't, by miles.
It's just the Browns' thing. It is -- yes -- it is --
The Browns' IMAGE.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
A 1976 expansion team, owner Hugh Culverhouse named them, apparently after swishy pirate-types.
The new one is really not bad. It used to be the pirate guy with the cavalier hat and a knife in his mouth and a weird form of jaundice causing a severe orange coloring; it's been changed to a Jolly Roger-type flag -- rusty red in color with a skull and crossing swords. New colors are a mish-mash of red and orange and gold and black and I-don't-know-what. Why do all the new pro sports color schemes make the players look like they've just been dipped in a huge vat of vegetable soup?
Many of the very early football teams were truly football "clubs" and were merely outgrowths of city athletic organizations. The original name of the Cardinals was the Morgan Athletic Club. Makes you think you're going to play football against a bunch of thin bald guys wearing white pleated pants and polo shirts. They did change their name to something that conforms more like to what we're familiar with today, but it instilled no more fear.
When they moved to play on Normal Field at Normal Boulevard and Racine Avenue, they became the Normals. Imagine the trash talk from them: "Yeah, well, you guys are a bunch of weirdos, at least we're NORMAL..."
When they picked up some second hand jerseys from the University of Chicago that were faded maroon, they changed their name again, to the Racine Cardinals. Amazing how little imagination was put into naming teams at this time. Whatever was around attributed to team-naming. "Hey, let's form a football team! We all live on Big Pile Avenue and -- whoa! What's that smell??? Hey, Rudy! Look at that dog crap you stepped in! Now, what'll we name our team?"
Thing is, as the Racine Cardinals, they were champions of the Chicago Football League in 1917. Shortly thereafter World War I stopped play for a time.
They became the Chicago Cardinals when they moved their playing field to Comiskey Park in 1922. They became the St. Louis Cardinals in 1960 and then the Phoenix Cardinals in 1988 and then the Arizona Cardinals in 1994 and then I presume sometime soon they'll become the Earth Cardinals so that wherever they next move around the globe they won't have to change their stationary yet again by gosh.
It is a little cardinal head. How sweet. Of course, they make this cardinal head look firm and determined and it really isn't too bad looking. It is just when you think about it, it is a little bird, and the Cardinals originally were not even named after birds at all, but rather the color of the jersey. I don't know which is more silly.
For the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, it is okay because it is a baseball team, and some baseball teams are just named after little birds, but for a football team?
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
For the inaugural 1960 AFL season a guy won a trip to Mexico for coming up with the name, and hotel magnate Barron Hilton liked it because of three things. One, it is like electricity, as in an electrical charge. Two, it is like a charging horse -- the symbol still used on Charger stationary. And three, here is the best one, it is like what you do when you don't have the cash. Yes, indeed, the team was named after the owner's own charge card company, the Hilton Carte Blanche.
The name of the team is actually okay, giving the feeling of a team really going after you, really charging against you. But when we find out about how these babies are named, it kind of makes you wonder about the marvels of human imagination. Not in how sublime it can be, but in how ridiculous it so often is.
The electricity charge is pretty good, but when you think about it, it has its drawbacks. "Okay men," the coach says to his players in the locker room. "We've got a big game today, so everybody up -- come on! Everybody up, that means you too, Gzrnczowski! Okay now, start shuffling your feet! Let's go! That's it! Back and forth, really dig those soles into that carpet! There you go! Hey! Wallace! Stop touching your teammates -- you're only to use it on the other team!"
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Many believe the Chiefs were named after the top guys in an Indian tribe -- er -- 'scuze me -- Native American tribe. The Chiefs have certainly taken that connotation and used it themselves, adopting the mascot of an all-decked-out Indian guy whooping it up on a galloping horse.
The Chiefs were first the Dallas Texans until they were forced to move. Owner Lamar Hunt, a Texan, was reluctant to make the move, but he was given a terrific offer to play at Municipal Stadium from the mayor of Kansas City, guy named H. Roe Bartle.
The arrowhead with the "KC" is outstanding. The design fits perfectly, the red color scheme with the gold trim is brilliant. Of course, the Chiefs are my team, so they can do no wrong.
Another horse name. With baseball it's birds, with football it's horses. It fits.
The horseshoe is one of those endearing symbols because of its simplicity and it's been around for a long time.
There is one reason and one reason only that the Dallas Cowboys are not only "America's team," but they back it up by being the most popular team in the country.
That is it. Image is everything.
