Moniker Rankings: NFL

Here is the first installment of Sport Change’s Moniker Rankings.  It’s a concept similar to “power rankings” and is at least somewhat inspired by Paul Lukas’s recent uniform rankings of each team in the Big 4.  We’ll go through various pro and semipro leagues and rank their nicknames…mascots…monikers…whatever you want to call it.  Let’s start with the NFL.

Monikers in the NFL: mostly good, some bad, and one ugly.


For the Sport Change explanation of what makes a good or bad moniker, click here.  For the purposes of ranking NFL monikers, here are those criteria:

Factors that make a good moniker: history, generality, regional relevance, alliteration, and intimidation.

Factors that make a bad moniker: overspecification, overdependence on alliteration, blandness, disrespect, and inappropriate cleverness.

The NFL is lucky to have several great monikers, and very few terrible monikers–with one notable exception   Without further ado, let’s get right into it:


Some nicknames loom larger than others.

1.  Giants.  This moniker is just firing on all cylinders.  It conjures historical images of Y.A. Tittle and a younger NFL, yet also manages to be intimidating and relevant.

2.  Bears.  History, generality, and universal intimidation.  If they were the Bicago Bears, this would be a perfect moniker.

3.  Lions.  Fierce and ferocious.  The sort of nickname that embodies the spirit of a blitzing linebacker.

4.  Rams.  If they move back to LA, I might even bump it up a bit.  A terrific, masculine nickname that dovetails nicely with the image of of linemen going head to head.

A moniker that works on many levels.

5.  Titans.  This is the only newer nickname to crack our top ten, but what it lacks in history is made up for by alliteration and epic connotation.

6.  Eagles.  The gold standard in the bird world as far as ferocity and respect are concerned.  A long history only sweetens the pot.

7.  Cowboys.  The first nickname on our list that is both regionally relevant and named after real people.  Respectable for what it is.

8.  Packers.  An occupation moniker that brings to mind the ancient Curly Lambeau and his meat-packing brethren.  The hard “ck” in the word has a nice intimidating sound that gives it the edge over the other blue-collar moniker.

In 1919, Curly Lambeau managed to convince his meat-packing employer to put up $250 for uniforms and equipment. The rest is history.

9.  Steelers.  Another sweat and grindstone nickname that truly reflects the Steel City.  It’s also close enough to “stealers” that the moniker takes on a tough, outlaw feel.

10.  Vikings.  Regionally relevant and referential to fierce historic figures.

11.  Panthers.  After tigers and lions, panthers have to be the most universally intimidating wild cat.  No wonder there’s also an NHL team with the same name.

12.  Dolphins.  Not exactly intimidating, but classic nonetheless.  It’s the perfect name for it’s city, and has built enough history to make it seem like less of minor-league and more of a professional moniker.

The name may not strike terror in the hearts of opponents, but you’ve got to love the Dolphins for what they are: a perfect representation of Florida football.

13.  Raiders.  Kind of a bizarre nickname, as it’s more of a reference to an action than a specific group of people.  Of course, the moniker has an historical intimidation factor unmatched in football and maybe all of pro sports.

14.  Chiefs.  A Native American nickname that commands respect.  Even when the team is struggling, the Chiefs always seem like a contender.

15.  Browns.  I’m a big fan of “color” nicknames, especially those steeped in history.  The Browns have certainly held true over the years, on-field performance notwithstanding.

It’s hard to find fault with color nicknames, and the Browns and Cleveland are inextricably linked.

16.  Patriots.  Regionally relevant and universal, if lacking teeth.  The diminutive ‘Pats’ is a bit of a stretch, and shouldn’t it be ‘Pates’?

17.  Jets.  As we approach the lower half of the list, it’s a good time to bring up the Jets.  It’s a recognizable name that’s been around for a while, but it’s still a little odd to name a football team after a type of aircraft.  A tad flighty, you might say.

18.  Broncos.  Goofy, but still pretty tough as far as horse nicknames go.  This is another moniker that benefits from the hard ‘c’ sound right in the center of the word.

There’s something a little goofy about the Broncos.

19.  Falcons.  A bit too specific, but this moniker benefits from the word itself sounding intimidating.

20.  Buccaneers.  Not nearly as good as Pirates, but still manages to be tough yet fun.  Bucs is a nice shorthand version.

21.  Chargers.  I’m not sure how to feel about this nickname.  It means nothing, really, but hard to call a moniker bland when it can be related to both rushing forward and electricity.

