NFL Name Changes Are Not Unusual

What's in a name? With Washington taking up a new name this season, we look at previous NFL teams that have changed their names.

Chicago Bears NFL helmet on the sidelines

Washington Commanders will play their first game in the forthcoming 2022 NFL season after the franchise announced a change of name at the beginning of the year.

They had competed as the Washington Football Team for the last two seasons after deciding to move away from the Redskins title they had been given since the team moved to the capital from Boston in 1937.

That had come under criticism from Native American groups since the 1960s, but it is not the first time that an NFL team has changed its name.

It has been the case when teams have moved cities – the Baltimore Colts became the Indianapolis Colts in 1984 – and it can get even more complicated.

In 1995, the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore and would be named the Ravens after a poem by the city’s famous son Edgar Allan Poe, but a new Browns franchise was established back in Cleveland four years later.

And then the Houston Texans have nothing to do with the Houston Oilers, who became the Tennessee Titans after moving to Nashville.

There are, however, three other examples of teams changing their names while staying put.

Bears Usurp Staleys

It was all change for the Decatur Staleys when they moved 180 miles north to Chicago in 1921 but while they became the Chicago Staleys, the name did not last long.

The new team’s new home was the legendary baseball venue Wrigley Field which they shared with the Chicago Cubs.

So, the association between the two sports was cemented when the American football team developed the theme and called themselves the Bears.

Pirates Become Steelers

It was common in the early years of the National Football League for teams to share the names with their local baseball team, which was the case in Pittsburgh when the Pirates were born.

But, in 1940, owner Art Rooney decided to change the name in order to differentiate the team from their baseball-playing colleagues.

The similarity had not passed the local media by as they referred to the pigskin outfit as the Rooneymen, but the name Steelers was decided upon, in honour of the Pittsburgh people who worked in that key industry.

Jets Preferred to Titans

In 1959, New York claimed a franchise in the American Football League and they became known as the Titans.

Broadcaster and owner Harry Wismar chose the nickname because he said Titans were bigger than Giants, which was the name of the team from the Big Apple playing in the National Football League.

However, they soon fell into financial difficulties and were saved by Sonny Werblin in 1963 and they changed their name to the Jets, because they were playing close to LaGuardia Airport and planes would regularly fly low overhead.

In another link to baseball, they played their games at Shea Stadium and Jets, well, it rhymed with Mets.

Five years later, the name Jets was on everyone’s lips as they claimed their only Super Bowl triumph to date with a 16-7 victory over the Baltimore Colts.

A vastly experienced journalist, Ian has worked the beat on a number of local newspapers and covers a number of different sports for the Racing Post
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