It is not just the team, but it is the whole "Cowboy mystique." It is the swaggering tradition, it is the bigger-than-life Texas pride, it is the style of the uniform with the stalwart star and the bold silver against the cool blue trim.
And much of that is in the name.
Look at that name for a minute. If it rolls off the tongue for only a moment, it gushes with all that "America's team" stuff. But when you look more closely at it you can't help but wonder.
Think about it. It is made up of two parts. "Cow" and "boys."
Either one of those is extraordinarily unappealing as a team name. A cow is a big slow stupid creature that has one of three purposes in life: getting its udders yanked, making other cows, or waiting around to be carved up. And a cow is by definition a female animal -- nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but as a symbol of a brutal savage macho sport, it is strikingly inappropriate.
Then you've got the "boys." Dallas fans will endearingly call their team "the 'Boys," but that doesn't take away the true connotation of the word. They may like to impute boyish qualities to the team, such as playfulness and a certain delightful recklessness, but when it comes down to crunch time the fans want them to play like men above men.
To be honest, however, the name "Cowboys" means neither of those things. It has a definition all its own. A cowboy is one of those big tough dudes from the big bad wild west who carried a big bad gun below his hip and shot the bad guys, and they drank and fought and partied hard, and when it was all over they won the pretty women.
Wrong. We've just seen too many movies. Well, actually, too many scenes from movies that show the John Wayne type that stunningly epitomizes what it means to be an American. Remember, image is everything.
Cowboys were actually churlish ill-mannered oafs who had nothing going for them and were resigned to taking numbingly boring jobs making sure cows stayed put. In the 1880's the expansive proliferation of barbed wire took out the cowboy's job. Took it out, faster than if they'd all just been rounded up and sent to Bulgaria to work as doily cutters.
Of course there was still work required to manage the cattle on the ranch, but that was work for ranch hands, not cowboys. And that just doesn't quite work. "Here they are, let's hear it for yoooooour Dallas Ranch Hands!"
No, it is the Cowboy image that sells, and sells big-time. Still, what is the deal with that? Taken as a given that it is the image of the brawling dusty big ol' gallant, why is he so adored? Why is that kind of a guy so special?
It is simple. This is the image of the perfect male held by every red-blooded female in the country. And we all know that women rule the world.
A woman's psychological make-up is such that the man to which she is most arduously drawn is the one who exhibits wild, brawny rogue-like qualities but actually demonstrates that he is a sensitive, understanding, deeply and truthfully expressive individual. Most crucially he must prove that he is tremendously protecting with an almost jealous devotion to safeguard and provide for his own. He must be powerful but also tender. Forceful but also gentle.
In other words, a cowboy. And I'm not even saying the guy has to look like a cowboy, he just needs to do the "cowboy" stuff mentioned above, whether he looks like a yuppie or a hippie.
A woman loves this man. She is made to.
Many women will say, "Eh, that's just your chauvinistic blithering. In today's world we women are liberated from all that 'knight in shining armor' baloney."
I'm not talking about their independence or their capabilities. I'm talking about what women feel, what they are compelled by. It is just the way it is, no matter how much some will deny this.
A popular song a while ago was Paula Cole's "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?" The song's words are from a woman who has your basic mobile-home life taking care of a lot of young children and living with a husband who drives a truck and drinks and sits on the couch all evening. "Where is my John Wayne?" she sings. "Where is my happy ending?" Her cowboy is not really a cowboy at all.
Cole has claimed that the whole thing is sarcastic, and I won't take issue with that as she is taking the standard we-are-liberated-from-that-kind-of-thing stance. No big deal. But that is not necessarily how many others have taken it. They have seen it as a very telling reflection of how a woman can be so taken by her notion of that "cowboy of the movies" and then realize that he is just a smelly old fart like most guys. I'm not denigrating a woman's relational skills nor am I belittling any given man's capacity to be a strong loving individual.
I'm ultimately just getting around to the point I started with.
Women love cowboys. Or, excuse me, they are enamored with the cowboy image we all have in our minds.
You may ask, so why do men then follow their lead? Are men Cowboys fans just because their women are?
Well, yes, I am saying that. It is because, most times in life, let's face it, men are just plain moved by their woman when it comes to this kind of stuff. And what men want is so clear! Because his woman loves a cowboy, what kind of person do you think most any red-blooded American male would then want to be like?
You got it.
Hey! Don't knock it! In today's progressive world, you never know!
