How NFL Teams Got Their Nicknames: The West


What do gold and hotels have to do with American Football? Learn the history and science behind the nicknames of the NFL.

AFC West

Denver Broncos


In 1959, Bob Howsam wanted to get a National Football League (NFL) team to Denver. His bid for a franchise was denied by the NFL commissioner. Angry, Howsam agreed to join Lamar Hunt’s new professional football league. This league, the American Football League (AFL), was a direct competitor of the NFL.

Howsam held a contest for a team nickname, and Broncos was chosen. The contest winner, Ward M. Vining, wrote in an essay that broncos were tough and typified the West. It is uncertain Vining knew that a local baseball team had once shared the same nickname 40 years before in the 1920’s.

Ten years later, the Broncos became an NFL franchise when the AFL and NFL merged.

Kansas City Chiefs


The Dallas Texans joined the AFL in 1960. They won the AFL Championship in 1962. The team relocated to Kansas City, MO in 1963 because hosting two professional football teams in Dallas, TX was too much for the southern city. A new name, Chiefs, was chosen after a fan name-the-team contest. The owner and AFL founder, Lamar Hunt, said the nickname was chosen because it represented Kansas’ Native American history.

The Kansas City Chiefs became a part of the NFL in 1970 when the NFL and AFL merged.

 Oakland Raiders


The Oakland Raiders were established in 1960 as an AFL franchise. A contest was held to name the team. The Señors was the winner. The nickname was chosen because it represented California’s Spanish history. However, there was huge backlash and the team was the butt of many jokes. The franchise decided to go with a new nickname, Raiders.

The Raiders became a part of the NFL in 1970 when the NFL and AFL merged.

San Diego Chargers


San Diego’s AFL team was established in 1960. A contest was held to name the team.

Some people believe the Chargers were named after the new Carte Blanche Credit Card owned by Chargers owner Barron Hilton, hier to Hilton Hotels chain. Others believe Hilton named the team “Chargers” because he liked the sounds of crowds yelling “charge” at Dodgers and USC (University of Southern California) games.

Mr. Nussbaum’s Website, Reading Comp. Activity

Like all of the teams in the AFC West, San Diego became a part of the NFL in 1970 when the NFL and AFL merged.

 NFC West

Arizona Cardinals


The Chicago Cardinals are the oldest American football team. Established in 1898, the Cardinals have played for over 110 years. Besides the Chicago Bears, the franchise is the only charter team left in the NFL. The team moved and began play as the Arizona Cardinals in 1988.

The Cardinals got their current nickname when the team’s owner purchased used, maroon uniforms in 1901. When the owner saw the used uniforms, it was clear that the maroon color had faded. He yelled, “that’s not maroon, it’s cardinal red!” So, he changed the team’s nickname from Rancine Normals to Rancine Cardinals. Other nicknames the Cardinals have donned over the years include: Phoenix Cardinals, Chicago Cardinals, and the Morgan Athletic Club.

Chicago Cardinals 1920

Chicago Cardinals 1920

San Francisco 49ers


The San Francisco 49ers, established in 1946, were a franchise in the All-American Football Conference before joining the NFL in 1950. Allen Sorell, one of the team’s early owners, suggested the team be named 49ers after the settlers who had rushed the West for gold in 1849. Today, this is known as the California Gold Rush. Because of the Gold Rush, San Francisco went from a small,  western town to a booming city. The history page of the San Francisco 49ers’ website said, “it (49ers) is the only name the team has ever been affiliated with, and San Francisco is the only city in which it has resided”.

Note: Do you live in the San Francisco Bay area? If so, The 49ers have a cool program called Heroes in the Classroom. The purpose of the program is to recognize teachers in the Bay area who make a difference everyday in the classroom. 

Seattle Seahawks


The Seattle Seahawks were established in 1974. A contest was held to name the team. John Thompson, the general manager at the time, said, “our new name suggests aggressiveness, reflects our soaring Northwest heritage, and belongs to no other major league team”.

St. Louis Rams


The St. Louis Rams have played in the NFL since 1937. The Rams have had 3 different homes during its 75+ year history. Starting out in Cleveland (1936-1945), the team moved to Los Angeles (1946-1979), and finally it relocated to its most recent home, St. Louis (1980-present).

Damon “Buzz” Wetzel picked the nickname, Rams, because his favorite football team was the Fordham Rams, and the owner, Homer Marshman, liked the sound of the name.


circa 1937


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All images are courtesy of Wikipedia unless otherwise noted. 

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