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FOOTBALL HISTORY PODCAST:
Hi, everybody, welcome to “The Game before the Money Podcast”. Celebrating, pro and college football history.
In this episode, we look at NFL teams that have changed names in five minutes of Football History Edition.
Author Jackson Michael:
Hi, everybody. I’m Jackson Michael, author of the book The Game Before the Money, which is an oral history of pro football that includes interviews with many all time greats, including Frank Gifford, Bart Starr, Carl Eller and Sonny Jurgensen. And speaking of Sonny Jurgensen, it’s apparent that his former team, the Washington Redskins, will be changing their name very soon.
Some Internet guesses have been the Washington Red Tails after the World War two Air Force squadron or the Washington hogs after the team’s famous offensive line during some of their glory years. Redhawks is another popular guess on the Internet. We’ll discuss why that is later. I haven’t heard the Washington JUrgensens named after Sonny as a possibility, but that would be fun. This won’t be the first time an NFL franchise has changed names. It sometimes has happened when a team has moved. The Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee and were briefly known as the Tennessee Oilers. But now you know them as the Tennessee Titans. Some of you might remember the Kansas City Chiefs were originally the Dallas Texans.
A few teams changed names while staying in the same city, however, and there’s some of the most recognized teams in football. The Chicago Bears, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets all played seasons under different nicknames. The Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders each changed their official names before playing any games.
Chicago Bears original name
Let’s start with the Chicago Bears. They played in the NFL first season in Decatur, Illinois, as the Decatur Staley’s, their founder, was a man named A.E. Staley, who also founded Staley Manufacturing, a company that made starch. The company hired George Halas to oversee an employee athletic program, and the Decatur Staleys football team was formed. A.E. Staley decided he was in the manufacturing business and not the sports business. He made a deal to give Halas full control of the team and helped him relocate to Chicago. Part of that deal was to remain the Staleys for at least one year. The Staley’s played the 1921 season in Chicago as the Chicago Staleys and finished nine one and one and were declared league champions. Halas renamed the team the Bears in 1922. He reportedly chose the name Bears because they shared Wrigley Field with the Chicago Cubs.
Pittsburgh Steelers original name
The Pittsburgh Steelers franchise joined the NFL in 1933, although they weren’t known as the Pittsburgh Steelers.
They were the Pittsburgh Pirates founder Art Rooney named them after the Major League Baseball team. That wasn’t unusual in the yester years of pro football for a city’s football and baseball teams to share the same name. Perhaps the most famous example was a New York football Giants and the New York baseball Giants. The Pittsburgh Steelers played as the Pittsburgh Pirates through the 1930s. Art Rooney held a contest through a local newspaper for a new team name and chose the name Steelers. He found it appropriate to recognize the seal industry. That was a huge part of the Pittsburgh economy. Now, you might have known that, but not many people know this. The Steelers actually changed their name again in early 1941, this time to the Iron Men when Alexis Thompson by the team from Art Rooney Rooney took that money and bought interest in the Philadelphia Eagles. And then he and Eagles co-owner Bert Bell later traded the Eagles to Thompson for the Steelers before late April of that same year. So the Steelers never played a game as The Iron Men, but that was briefly their name.
While Thompson owned the team, the American Football League started in 1960 and Harry Wismer started the New York Titans, often called the titans of New York.
The Titans signed a young man named Don Maynard as their first player in Maynard’s autobiography. You Can’t Catch Sunshine. Maynard stated that once Titans players got handed their checks, they would literally race each other to the bank, fearing that there wasn’t enough funds in the Titans account to cover the checks. Indeed, in late November of 1962 Wismer told The New York Times that the AFL had floated forty thousand dollars in player salaries before the 1963 season. Sonny Werblin led a group of four other investors to purchase the franchise and renamed the team the New York Jets.
Dallas Cowboys original name
The Dallas Cowboys also started in 1960 and were originally named the Dallas Rangers. There already was a successful American Association baseball team in town called the Dallas Rangers, and the arrangement proved a little bit confusing for fans. So in late March of 1960, Tex Schramm announced a new name for the new NFL team, the Cowboys. If you search online, you can still find photos of ticket stubs of the team’s first pre-season game that say, Dallas Rangers versus Green Bay Packers. So at least some tickets appear to have been printed with the name Dallas Rangers.
Oakland Raiders original name
One more team that started in 1960 was the Oakland Raiders, and that franchise held a contest to name the new team. And originally announced that the winning name was the Oakland Senors.
The team soon reversed course and changed the name to the Raiders.
College Football teams that changed names
Changing team names with regards to Native American culture has happened in college football for a long time. A few examples. Stanford changed their name from the Indians to the Cardinals in 1972 and later officially changed it to the Stanford Cardinal. William and Mary also went by the nickname Indians, but are now the tribe and perhaps most relevant to the current situation.
Miami of Ohio once went by the name Redskins, but changed to Red Hawks in the late 1990s. So that’s possibly why you hear Red Hawks passed around as a new team name also.
This won’t be the first time a major professional sports team in Washington, D.C., changed its nickname. The NBA is Washington Wizards, where the Washington Bullets until the start of the 1997 1998 season. And that does it for this edition of Five Minutes of Football.
History that comes out every Tuesday on “The Game before the Money Podcast”. Please visit the game before the money dot com. And remember that the game before the Money podcast is powered by our transcripts and partner Sonix. Learn more at Sonix DOT a i. SONIX.
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