How Each NFL Team Got its Name (AFC)

footballWith the 2013 NFL season set to begin in just over three months, it’s time to start collecting trivial facts to help spice up the trash talk in your fantasy football league. Read on for the origin of the nickname of your favorite AFC team.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills (323-393-4)

Super Bowl: (0-4)

Noteworthy: Alums include O.J. Simpson, Jim Kelly (who, heartbreakingly, lost four straight Super Bowls), Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith (all-time leader in sacks with 200).

Origins: Originally named the Bisons, in 1947, the team name was changed to the Bills, in homage to Buffalo Bill, as the result of a fan contest. (Interesting to note that the American “Buffalo” is not actually a buffalo, it’s a bison.)


Miami Dolphins (407-309-4)

Super Bowl: (2-3)

Noteworthy: Hall of Famers include Coach Don Shula, Bob Griese, Larry Csonka and Dan Marino, the second all-time leading passer with 61,361yards.

Origins: Also chosen from a list of fan suggestions in 1966 that included Sharks, Suns and Mustangs, the Dolphins was reportedly picked as the name because the animal’s intelligence and speed were qualities desired in football players.


New England Patriots (382-355-3)

Super Bowl: (3-4)

Noteworthy: Although their win in Super Bowl XXXVI is tainted by allegations of cheating, it cannot be denied that the Patriots have been one of the best teams in the NFL for the past 10 years, led by two time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady.

Origins: Fans originally chose the team name in honor of the American Revolution, although its original designation as the Boston Patriots was changed in 1971 to New England to reflect and encourage a more regional fan base.


New York Jets (331-384-5)

Super Bowl: (1-0)

Noteworthy: Long before the Sanchez-Tebow debacle, the Jets had the great Joe Namath (1965-1976). Still holding the team record for career and single season passing yards, Broadway Joe shocked his team and the world when he famously made “the guarantee” that the Jets would win against the heavily favored Colts in Super Bowl III.

Origins: Formerly the Titans, the name was changed to the Jets when the franchise was purchased in 1963 to reflect the team’s close proximity to LaGuardia Airport. Other suggested and rejected nicknames included the Gothams, Dodgers and Borros.


AFC North

Baltimore Ravens (150-121-1)

Super Bowl: (2-0)

Noteworthy: Staffed by the likes of Ed Reed (10th all time in interceptions), Jamal Lewis and Terrell Suggs, the Ravens are one tough team, although it did lose Ray Lewis to retirement recently after he completed his 17th season in the NFL.

Origins: Originally the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens were moved to Baltimore by the much beloved Art Modell in 1996. Cleveland was allowed to keep the “Browns” name, so a poll was taken of the fans who chose the team’s name. “Ravens” refers to native son Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem about a mean, creepy bird.


Cincinnati Bengals (305-385-2)

Super Bowl: (0-2)

Noteworthy: Alums include Chad Ochocinco Johnson and Norman Julius “Boomer” Esiason (16th all-time passing yard leader), the Bengals quarterback for the team’s heartbreaking loss to the 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII.

Origins: Established during the 1968 expansion, the team was named after an earlier team of the same name that played in the city in the 1930s and 1940s.


Cleveland Browns (305-362-4)

Super Bowl: (0-0)

Noteworthy: Although he played from 1957-1965, Cleveland’s Jim Brown remains in the top 10 all-time for total rushing yards and fifth for rushing touchdowns. Other Hall of Famers include Paul Warfield and Ozzie Newsome.

Origins: There is debate over how the Browns got their name. All agree that the winner of the fan contest in 1945 chose the name “panthers,” but for legal reasons, the team could not use the name. One story has it that the fans chose Browns for boxer Joe Lewis, the “Brown Bomber.” Others say the team was named either in honor of the founder, Paul Brown, or simply because everyone referred to franchise as “Brown’s team.”


Pittsburgh Steelers (416-299-5)

Super Bowl: (6-2)

Noteworthy: The Steel Curtain era saw Coach Chuck Noll, Mean Joe Green, Mel Blount, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, Lynn Swan, Mike Webster, Terry Bradshaw, Rocky Blier and Franco Harris of Immaculate Reception fame win four Super Bowls. Since then, the team has won two behind the arm of the woefully underrated Ben Roethlisberger: one under Coach Bill Cowher (Hines Ward, MVP) and one under Coach Mike Tomlin (Santonio Holmes, MVP).

Origins: Prior to 1940, the Steelers were the Pirates, like the baseball team. After a fan contest, the name Steelers was chosen, in homage to the people who worked in Pittsburgh’s steel mills.


AFC South

Houston Texans (77-99-0)

Super Bowl: (0-0)

Noteworthy: The Texans have only been around since 2000, but during the last two seasons, they went 10-6 and 12-4, winning the AFC South division title both years.

Origins: Market research was brought to bear in the choice of this team’s name; to attempt to encourage a larger geographic fanbase, Texans was chosen over Bobcats, Wildcatters, Apollos and Stallions.


Indianapolis Colts (371-343-5)

Super Bowl: (2-2)

Noteworthy: Perhaps the Colts best-known alums are their two superstar quarterbacks: Johnny Unitas (NFL MVP in 1959, 1964 and 1967) and Peyton Manning (MVP, Super Bowl XLI, 2nd all-time in pass completions and TDs and 3rd in total yards).

Origins: Originally the Baltimore Colts, the franchise took the name with it when it moved to Indy in 1984. The nickname originally came from the strong tradition of horse breeding in the Baltimore region.


Jacksonville Jaguars (140-148-0)

Super Bowl: (0-0)

Noteworthy: Alum Fred Taylor (1998-2008) holds the team record and fifteenth place among all-time rushing leaders with 11,695 yards; notably, he ran for 234 yards and four touchdowns in a single game against the Steelers in Three Rivers in 2000.

Origins: The fans chose Jaguar as the team name when the franchise joined the league in 1995 in honor of a beloved member of the Jacksonville Zoo.


Tennessee Titans (347-368-5)

Super Bowl: (0-1)

Noteworthy: Alums include Warren Moon (5th all-time in passing yards, 6th in completions and 8th in touchdowns) and Eddie George (24th all-time leading rusher).

Origins: Originally the Houston Oilers, the franchise moved to Tennessee in 1995. A statewide contest was held in 1997, and Titans won out over South Stars, Copperheads and Tornadoes.


AFC West 

Denver Broncos (397-316-7)

Super Bowl: (2-4)

Noteworthy: During John Elway’s tenure (1983-1999), the Broncos went to the Super Bowl five times, losing three in four years early in his career, then winning two at the end (with Terrell Davis and Elway being named MVPs in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII, respectively).

Origins: The fans chose the name Broncos when the franchise began with the AFL in 1960, reportedly because a popular baseball team had the name in the 1920s.


Kansas City Chiefs (359-353-8)

Super Bowl: (1-1)

Noteworthy: The Chiefs were one of the NFLs most successful teams early in the league’s history having played the Packers in Super Bowl I and winning Super Bowl IV. Hall of Fame alums include Joe Montana, Warren Moon, Marcus Allen and Mike Webster.

Origins: The Dallas Texans moved to K.C. in 1963. The team’s owner chose the new nickname from thousands submitted by fans because of the area’s significant Native American heritage.


Oakland Raiders (398-315-8)

Super Bowl: (3-2)

Noteworthy: Alums include Marcus Allen (12th all-time leading rusher), Tim Brown (5th all-time in receptions) and Ken Stabler. The Raiders won Super Bowls XI, XV and XVIII.

Origins: Originally known as the “Senors,” a name chosen from a fan contest in 1960, the public outcry was so great that within a few weeks, the runner-up, “Raiders,” became the nickname.


San Diego Chargers (346-367-7)

Super Bowl: (0-1)

Noteworthy: Alums include LaDainian Tomlinson (5th all time in rushing yards and 2nd in rushing TDs) and Dan Fouts (11th all time in passing yards, 13th in completions and 14th in TDs).

Origins: The franchise reportedly acquired its name from a fan contest in 1960, although one version of the story holds that the team’s owner, Barron Hilton, liked to hear the famous Cavalry Charge played on the bugle and that’s why he chose the name.


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  • And, the Seahawks????
    You know, that other team in the Super Bowl this year?

  • Oh. Never mind. I see this article’s only about the AFC.
    My bad.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Jerry: Yep, if you scroll to the bottom of the article, there’s a link to the NFC half.

  • The Chiefs were NOT named after the American Indians. There were named after the man who helped get the Chiefs to Kansas City (originally, they were the Dallas Texans).

    That man’s name? H. Roe Bartle, aka: “The Chief.”

  • This is a bit mis leading and I think more information needs to be put into the article. Just as a start Chargers were from Los Angeles. On the NFC side Dallas were not the “Steers” they were the Texans. Unless the posters and guides I have from the games in the 60’s were mis-printed every single game they played.

  • The Buffalo Bills entry is partially true. The current franchise did not exist in the forties, though its name was chosen by a fan contest, referencing a defunct team. The All-American Football Conference team in the late forties did start out as the Bisons (Bisons being a common name for Buffalo sports teams, currently being used by the minor league baseball team) and later changed to the Bills. The team folded when the AAFC was merged into the NFL.