The Star. (With a capital "S," as it should have.) You can show that Star, the Star, to anyone in, say, Botswana, or Yemen, or Papua New Guinea for cryin'out loud and they'll know it's the Star of The (with a capital "T") Dallas Cowboys.
I think I'm going to hurl my lungs.
Many of the newer NFL franchises, those that came to be from about 1960 on, had contests offering fans the opportunity to select the new team's name. Some lady chose the Dolphin's name and won two free lifetime passes to Dolphins games.
The Dolphins name itself is actually really silly. Instills no fear whatsoever. It is like going up against a fish. Yes, I know a dolphin is a mammal, but it looks like a fish and for all intents and porpoises (ya-ha-ha), it is a fish. I imagine the idea behind it is that a dolphin is really smart and in any battle with a shark the dolphin will win by ramming its snout into the shark causing great internal damage and pain and death and whatever.
It's still a fish.
It is a fish going through a hoop wearing a football helmet with an "M" on it.
Okay, first you got the fish. Already talked about that one. Then you got the hoop. Really makes you want to go to Sea World. Then you got the helmet. Isn't even regulation as it has no face guard. Then you got the "M" and only an "M" on the helmet, which makes no sense because the real Dolphins helmet has no solitary "M" but rather a fish and a hoop.
Bert Bell bought the Frankfort Yellow Jackets and changed the name to the Eagles. Like all team names that you thought were named for one thing but really weren't, this one was no different. You'd think the Eagle was an easy pick because, being in Philadelphia, birthplace of our country, they'd pick the majestic bird that symbolizes the soaring strength of the American spirit.
It was 1933, at a time when Franklin Roosevelt tried to bring Depression relief with the New Deal, and the National Recovery Administration's symbol was -- well -- you got it. Of course, one can say that that eagle was taken from the one that represented America. Yeah, maybe, but if you remember from your history books, the NRA eagle was this ugly blue thing that was posted on virtually every store window during the Depression. It looked like a dead drowned bird squished between the paper and the glass.
As a team name it is actually pretty great. It fits well with the city and even though it is a bird name, the eagle is a terrific bird for a football team because of its image of power and its really huge sharp talons.
Equally as impressive as the name. The wings coming off the front of the helmet is very classy.
This is the other exception to the no-bird-names-for-a-football-team rule. A falcon is another powerful-looking bird and there is also the consideration that it is smart, able to be trained to fly up and rip the gizzards out of some helpless fluffy bird.
This name was also picked as a contest winner.
Very imposing is the bird shown with its expansive wings down in flight. I really like that design, whoever came up with it was on-the-mark. Changing the color scheme to almost totally black looks okay on the uniform, but now on the helmet you've got a black bird against a black helmet. It looks okay up close, but you have to be way up close. Otherwise the impact is effectively lost.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The team name was credited to any one of the founding partners who originally owned the team, Tony Morabito being the best known among them.
The idea surely relates to the year 1849 when the Gold Rush put California on the map. Thing is, what is a "forty-niner"?
He was, in real life, a coarse, fetid, foul-mouthed old fart -- looking kind of like Yosemite Sam only uglier and more scraggly. That is hard to do, but that was really what a forty-niner was. I guess the original idea was to scare away your opponent in a socially repugnant kind of way -- the original emblem featured a forty-niner pretty much like you'd picture him, only firing a pair of six-shooters.
The "SF" in a smooth red-flushed black-lined oval against the burnished gold helmet.
Very simple. Very smart. Very fashionable. Very San Francisco.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Tim Mara named the team in 1925 after the baseball Giants, which themselves were named when 1885 manager Jim Mutrie declared his team, "My boys, my giants," referring to his ballplayers' generally large physical stature.
As a name it fits a football team wonderfully. Giants are imposing, threatening beings; if you are a giant in your sport you are held in very high regard. The only negative is the consideration of "David & Goliath" in any situation where the Giants lose to an inferior team. To be honest I don't know if I've even ever heard that kind of reference, perhaps because it was probably made excruciatingly trite back when sportswriters used references like that, and to use it now would just be dull.
By the way, if you're one of those who may think that this naming a football team after a baseball team was just too retarded, please note that among those really early-in-the-century professional football teams were the Cleveland Indians, the Philadelphia Athletics, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Yankees, the Boston Braves, the Cincinnati Reds, the Pittsburgh Pirates, several different Tigers teams, and yes, there was even a Chicago Bulls.
