What do mythology and France have to do with American Football? Learn the history and science behind the nicknames of the NFL.
The Miami Seahawks were a franchise in the All American Football Conference. The team was later moved to Baltimore, MD and renamed Colts after a fan contest. The name was chosen to represent the horse breeding industry in Maryland and Preakness Stakes. In 1953, the Baltimore Colts became a part of the National Football League (NFL). After several losing seasons, poor attendance, and an aging stadium began having issues; the team was relocated to Indianapolis in 1984. The Baltimore Colts fans were sad to see their team and team name leave the city.
For years, Jacksonville, FL wanted an NFL team. In 1993, Jacksonville was awarded a franchise. The nickname, Jaguars, was selected from a fan contest in 1991; two years before Jacksonville even had an NFL team. Some of the other popular entries during the contest included sharks, stingrays, and Panthers.
The Houston Oilers was an NFL franchise from 1960 to 1996. The Oilers nickname was in reference to the Texas oil industry. In 1996, the team moved to Tennessee. In 1998, the Tennessee Oilers were getting a new stadium and many fans believed the team needed a new name to better reflect the community the team represented. The owner, Bud Adams, wanted a name that reflected power, strength, leadership and other heroic qualities. Titans was chosen. In addition, the name complimented Nashville, TN which is known as the “The Athens of the South“.
Nashville, TN earned the nickname of the “Athens of the South” due to its numerous higher education institutions as well as being the first city of the south to establish a public school system. Nashville is also home to a full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece.
The Atlanta Falcons joined the NFL in 1965. A contest was held to find a nickname for the new team. Some of the entries included Bombers, Rebels, Crackers, Lancers, Firebirds, Fireballs and Thunderbirds. The winning entry was suggested by a high school teacher named Julia Elliot. She wrote in an essay, “The falcon is proud and dignified, with great courage and fight. It never drops its prey. It’s deadly and has a great sporting tradition.”
The Carolina Panthers were established in 1993 but did not start their first season until 1995. Jerry Richardson, former NFL player and charter owner of the Panthers, and his family campaigned for years to get an NFL franchise to the Carolinas. The Richardsons did not use a focus group or conduct a fan contest for the team’s nickname. It was always intended for the team’s nickname to be Panthers. Mark Richardson, Jerry Richardson’s son, said, “it’s a name our family thought signifies what we thought a team should be- powerful, sleek and strong.”
The New Orleans Saints were established November 1, 1966. The nickname, Saints, is a nod to Louisiana’s French heritage. November 1 is All Saints Day in the Catholic religion, and New Orleans has traditionally had a large Catholic population due in most part to its French ancestors. The team’s symbol, a fleur de lis, also honor’s the city’s French heritage.
France’s Louisiana Territory (1682-1803) took up most of the central section of what is now the United States. The US purchased the land from France in 1803. This was called the Louisiana Purchase. New Orleans, which is located near the mouth of the Mississippi River, has been and important port in North America for hundreds of years. Many French influences are still an essential part of Louisiana’s unique culture.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are based out of Florida. The franchise was established in 1976. A contest was conducted to name the team, and Buccaneers was chosen. Buccaneers is a nod to the pirates and privateers who attacked Spanish ships along Florida’s Gulf Coast and the Caribbean Sea during the 1600’s.
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