n.f.l. foodchain

There is a popular myth that the team was named after the Brown Bomber, Joe Louis. I fully support that decision but it is odd since Louis was from Detroit, and frankly it is hard to imagine Cleveland in the 1940s naming their team after a black man…..”


by bill carney


For a lot of us, it was not surprising that the New England Patriots defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in this year’s Superbowl. Not only have the Patriots won 3 of the last 4 Superbowls, but Superbowl history was on their side, because their team name, Patriots, is based on a humanoid mascot rather than an animal logo or mascot. It’s strange then that some newer franchises (Jaguars, Ravens, Panthers) in professional football, have continued to choose animal names despite their proven inferiority. In the professional football food chain, the humans have always been on top from the Packers to the Patriots.

Of the 39 Superbowls, 30 have been won by the humanoid teams. The five great pro football dynasties (of the Superbowl era), the Packers, Steelers, 49ers, Cowboys, and now Patriots are all humanoid teams. The most successful animal-based teams, the Dolphins and Broncos, have each won two Superbowls, and along with the Bears, Ravens, Colts and Rams, constitute all of the animal team Superbowl champions.

Of the 32 teams in the NFL today, 15 of them are indisputably animal-themed teams. The 16th team, the Buffalo Bills,is a tweener, a football hermaphrodite. They use a bison as a logo on their helmet, albeit one now equipped with racing stripe (!), but the team is apparently named after a person, the famous killer and near exterminator of buffalo, Buffalo Bill.

Ducks have bills, buffalo do not. It doesn’t make much sense, and that is really its great beauty, but perhaps if they had just put Bill Cody’s face on their helmets instead of a heraldic Buffalo Rampant, they would not today enjoy the distinction of having lost four straight Superbowls. Given their bizarre worst-of-both-worlds nature, it would present a real quandary to me if the Bills ever won a Super Bowl. That doesn’t seem fated to happen, at least until they go fully humanoid and put a picture of a long-haired Wild West show entrepreneur on their helmet.

It is also possible to make a claim that the San Diego Chargers are an animal team. A charger is some kind of horse, I believe. The Chargers have always used a lightning bolt as their team emblem. Many sports teams pick names that reflect the character or history of their town, such as 49ers, Cowboys, Steelers, Saints, and most famously, the Packers. So far as I know there is nothing particularly electrical about San Diego. Still, they enjoy the distinction of being the only NFL team named after a force of nature.

And then there is the Cleveland Browns. At first blush, the team is named after the color brown, which is very cool in my opinion. Their helmets are sort of brown, and for years their team uniforms were also brown. Their legendary coach during the 1950s was Paul Brown, and it appears that the team is named after their coach. Also, their most famous player is Jim Brown, an eerie bonus. According to the team’s website, there is a popular myth that the team was named after the Brown Bomber, Joe Louis. I fully support that decision but it is odd since Louis was from Detroit, and frankly it is hard to imagine Cleveland in the 1940s naming their team after a black man.

The truth is that the team owner held a contest to name the team in 1945. Cleveland wanted to name the team after Paul Brown, the popular coach. Brown thought it was unseemly to have the team named after him and he proposed “the Panthers,” a decision we now know was a bad one. However, someone else owned the rights to the name Panthers, an old losing semi-pro team. Brown did not want to name the team after a losing team so the name Browns was kept, but Coach Brown put out the story that it was named after Joe Louis.

The New Orleans Saints are neither an animal nor exactly a human. If they are named after dead holy people, they are akin to teams like the Giants or Titans, slightly supernatural or mythological. According to Sportsencyclopedia.com, however, the Saints team name is due to the team being admitted to the league on November 1, 1966, All Saints Day. I had hoped they were named after the song, “When the Saints Go Marching In” but, alas, they were not. Their symbol, the Fleur-de-Lis, is a symbol of French royalty and has significance for the French settlers of Louisiana. It is not particularly saint-like, however, and not surprisingly, it is the only NFL team logo that uses a flower. It is true that the Baltimore Ravens are named after the Edgar Allen Poe poem, the Raven. Poe died in Baltimore. Arguably a poem is as unlikely as a flower to be part of an NFL team’s inconography. The team chose an actual Raven, rather than a piece of paper with writing on it, as their team logo.

The Houston Texans are also somewhat odd. The team name refers to the state that the team is located in and seems to be clearly a humanoid name, because Texans are, by and large, people, not animals. Yet, the actual logo is a pair of bull’s horns, suggesting a sort of Minotaur, since the team is half man, half bull. This could complicate their path to the Super Bowl.

There is only one team that has won the Super Bowl that is neither an animal nor a humanoid figure—the New York Jets. The Jets played at Shea stadium near La Guardia airport. That is almost as close as the city jail at Riker’s Island, but they were not called the Cons or Perps. The Jets name was part of a rhyming-name craze beginning with the Mets. Suddenly, NY area teams were called the Mets, Jets, Nets. There was even a pro tennis team called the Sets or the Lets. Thankfully, the rhyming thing has not spread to other cities and neither has the desire to name your NFL team after a plane.

Originally published:
Issue Thirty-Six
April 2005


(toons: marc covert)

Bill Carney is a founding member and contributing editor to the late, lamented Lurch Magazine. He is also the leader of not one but two renowned New York City bands: Les Sans Culottes and Bill Carney’s Jug Addicts. In addition to his many literary and musical endeavors, he maintains membership in several secret societies and is a master when it comes to cooking with curry. More from Bill Carney can be found in the Vault of Smoke.

Comments are closed.