There are probably more teams that have "normal" nicknames than the unusual ones.But here is a wrap-up post on American football team name origins. I'll save the more unusual ones for my individual team posts.
For example, "bronco" (an unbroken or tamed horse) obviously refers to Denver's Wild West heritage. Maybe they wanted to know that the name was selected through a contest in January 1960. Or that Denver’s 1921 entry in the Midwest Baseball League team was also named the Broncos.
A good number of teams in all sports are from contests that ask fans for suggestions.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came out on top of 400 entries in a radio-sponsored competition after Tampa was awarded the first of two expansion franchises on April 24, 1974. Other possibilities included the Buzzards, Sea Horses and even the Mafia. It was a good idea to go with Buccaneers...
Also in Florida, when Miami was awarded an AFL expansion franchise in 1965, a contest was held to determine the name. A dozen names were forwarded to a seven-member screening committee of local media and "Dolphins" was the runaway winner.
They actually had 622 people select that name, so they created a tiebreaker where you had to pick the winner and score of that year's game between Notre Dame and the University of Miami. The one winner got two lifetime passes to Dolphins games. The winning answer? The game ended in a scoreless tie.
Atlanta held a contest in 1965 and Falcons was chosen for the new NFL team. The argument was that “the Falcon is proud and dignified, with great courage and fight. It never drops its prey. It is deadly and has a great sporting tradition.”
Jacksonville held a contest in 1991, in anticipation of the team that would come to the city in two years. It would be the NFL’s 30th franchise. Animal names seemed to be their choice and Jaguars claimed the majority of votes, though it has no real connection to the city. It does have the alliterative beat of J and J. Other possibilities included the more "logical" Sharks, Stingrays and Panthers (which does have a Florida connection).
According to Wikipedia, the day after the NFL awarded the expansion team to Jacksonville, the Jaguars' proposed helmet and jersey was shown at the NFL owners' meeting in Chicago. The team's colors were to be teal, gold, and silver with black accents. However, this jersey and helmet design, with a gold leaping jaguar, created controversy. Ford Motor Company, parent of the automaker Jaguar, believed that the Jaguars' logo bore too much resemblance to the automaker's logo. Though no lawsuit was brought to trial, an amicable agreement was ultimately reached where Jaguar would be named the official car of the Jaguars, and the Jaguars would redesign their uniforms.
Their logo, as with many teams, has evolved from a full-body crawling Jaguar logo, to a clawing Jaguar, to the current snarling animal head.
In 1960, Oakland held a contest to pick a name for its AFL team. But fans don't always rule when it comes to names.
The fans chose Senors, but the team's management wisely went with the more appropriate Oakland Raiders. Though we don't associate Oakland or the West Coast with pirates, their black uniforms and "bad boy" image worked well in those early years.
In a 1975 contest, Seattle’s expansion franchise received 20,365 entries, with a staggering 1,741 different names. It was finally decided that the Seattle Seahawks, a name denoting the city’s link to the sea, would be the choice. It had gotten 151 votes.
There was an original AFL franchise called the Dallas Texans, but they relocated to Kansas City. Owner Lamar Hunt picked "Chiefs" as a nickname to honor Kansas City mayor Roe “The Chief” Bartle for his efforts in securing the team. Bartle promised to enlarge Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium and guaranteed Hunt three times as many season ticket sales as his club had in Dallas.
Of course, their logo - an Indian arrowhead - certainly suggests a reference to Native Americans. Luckily, the Kansas City Chiefs avoided using a more offensive logo like the many that continue to rightfully anger Native Americans.
The Dallas Cowboys seems like an obvious choice for a Texas team. Actually, "Rangers" was the first name suggested, but the club went with Cowboys since Rangers might be confused with a local minor-league team of the same name.
The MLB Texas Rangers baseball team came to be in 1972 when the Washington Senators franchise moved to the city.
Their star logo is very "cowboy" but suggests both the state "lone star" flag and heritage and also a Texas Ranger badge.
New York’s AFL squad was originally the Titans. Titans seemed rather close in meaning to the nearby NY Giants. In 1963, after three seasons, a five-man syndicate bought the franchise. On the same day they hired Weeb Ewbank, the owners announced that they were changing the team’s name to Jets.
The new name sounds similar to the baseball NY Mets and fit in that fact that there would be jets landing and taking off from the nearby LaGuardia Airport.
The New York Jets (who, like the NY Giants actually play in my homestate of New Jersey) hold the distinction of being the first AFL team to defeat an NFL club in an AFL-NFL World Championship Game when they defeated the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Owners often call the shots when names are selected.
When Detroit radio executive George Richards purchased the NFL’s Portsmouth Spartans in 1934, he moved them to his city. Richards chose the name Detroit Lions. There seemed to be something feline going n in the city which already had their baseball Tigers and had an earlier football team called the Panthers that folded in 1927.
Carolina Panthers’ colors of "Panther blue," silver and black.
A group of New England sportswriters picked Patriots as a tribute to Patriot Day, which celebrates Paul Revere’s ride. The New England Patriots is an unusual team in that they are not connected in their team name to a city or state but to an entire region.
Pittsburgh Steelers, reflecting the city’s ties to the steel industry.
The team's general manager, Bert Rose, recommended the name Minnesota Vikings to Minnesota’s Board of Directors in 1960. The name is a good one for the team since Vikings are known as aggressive warriors, and it connects with the Nordic tradition inherent in that region of the country.
There's lots of interesting information about team histories on all the NFL team web sites.
I also enjoyed looking through these books:
Yogi, Babe and Magic : The Complete Book of Sports Nicknames
Yankees to Fighting Irish: What's Behind Your Favorite Team's Name?