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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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