They've gone back to the old "NY." I figure if they're going to be very ordinary, as is the word "Giants" across the side of the helmet, then they may as well be traditional. The style is equally nondescript, but what do you do? You can't exactly put a little picture of a giant on the helmet because there, it would be precisely that: little. Very much destroys the effect.
And what is the deal with the "Y" underlining the "N"? Is this for emphasis or is this their hopeless attempt to give it a little style?
The use of animals as names, especially those of wild ferocious beasts such as big cats, is popular among NFL teams.
A jaguar is a fine example, and the word sounds impressive and frightening. The thing Jacksonville could do is get rid of those dorky uniforms. Jaguar spots put anywhere on a human only looks like they are wearing part of some gaudy leopard skin outfit worn by people trying desperately to pick up a date at some trashy night-club.
Here's one prominent place where those spots are. Lose 'em. And the color scheme of the uniform looks like vomit. What is that, pus yellow and fabric-softener blue against the black? They probably paid a million dollars to get some haughty New York designer firm to give 'em that schlock.
NEW YORK JETS
Entering the AFL in 1960 they were the Titans and changed their name to Jets in 1963.
The name is okay, the idea is certainly that jets are big fast machines, and there is always the association with anything fast: "That runner sure does move fast. He's a jet." I wonder, too, if they were named as such because they were about to move to Shea Stadium where they would be so close to La Guardia Airport that they wanted to honor their loud annoying neighbors.
I like the more traditional green look. It has a bit more style than the one they had in the '80s and early '90s. I also have always liked that white helmet with the football and the inlaid "NY Jets." No matter what, it will always be associated with Joe Namath and his Super Bowl III team. That's a big plus.
Once the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans, they were sold in 1934 to a guy in Detroit who had a radio station which he used to promote a contest to rename the team.
The two kinds of big cats we are all most familiar with are lions and tigers ("and bears, oh my!") (I don't think anyone in the entirety of all mankind can ever fully resist doing that Wizard of Oz thing any time lions and tigers are mentioned in the same breath. Whoops, 'scuze me, any time lions and tigers ["and bears, oh my!"] are mentioned...)
Anyway, the name is, again, one of those big mean deadly animal names, and to the Lion's credit it is not just any big cat but it is the big cat, the king of the jungle. (How come lions are "king of the jungle," yet whenever I see those National Geographic shows, they are always out in the desert or the plains or the savanna or whatever it is? Never a tree in sight except for those tall ones that giraffes eat from. Jungles are where you see monkeys swinging around and snakes on branches and you hear oo-oo-ee-ee-ah-ah constantly echoing through the trees. And how come the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz -- since we were on the subject -- sings, "If I were king of the forest," when the forest is where you go camping around a bunch of pine trees and see squirrels and deer and get some really bad itching condition?)
Maybe it is because of all this confusion that the Lions, with such a great name and all, have never won a Super Bowl.
The blue pouncing lion silhouette is very nice. Does justice to its nobility and is marvelously simple. A great design that the team has wisely never messed with like so many teams do.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
One of those really ancient teams.
The very loose forms of pro football before 1920 were prominently situated in the Great Lakes area and mostly concentrated in the eastern Ohio-western Pennsylvania area. The Packers are the only remaining team from that era. Other such teams of that time included the Dayton Triangles, the Watertown Red & Blacks, the Detroit Heralds, the Columbus Panhandles, and the Pitcairn Quakers.
No real thought was put into how to make team names at least a wee bit menacing, for identity came from whatever was familiar, appropriate, company-directed, or fashionable -- literally, in the sense they named themselves after what they looked like. The Watertown team was certainly not made up of a bunch of Native and African-Americans, but still, I can only imagine what the color scheme for their uniforms looked like. It was probably horrid.
The Packers themselves were first named after the Indian Packing Company, and in a stroke of brilliant originality were later renamed the Acme Packing Company. The "Packers" is another one of those team names that has to really stretch to reach fear-steeping capabilities. "You better watch out youse guys, 'cuz here we come an' we're gonna pack you inna buncha really uncomfortable wooden crates!!!"
The thing is that today even though we all know what a packer is, the name as it has been associated with a great tradition has acquired a connotation of its own. The Packers just have always been one of those teams no one can really hate, unless you were a Cowboys fan of the sixties or a Bears fan of anytime.
Like the name of the team, the "G" has become so renowned that its austerity is never even taken into account.
