If you’re a sports fan, you know the nicknames and mascots of every team in the leagues you follow. If you’re a die-hard fan, you probably even know what the teams used to be called. (“Washington Wizards? Please. They’ll always be the Bullets to me.”) But do you know what your favorite teams were almost called?
When an expansion team enters a league or an existing team relocates, it picks a new moniker, ideally one that will look good on a t-shirt. The process of selecting a new name can be a protracted one, though, and the winning nickname often only gets the nod at the expense of several other less-inspired finalists. Let’s have a look at some team names that fans almost got to cheer for:
Few team names seem quite as dated as the Toronto Raptors’. The team started play in 1995 with a mascot that was obviously a nod to Jurassic Park, which had destroyed box-office records a couple of years earlier. However, looking at the list of names the Toronto franchise could have chosen, the Raptors seems like a terrific choice. The other nine finalists were the Tarantulas, Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Hogs, Scorpions, T-Rex, and Terriers. “The Hogs” makes sense since Toronto’s historic nickname is Hogtown, but it lacks a certain menace and would have been catastrophic when the team picked Oliver Miller in the expansion draft. The rest of the finalists, however, look largely like they were culled from a list of things 13-year-old boys think are awesome, so kudos on picking the Raptors name. (This decision might mark the last time a franchise under Isiah Thomas’ direction made a wise choice.)
When Vancouver got an NBA team for the 1995 season, the franchise wanted to call itself the Vancouver Mounties. The name seemed like a fitting tribute to the bravery of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The plan hit a snag, though, when the Mounties, no doubt skeptical of any cultural crossovers after Dudley Do-Right, made it clear that they didn’t want their name slapped on the expansion franchise. The team quickly regrouped and picked the name the Grizzlies as a tribute to the bravery of Canada’s many bears. You have to commend the Mounties on their foresight for avoiding this train wreck; the team fled to Memphis in 2001 and had an abysmal .329 winning percentage entering this season.
When the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore for the 1996 NFL season, they couldn’t bring their name with them. According to the settlement the team reached with the city of Cleveland for swiping the beloved franchise, the Browns’ nickname, color scheme, and history stayed put when the team bolted for Baltimore. The now-nameless squad had a series of phone polls and fan surveys to whittle its list of 17 possible names down to three: the Americans, the Marauders, and the Ravens. Over 30,000 fans then voted for the name they liked best, and “the Ravens” won thanks to the city’s connection to Edgar Allen Poe. It’s probably good that the fans wisely passed on “The Americans,” which would have made Kyle Boller’s tumultuous stint as starter a national shame rather than a regional problem.
The New York Jets began their life as the New York Titans in the American Football League. When Hollywood honcho Sonny Werblin and oil tycoon Leon Hess bought the team in 1963, though, they decided the team needed a new name. According to a contemporary New York Times story, they considered the Dodgers, but nixed the idea after Major League Baseball didn’t like it. “The Gothams” also got some consideration, but the team didn’t like the idea of having it shortened to the Goths because “you know they weren’t such nice people.” (Yeah, but couldn’t you just see Vinny Testaverde winning a playoff game, then sacking Byzantium?)
The last finalist to fall was “the New York Borros,” a pun on the city’s boroughs; the team worried that opposing fans would make the Borros-burros connection and derisively call the squad the jackasses. (Little did the Jets’ forefathers know that their home fans would provide all of the booing and heckling a franchise could ever need.) Eventually the team became the Jets since it was going to play in Shea Stadium, which is close to LaGuardia Airport.
In 1995 Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin decided that he didn’t want to keep fielding a team with such a violent name and decided to rechristen his franchise. A fan contest came up with five finalists: the Express, the Wizards, the Stallions, the Dragons, and the Sea Dogs. The Wizards wasn’t a perfect choice since some fans thought it tied in to Ku Klux Klan mythology, but it was obviously a better choice than the Sea Dogs. One can only assume that this seafaring name got the ax when someone in the team’s office realized that the District of Columbia doesn’t actually sit next to a sea. Then again, they drafted Kwame Brown first overall, so maybe I’m giving the team too much credit here.
When the ABA’s Texas Chaparrals moved to San Antonio in 1973, the team was renamed the San Antonio Gunslingers. The team dropped this name before ever playing a game, presumably because the image was violent even by firearm-related mascot standards. Instead, the owners picked a tamer name that still tapped into the region’s cowboy past: the San Antonio Spurs.
7. The Florida Flamingos
Florida Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga told the New York Times in 1993 that he had considered naming the team the Florida Flamingos.
8. The Orlando Juice
Before the NBA’s Orlando Magic had a name, the other finalists were “the Heat,” “the Juice,” and “the Tropics.”
9. The Charlotte Spirit
The Charlotte Hornets originally had this name before switching to their insect moniker as a tribute to the city’s angry resistance of British forces during the Revolutionary War.
10. The Minnesota Blue Ox
The NHL’s Minnesota Wild were almost the Blue Ox, the Freeze, the Voyageurs, the Northern Lights, or the White Bears.
11. The New York Skyliners
Before the New York Mets started play in 1962, they considered a list of names that included the Skyliners, the Skyscrapers, the Bees, the Burros, the Continentals, and the Jets.
A Brief History of Stadium Naming Rights
13 Curious Clauses in Baseball Contracts
10 Sports Heroes You Won’t Find On Wheaties Boxes
4 Toys That Have Gone to War for America
10 Jobs You Didn’t Hear About On Career Day