The NFL could’ve been home to the Atlanta Confederates, Miami Moons, Seattle Abominable Snowmen and more.
Football starts this weekend, so I’m doing an NFL list. Even though it’s only college football that starts this weekend. College football is more of a pro sport than most pro sports at this point, so it works well enough. But if the timing still seems too premature, just come back and read this in a week.
When expansion teams start up or sports franchises change cities, usually the owners hold a name-the-team contest. Fans submit ideas — then the owners ignore those ideas and pick the name they truly wanted all along. Classic democracy. Although it’s better than sticking with an incongruous nickname and having the New Orleans Jazz move to Utah where they don’t allow music. (BASEketball. Never stops being droll.)
Here are some of the potentially embarrassing names that were once considered for 11 different NFL franchises. Some were on the owners’ short lists for names… some were just fan submissions that picked up some traction… some were even temporarily picked as the names until backlash forced them out.
1 | Atlanta Peaches / Atlanta Vibrants / Atlanta Confederates
All three of these names were finalists, along with Falcons. Peaches, while relevant to the region, doesn’t evoke an image of ferociousness or toughness. Juicy deliciousness, sure. But not toughness.
Anyone age eight and up would be able to figure out the easiest way to mock a team called the Vibrants.
And as for the Atlanta Confederates, well, that would’ve obviously been insensitive — and as we know, there’s no place in sports for names that evoke historical eras of shameful intolerance. If that name had stuck, people would’ve taken their protests against it all the way to Washington.
2 | Baltimore Steamers
Yes, they almost took a team that used to be in Cleveland and nicknamed it the Steamers. After stealing the franchise and delivering a metaphorical Baltimore Steamer to the entire heartbroken Cleveland area.
3 | Carolina Cougars
The term “cougar” hadn’t taken on its modern, sexier second meaning back when this franchise was starting up in the ’90s. (For more on the sexual evolution of language see 11 Acronyms Whose Dirty Meanings Have Usurped Their Clean Meanings.) The NFL also apparently had a suggestion for the Carolina team name: The Rhinos. That’s non-sexual… but arguably worse. It doesn’t refer to an older woman who wants to have sex with you (although perhaps a brutish one?), but it’s so corny it feels like what a bookish six-year-old would name a team for a class project.
4 | Dallas Steers
When Dallas was getting a franchise in 1960, the GM originally decided to name it the Steers. Then, at some point, it finally clicked in his head that it’s probably not a great idea to name your team after an animal that’s been castrated. It’s why we’ll never have minor league baseball teams called the Eugene Eunuchs, Newark Neuters or Camp David Spayed.
5 | Houston Wildcatters
A wildcatter is someone who drills for oil in places where there isn’t known to be oil, including many parts of Texas and right by the pond behind Bayside High. So Houston had a legitimate claim to be the Wildcatters. But… there are already 1.4 million sports teams in the U.S. named the Wildcats. You can’t have the one professional team have a name that sounds like an accidental misspelling of the plural version of “Wildcats.” It would be so unrefined. (No oil pun intended.)
(Oil pun TOTALLY intended.)
6 | Kansas City Mules
Mules don’t have a reputation for being strong, powerful leaders. They’re more like old, reliable, boring role players. In a world of rock star evangelists doing laser light shows, they’re sermons on constancy. And Kansas City couldn’t have that. So they went Indian. Of course.
7 | Miami Moons
Moon Over Miami was a jazz song written in 1935 and a musical movie with Betty Grable in 1941. And yet, if the Miami Dolphins had been named the Miami Moons, all any of us would think of is Denny’s.
8 | New York Borros
The New York Jets were almost called the New York Borros, as a play on New York’s five boroughs. But someone in the organization realized it was a very short journey from Borros to Burros — and, thus, the New York Jackasses. Regardless of how apropos that team name would’ve eventually turned out to be.
9 | Oakland Senors
If the name had stuck today, just think of how many people would’ve been stabbed for calling the team the Oakland Senoritas. I’m guessing somewhere between five and 80,000.
10 | Seattle Abominable Snowmen / et. al
The Seahawks are the only NFL franchise that had the balls to release a good portion of the names that were submitted in a name-the-team contest. Turns out Seattle’s “12th Man” probably isn’t going to get hired to do branding work. Along with Abominable Snowmen, other finalists include: Aardvarks, Aero-Techs, Alkis, Anchovies, Apple Knockers, Aqua Ducks, Billy Goats, Bumbershoots, Clam Diggers, Clouds, Crabs, Flounders, Gnomes, Olympics, Rain-deer, Red Tide, Sourdoughs and Space Needlers. For a city so focused on rain, I’m surprised no one nominated Thunder.
11 | Tennessee Hillbillies
When the Houston Oilers moved to Nashville in 1996, they stuck with the Oilers for a year. It’s hard to find evidence of that period, since it bombed. So they did a name-the-team contest — and hated the results. Apparently, the entries all played up the “down home” side of Tennessee as opposed to the “Cosmopolitan Part of Appalachia (As Long As You Don’t Count Pittsburgh)” side of Tennessee. Some possibilities included the Elvises, Hound Dogs, Hillbillies, Twang, Heehaws, Mountain Cats, Banjos, Tornados, Wranglers and Mountaineers. Ownership decided to go the opposite direction and poach the name the New York Jets used in the AFL — the Titans.