Back in 1997 this team had no business doing any winning as an expansion team, and this bull manure about giving them all kinds of extra advantages with free agency and draft picks is -- well -- bull manure.
With that said, I can share that I feel that the team actually has a pretty kickin'-ay name, just like the Jaguars have, who I hate almost as much, for the same reason.
Unlike the Jaguars, the Panthers have a great-looking helmet. The colors are terrific -- the bounding black cat is a fantastic image.
To summarize: the team can suck raw sewage slime; their look is one of the best in all of football.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Another contest winner that very much fits the historical ambiance of the region. Named after those loyal to the early United States in fighting the Revolutionary War, sometimes it is shortened to "Pats" in honor of Pat O'Dingle who was the very first American to throw the very first punch in the very first barroom brawl in the newly formed country.
The noteworthy thing about this name is that the name of the location of the team was changed from Boston to New England when it moved into Foxboro Stadium in 1972.
Another example of messing with something that was really good.
The old helmet had a tough brawny center dressed in 18th century Minuteman garb ready to fire out and level some wienie Tory linebacker. A terrific image. And its easy to make a red, white, and blue color scheme look really stupid, but the old style was actually pretty great.
Now, they've replaced the prominent white with a really ugly silver, they've turned the uniform design into something that looks like it came out of a really bad Sylvester Stallone futurist science-fiction movie, and the worst part, they've pulled that awesome lineman guy right off the helmet and in his place slapped a tricorner accidentally run through a laundry press with the head of an emaciated Ichabod Crane still in the hat. And they couldn't even get the Washington Irving story right, it was Crane who saw the headless horseman.
To those who think image is not everything, consider how many Raiders fans would be still be around when, after I became commissioner -- no, dictator -- of the NFL, I order the change of the name from the Raiders to Pansies, their uniform colors changed from silver and black to flamingo pink and lime green, and the identity scheme changed from pirates and spikes to five year-old girls and dainty flowers.
The Raiders represent the prime case for the truth that image is everything. I understand that being a Chiefs fan may taint my objectivity a bit, but I can think of no redeeming value for anything Raider-esque. The only reason nine out of ten Raiders fans are such is because they look like a bunch of thugs, and have had a history of carrying themselves on the field as such. In a sense, they've just had that reputation.
The typical example of their bad-ass attitude was in the '60's and '70's when the Raiders could get away with getting penalty after penalty and still win, much to the delight of their fans. Nowadays they still get all kinds of penalties, but they have also established a pattern of some major clutch losing.
Especially to the Chiefs.
My glee has only been surpassed by my disappointment that I just don't think the Chiefs will continue to utterly dominate this series for the next ten thousand years, at least.
By the way, the first name considered for the Raiders was "Dons" (as in respected Latino elder, or as in deviant Mafia boss?) The second name considered was "Senors" (as in the Spanish "misters" just without the tilde, or as in elderly people just without the "I"?) Thing is, both of these terms make some allusion to being a "gentleman" -- how'd it get from that to being a renegade crook?
A bad-ass-looking dude in a little "Raiders" shield.
Repeat after me: Image -- is -- everything.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
A decent football name. Like those big goat-like animals, runners lower their heads and try to run over or through opposing players, blockers lower their heads to plow defenders back, and tacklers lower their heads to try to stop the offensive players.
It's just that when you think about it, it's a goat. Wow.
A lot of people will say that the swirly things resembling a ram's horns are at least one of the best helmet designs. They were, if I am not mistaken, the first actual emblem of any kind put on a helmet, and for the most part helmets that are made to look somewhat like the actual, reasonably to-scale part of something -- the Eagles' wings and the Vikings' horns are two other notable examples -- are indeed fairly effective.
I won't disagree, but to me the Rams horns just look goofy. This may be in large part because, with the Chiefs, I am somewhat partial to the Forty-Niners, and the Rams have always been their rivals.
Ranks way down on the list as one of the stupider names.
Everyone knows that the name comes from the whole Edgar Allen Poe thing, but first of all Poe died in Baltimore, he never lived there, and secondly, the raven is a crow. A really ugly, dorky black bird. It is worse that the Cardinals, at least a Cardinal has some character.
"What about the poem?" you may cry.
What about it? I know The Raven is supposed to be scary, but big deal! This is football. I can just see it: "Okay men, take out your recital books. Ready, set, HUT! 'Once upon a midnight drea -- '" WHAM!
Raven roadkill on the football field.
The team first had what was easily the worst eyesore of a helmet emblem: a capital "B" with batwings ready to flutter right off the helmet, and the colors were absolutely hideous.
The colors remain, but the emblem, mercifully, has been redesigned completely, and just in time for their 2001 Super Bowl appearance. It now features a streaking raven head a la the Seahawks. Problem is, it's still a raven.
First, the history, then the long tedious discussion about the political correctitude of it all.
Initially they were located in Boston and called, of course, the Braves. When they began playing games at Fenway Park, the team was renamed the Redskins, presumably to make some connection with the baseball Red Sox while still maintaining some of the "Braves" identity.
Contributing to this was the fact that the team hired a full-blooded Indian, William Dietz as head coach, and on the opening day of practice the team was photographed with each member wearing war paint and full-feathered headdress.
The team moved to Washington D.C. in 1937, the same year they drafted Sammy Baugh.
Now, on to the real important stuff. What is the deal with the name? Is it, or isn't it, acceptable to be called the "Redskins"?
The PC people would say that the word is a derogatory reference to Native Americans, just as if a team were called the "Kikes" or the "Wops." Or even "Whiteskins" or "Blackskins."
Others would say that it is a term that honors Native Americans, and if a long time ago there was some negative connotation to the word, that has certainly dissipated because it has been around for so long as the name of this widely popular team. There is also the thought that the word itself has no defamatory elements, it is simply an expression of a physical feature of an individual, much like if a team were named the "blue-eyes," or the "brown-hairs."
I pretty much side with the non-PC people. To be honest, at one time the term was used to stereotype Native Americans, but as has been pointed out, that usage has become very antiquated, and I think that if anyone were to actually use it in an attempt to deride Native Americans, the hearer would probably think they were referring to the football team. The main thing to keep in mind is that this is football, not some pontifical political crusade. The Redskins are just using an image to give the team an identity, and they have been very careful to use it with the highest measure of respect. Sure, it is wrong to have a team named the "Beaners" or something like that, this is definitely not one of those instances.
In fact, Native Americans should, I think, take a great deal of pride in their representation in this way.
And if anything, it adds a wonderful dimension to the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry. Enjoying the whole cowboys and Indians thing is just part of what America is about. Sure, a lot was different in real history and it was indeed way too violent. But this is football. A game. Uuuu-ee-yeah, kind of a violent game, yes, but that is beside the point....
(Whew, got out of that one...)
The valiant, mighty Native American warrior is a terrific picture. At one time on the helmet was a spear with some feathers coming off the arrow, then it was an encircled "R" with a couple feathers coming off it. They've certainly not bowed to any PC pressure by going all out to depict the full-on Redskin guy. I think it's a good move.
Only thing is, first you got the guy, and he's got a couple of feathers coming off the back of his head. Then you've got the circle the guy is in, and that has some feathers coming off of it.
Yeah, okay, I'll shut up now.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Of course the team was named after the secret agent TV character played by Roger Moore, surely to depict the mystery and intrigue as to why the football team has been so miserable for every year of its existence. (And never mind 1987 when they were pretty good but went out and lost at home to the Vikings in the first playoff game they ever had. That was inexcusable.)
Really, the team was named after the song, "When the Saints Go Marchin' In." Al Hirt used to play it a lot on the trumpet; I think he was even part owner of the team at that time, if I'm not mistaken, and the song is a signature tune of the jazz ambiance for which New Orleans is known.
The name has a certain amount of character for that reason, but for the most part it is a pretty non nom.
The fleur-de-lis is actually a very unique, distinctive symbol. It is supposed to be a flower, most specifically the iris. It is very French in character, and Louisiana has that French feel to it. The name "fleur-de-lis" was once considered a translation of "flower of Louis." One of those Louis kings in France used the symbol on his coat-of-arms, and when you think about it, football helmets are really a form of heraldry, so the fleur-de-lis is not bad, really.
Except that it is, yes, a flower.
The colors of the Saints make up for this big-time. They are great. The gold and very dark green, almost black (Is it black now? Hard to tell...) is a terrific arrangement, looks very sharp, and would get much more positive regard if it weren't so associated with losing.
What the heck is a "seahawk"? I imagine the impetus for the name was mostly because it sounds pretty cool, and to be honest, it does. It also sounds like a very '70's name -- the team was a new expansion club in 1976 -- but as far back as 1946, the Seahawks was the name of the team in Miami of the AAFL.