22.  Bills.  Ah, the Bills.  As recently stated, the Bills have a ridiculous nickname.  They are able to skate by due to history, alliteration, and the fortune of having Buffalo be the city’s name.  Again, if they were the Boise Bills, what would the mascot look like?

They should’ve stuck with their old name: the Buffalo Bisons. Wait…is Bisons a word?

23.  Saints.  It’s not that I don’t like the nickname–the connection with “the Saints Go Marching In” is fun and regionally relevant.  However, it’s not exactly intimidating and is more of a minor league nickname.

24.  Texans.  Who else was disappointed when this name was announced?  Udderly (get it?) boring, and a ripoff of the old Dallas Texans.

25.  Colts.  If still in Baltimore, this name would be several spots higher due to history.  At face value, it’s a minor-league diminutive type of nickname.

26.  49ers.  Despite the history, this moniker is very specific and kind of pointless.  Prospectors would’ve been more respectable.

27.  Ravens.  I like the Poe connotation and the dark colors of the bird make the team intimidating.  That said, it’s reaching a little deep into an already saturated pool of birds.

If the Ravens weren’t competitive, the moniker would be nevermore intimidating.

28.  Cardinals.  If they were still in St. Louis, they would get a bump due to history.  I don’t think there are many cardinals in the Southwest, and don’t see a point to Arizona retaining this moniker.

29.  Seahawks.  The alliteration is nice, but “seahawk” is very specific and really sounds like a minor league name.  Seattle Hawks would’ve been much better.

30.  Jaguars.  More of an obscure wild cat, and one that seemingly has multiple pronunciations.  This is a moniker that’s trying to ride alliteration all the way, with mixed results.

31.  Bengals.  Ugh.  Just ugh.  Too close to “bungles” and way too specific.  Cincinnati Cats would’ve been a much better choice, and in 1968, they could’ve gotten away with it.  Now there are too many cats.

32.  Redskins.  Not much to say here that hasn’t already been said.  It’s disrespectful and nasty.  A team called the Whiteskins or Blackskins would never fly.  This name needs to change, history be damned.  If the change is to Washington Warriors, it would shoot into the Sport Change top ten.

Let’s change the name to the Washington Warriors and bring back this awesome helmet logo while we’re at it.


So…what do you think?  Share your thoughts in the comments.  What would your rankings be?  Let’s argue.

Stay alert for more upcoming moniker rankings.  We’ll tackle major pro sports leagues, minor and developmental leagues, and even the collegiate ranks.  This is a long-term exploration and study.  Stay posted.

For MLB moniker rankings, click here

For NBA moniker rankings, click here

For NHL moniker rankings, click here


  1. Maria Maccamini-Cowan said:

    Maybe it doesn’t matter since the link probably gets lost somewhere in the St. Louis to Phoenix move, but isn’t Cardinals the oldest continuous nickname from the charter members of the NFL going all the way back to Chicago? For that reason alone, it would be pretty stupid to change them to the Arizona Roadrunners or something. Nobody looks at Arizona and thinks “Chicago Cardinals 1920,” but I like knowing it’s there anyways.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Maria. Good to see you’re still following the blog.

    Good points.

    Since it is the longest continuous moniker, it should remain for that sake alone. If Sport Change ruled the world, the Cardinals would be in St. Louis, Rams in LA, and Arizona would get it’s own identity.

    That said, not a big fan of the Cardinals moniker. It’s grossly overused, especially in the collegiate ranks. In the case of the Chicago Cardinals, it was a reference to their red uniforms–not the little songbird. OK, that’s fine…Reds, for example, is a much better pro sports moniker. It seems that the Arizona Cardinals, especially in the last 10 years, have made concerted efforts to distance themselves from their past on the brand side of things.

    It’s not ideal, but yes, there is no need to just up and change the name. “Don’t see a point to retaining this moniker” is what was written above, so I’ll eat my words. There is a point…I just wish the nickname was in St. Louis. And for the record, Roadrunners would be a great Arena League nickname, but would have no place in the NFL.

    The Sport Change choice: the Arizona Cacti. 😉

  3. Greg said:

    I think the Steelers and Dolphins should be higher and the Eagles should be lower. Bird names are awful.

    • I partially disagree. I’m a fan of bird of prey nicknames. Eagles and Hawks are really the only good pro bird names. Falcons is alright. In the minors, you can get away with weirder stuff like Osprey, Chukars, and Owlz. That’s right: the Orem Owlz.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: