Somehow the Dallas Steers Cheerleaders doesn’t have the same ring to it as the glorious Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders who sparkle and strut at AT&T Stadium. And even at age 69, you can imagine Baltimore Bullets great Wes Unseld throwing an elbow at anyone who suggests his team be renamed the Sea Wolves. Long before the Internet put every sports transaction under a viral micro-space, some of the best-known pro franchises experienced a few missteps before deciding on the names we know and love. Instead of the Raiders, Mets, and Magic, imagine the Señors, Skyliners, and Challengers. Yep, it almost happened. Here are three of the more interesting team names that almost were.
1. New York Borros (Jets)
In 1960, New York’s entry into the American Football League (now the AFC) was called the Titans because, as legend has it, Titans are bigger than Giants (a jab at the New York football Giants). The team did not fare well as it played its first few years at the Polo Grounds. Bleeding cash, the owners sold the team to a syndicate that was headed by Sonny Werblin. In 1963, the new owners changed the team name, with the first choice being the Dodgers.
After the MLB rejected that idea, one of the names at the top of the list was Borros, which was a play on words concerning the city’s five boroughs. Some through it was too close to the word burro, or donkey, giving the already sarcastic New York fan base far too much ammunition. The location of the team’s new home stadium, Shea Stadium, between the city’s two major airports, was the inspiration behind the name, Jets. Joe Namath as a NY Borro? No, it doesn’t quite work.
2. Chicago Matadors (Bulls)
When Chicago joined the NBA in 1966, then-owner Richard Klein looked for a team name that paid homage to the city’s meatpacking industry; a symbol of strength and power. According to the Chicago Bulls Encyclopedia, Klein considered the Matadors and the Toreadors, but wanted a one-syllable name in the tradition of the Cubs and Bears.
As the story goes, Klein recalled, “I was sitting around the house, kicking these names around with my wife and three sons, when my little son Mark said, ‘Dad, that’s a bunch of bull!’ I said, ‘That’s it! We’ll call them the Bulls!’ And that’s how the team got its nickname.” As fate would have it, the halftime performers at Bulls home games are called The Matadors. The squad, founded in 2003, is made up of big Bulls fans. Big in both their love for the team as well as physical stature. It is not a pretty sight.
3. Washington Sea Dogs
While the exact reason then-Baltimore/Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin changed his team’s name from Bullets to Wizards is up for debate, the central catalyst was the rise in violent crime in America (especially the D.C. area) in the mid-’90s, along with the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister and Pollin’s close friend, Yitzhak Rabin.
The name change officially took place in 1997 and was costly, given existing naming rights and merchandise sales. In 1995, after Rabin was murdered, Pollin was struck with the notion that his franchise had to undergo a name transformation. At the time of the pending name change, Pollin told the Washington Post:
We’re considering that. We haven’t made a final decision. In the old days, our motto was ‘Faster than a speeding Bullet.’ That’s how we were envisioned in Baltimore. Today the connotation is a little different. It’s connected with so many horrible things that people do with guns and bullets. I don’t know. We’re considering it. We’ll make a decision this summer.
Pollin’s rename-the-team contest used a pay-per-call “900” number where the $1-per-call proceeds were given to anti-violence charities. With more than 500,00 entries, a panel that included Pollin, Juwan Howard, and the late D.C. sportscaster George Michael had to choose between Wizards, Sea Dogs, Stallions, Express, and Dragons. Although Wizards was eventually chosen, Sea Dogs — a name that has little bearing to the geographic area — made the finals.
ESPN sports commentator, Norman Chad, said at the time: “Let me tell you something, my good friends: You don’t go through 500,000 submissions and come up with ‘Washington Sea Dogs’ unless the other 499,999 suggestions were all ‘Washington Gerrymanderers.’ Who was on this panel, the folks who signed off on New Coke?” An editorial in the Washington Post hopped onto the anti-Sea Dogs bandwagon, saying, “Except for Sea Dogs, which is simply inexplicable, they look like the output of the same computer programs that create names for new car models and laundry detergents.”