I've also heard that the seahawk in real life would be like an osprey, which is literally like a hawk that eats fish from the sea. It is a bit uglier than your standard swift, svelte hawk, but in football, that's okay. Being ugly is almost a compliment.
"Hey, you guys are like a hawk but uglier."
Calling an opponent ugly in the NFL does nothing to bluster him. If anything it makes the ugly-ee more intimidating. But still, you must not be the wrong ugly. The name has to be Seahawks, not Ugly-sea-bird-creatures.
The Seahawk head comes out of that back of the helmet on each side. The design and the colors are very sharp. The noteworthy thing is that the head of the bird appears excessively large, and I think that in some part because it kind of has that Pacific Northwest totem pole look. Does anybody else see this? Am I crazy or just stupid because I'm writing about it as if I made some brilliant observation when it reality that was the feel they've intended to get since 1976?
It is kind of like the Oilers in that it is a name from some industrial thing. At least "Steelers" sounds better. I'd much rather have a team of players who represent anything of steel than a team that has anything to do with oil.
Thing is, still, what the heck is a "steeler"?
First, the history, and the history of the Steelers name is definitely one of the goofiest.
As with several teams, this one was originally named in 1933 after the pro baseball team Pirates. And typical of their success -- or lack thereof -- before the '70s dynasty, their earliest years were just as pathetic as any. It was no wonder that Art Rooney was practically canonized in the world of pro football, as he did so much for that franchise in keeping it going.
In 1941 the team was renamed the Steelers, but continued to stink. In 1943 the war depleted the roster and the team was forced to merge with the Eagles, becoming the Phil-Pitt Steagles. Astoundingly silly, but not even close to this: In 1944, they had to merge with the Cardinals, becoming "Card-Pitt" and playing so miserably that they were known as the Carpets. Talk about unabashedly insulting. What was worse was they always had to take it because they were still really bad: they won not a single game that year.
The following season they were mercifully able to return to being just the Pittsburgh Steelers, but for years and years to come they still stank.
For those of us not old enough to understand, it is now easy to see why those championships of the '70s were so much more meaningful than we ever knew.
The Steeler helmet is unique in that it has the emblem on only one side of the helmet. The emblem itself is ideal, the company logo for U.S. Steel. I've always liked the way the red, blue, and gold diamond-like things are formed in the circle. The black and gold colors have always been a winning look.
The Texans was the name of the inaugural AFL team in Dallas. They moved on to Kansas City in 1963 to become the Chiefs, but now the people of Texas get to have their team back with this expansion team in Houston. Texans is actually a great name. It has a great geographic connotation regarding the unique character of the state and its unparalleled devotion to football. You simply couldn't have a team called the "Kentuckyans" or "New Mexicans."
The steer head with a star for an eye is terrific. It is perfect for Texas and for the team. The color scheme of red and navy blue is sharp, though the uniforms don't stand out as much, and they kind of look like an attempt to best the Broncos uniforms, which actually wouldn't be hard to do.
It was sad that Houston lost this team, but it was also good because, let's face it, the "Oilers" was without question one of the dorkier names of them all. Owner Bud Adams had selected it for "social and sentimental reasons." The social reason is that Texas is known for its big oil business, the sentimental reason is that he had a secret crush on Popeye's girl, Olive Oyl. Anyway, Titans is really an awesome name and I'd always wondered why the New York Jets gave up on it so readily. Of course, Titans were Greek god-type dudes who were the embodiment of the universe's powerful elements, you know, earth, sun, Oprah....
Helmet Emblem Also impressive is the sword-like "T" among the red stars and a flame trailing the emblem shield. The contrasting powder-blue/navy/white color scheme is a terrific design, respectfully keeping a bit of the old Oilers look. Still, the departure from anything Oilers-looking is quite large.
One of the NFL expansion teams in 1960, they built a winner in a relatively short period of time. Nobody remembers that they were one of the dominant teams in the '70; the only thing people note is that they lost a bunch of Super Bowls.
A fine name -- the Vikings were bad dudes, marauding through all of Europe in the Middle Ages doing lots of really nasty things. I presume, too, that the name fits with the region because of the Scandinavian influence throughout the western Great Lakes area.
One of the better ones, the horns coming out of each side of the helmet is gives them a very imposing look. It's just I can't help but think about a bunch of drunk Norse hellions in their lodge drinking gallons of beer from drinking containers shaped like those horns.
