Almost every American sports franchise is named after the city where they are based. The Bulls are in Chicago. The Dodgers are in LA. When they were in Brooklyn, the team name was the Brooklyn Dodgers. The naming process is usually straightforward.
But the U.S. isn’t always laid out cleanly. And fan bases, especially for NFL teams, aren’t always central to the location of the team’s actual stadium. Several NFL teams named after regions instead of cities; others received state names. Here’s how these quirkier team names came to be.
The “Vikings” part of the Minnesota Vikings is a nod to the large Scandinavian community in Minnesota, which persists to this day, as the Charlotte Observer details. Original general manager Bert Rose liked it for that reason, and probably because it’s a pretty good match for a team full of hulking football player physiques. But why is the team named for Minnesota as a whole rather than a particular city?
The team is based in an area locally referred to as the Twin Cities. The cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul share a direct border with one another and almost feel like one continuous city. Rose decided that because of this unique situation, reports the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he’d leverage fandom throughout the entire region instead of just one or both cities.
The story of how the Carolina Panthers ended up referencing a two-state region instead of the city of Charlotte starts with how the team came to be. In the early 1990s, the NFL announced the intent to expand the league with new teams. Charlotte was seen as a possible target.
To convince the league, the campaign went well beyond just the city. Hopeful fans and businessmen ran a strong lobbying campaign across both North and South Carolina. In recognition of that work, details the Pro Football Hall of Fame, owner Jerry Richardson named the team for the entire region.
The Arizona Cardinals are one of the oldest franchises in sports, dating back to 1898. The name wasn’t quite as catchy: they were called The Morgan Athletic Club. Oh, and they were in Chicago at the time.
After a winding road led the franchise to Phoenix, Arizona, the name was fairly standard: the Phoenix Cardinals. Fanaticism for the team grew throughout the state, though, so the organization decided to change its name to the familiar one it still has today, reports the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Titans of today started off as the Houston Oilers, details the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 1997, the team intended to move to Nashville. The stadium construction was slow, so they landed instead in Memphis.
With the Oilers lacking a true city-based identity, owner Bud Adams opted to simply recognize the entire state as the Tennessee Oilers. A year later, Adams changed the other half of the team’s name, too. Thus, the Tennessee Titans were born.
New England Patriots
Unlike several other teams on this list, the Patriots were always the Patriots. But their initial name followed the form of most sports franchises. It was known as the Boston Patriots, as a nod to the radical history of the American founding fathers that occurred in the city.
In 1971, the team moved from Boston to Syracuse and decided to change the name to recognize the region. The ownership group settled on the Bay State Patriots. Obviously, that didn’t take; the NFL rejected it. They reconvened, settled on a nod to the entire New England region, and set up the brand that would soon take the NFL by storm.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs are located in the city of Tampa, FL. So why add the “Bay” in their name? It comes down to the true nature of the region.
“Tampa Bay,” in the most literal sense, is an actual bay that multiple cities share. Colloquially, the region is referred to as the Tampa Bay area, of which the city Tampa is just one part. Clearwater, Bradenton, Largo, St. Petersburg, Dunedin, Pinellas Park, and Tarpon Springs make up the rest of the area.
According to Brittanica, the Bucs, established in 1976, have stuck with their regional name since original owner Tom McCloskey came up with it at the start. The name and imagery reference the history of the area, where real-life pirates once roamed. Today, it’s the new home of former Patriots QB Tom Brady.