VERY SPECIAL MENTION: THE WORLD FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Names of football teams run the gamut from abjectly ridiculous to bone-crunching intimidating, and they exist for all levels of play, from Pop Warner to the NFL. High schools and colleges have a wide range of mascot names worth attention, and many names from old pro leagues are worth looking at.
But the one pro league that deserves the most notoriety as far as names go was the World Football League of the mid-1970's. A very forgettable endeavor, the names of some of the teams definitely merit much of the blame for its demise.
A brief sampling:
A great name, actually, one that depicts great pride in our country. Sounds really good, except that they went and changed the name to the Vulcans.
The Birmingham Vulcans. What, did the city become inexplicably invaded by an army of space aliens who looked like Mr. Spock but initially evaded detection by all wearing ski caps over their pointed ears and then after being found out claimed they were just Chinese people who had all endured serious early childhood rice-picking machine mishaps? Eventually they all took such offense to the team name not reflecting the true ethnic identity of their new city that they demanded a name change.
I mean, what other logical explanation is there?
Certainly representative of the car thing that Detroit is known for. I just don't know what is worse, being a piston of a car (NBA basketball), or being a wheel.
I understand how some sports teams have names that are the same as automobile models, such as the Cougars, the Firebirds, or the Mavericks, but to have a team name that is named after an automobile part is beyond silly.
"Okay, fellow owners. Time to announce your team names. We'll start with the team from New York."
"Uh yeah, we'll be known as the New York New Yorkers."
"Ooooh-kay. Got it. Now the team from Los Angeles."
"Yes, J.B., we are the Los Angeles Los Angelenos."
"Alll-rightee. Now, how about the team from Pittsburgh."
"Um, yeah, it took us a really long time to work this out, but I think we're going to go with the Pittsburgh Pittsburghers."
And so forth...
Certainly representative of the liberty bell, and that's okay, but I always thought bells got rung -- like after you just get plowed into the turf by a 400-pound behemoth.
And finally, the best one of all... (Imagine, in you mind, just for a moment, you are a pretty dang great football player and you get the chance to play professional football -- yay! yay! -- and you get drafted by the...)
... Except that you are drafted after the season they were known as the Fire and are now looking ahead to playing for the team with the new name: ta-da-da-DAH!...
The Chicago Wind.
Now, either one of these names, given absolutely no association at all with the other one, would be perfectly fine. Fire has the connotation of being "fired up," "on fire," and all that, and wind and Chicago are practically synonymous.
But -- excuse me -- but, doesn't fire, coupled immediately thereafter with wind, have a sort of, effluvial flavor to it? A kind of, shall we say, crepitatious sound to it? Does it not, well, reek of pocket thunder? Gurking? Tail shot? Carmination? Oh, come on, you know... Buck snort? The Scotch warming pan? Hinder blast? Borborygmus? Dropping one's guts??? Does it not, I propose, give off a certain -- oh, say, a certain flatulent undertone? Overtone? Overwhelming odor-tone??!
Certainly these guys must have known the WFL was going belly up (or in the Wind's case, belly out, ya-ha-ha), because in all of pro football there is no way such a hoot (or in the Winds case, poot [I just couldn't resist]) could have been in the least bit unintentional.
And we come back around to Chicago where it all started. First, with one of the classic all-time great names, the Bears, then lastly, very lastly, with one of the all-time -- yes, I must, sorry -- whiffs, the Fire-then-Winds.
Looking at the history of team names is fun, and I didn't get nearly all the information I wanted to give the whole exercise justice.
I enjoy following what happens in the NFL, the play, the game, the players, but I figured, Hey! If image is everything, why not address the most important thing in football?
The team names and the helmet emblems.
All that's football is right there.
EXTRA ADDED FEATURE! My Take on The Sporting News Picks
for Best and Worst Helmets. The Sporting News did a feature in March 2002 ranking
the best and the worst helmets. They only gave the most sparse comments about
them, so it is tough to really know what they were thinking, but here they are
with my considerations: Their Best: Their Worst:
EXTRA ADDED FEATURE! My Take on The Sporting News Picks for Best and Worst Helmets.
The Sporting News did a feature in March 2002 ranking the best and the worst helmets. They only gave the most sparse comments about them, so it is tough to really know what they were thinking, but here they are with my considerations:
And by the way, what about all the other rankings? Where are they? They couldn't at least have given us a top ten of each? See, here you get the whole 32. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts, I'd love to hear them!
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