[Editor’s Note: Today we have a guest post from reader Jared Pike, who’s engaged in a fun thought experiment. Enjoy! — Paul]
By Jared Pike
There’s a certain kind of pedantic NFL fan who says: “Why are they called the San Francisco 49ers when they play an hour away in Santa Clara?”
I believe these people are missing the point. In a sense, all NFL teams are regional teams. They may play their games in one locality, but they represent far more than just that specific neighborhood, city, or state. The Packers play in the city of Green Bay, but they represent all of Wisconsin; the Seahawks play in the city of Seattle, but they are the default home team for the entire Pacific Northwest.
Besides, where does the true essence of an NFL team rest? Is it solely in the stadium where they play, or in the City Hall of their team name? Do the “Dallas Cowboys” belong in Dallas, their namesake city? Or in Irving, where they played a majority of the games in their history? Or in Arlington, where they currently play? Or in Frisco, their team headquarters where they spend most of their time?
I decided to take this line of thought to its logical conclusion: What if NFL teams changed their logos to fit the specific locality where they play? Would the results be better than what they have now? Let’s find out.
Santa Clara 49ers
The 49ers have always historically played in the city of San Francisco (Kezar Stadium and Candlestick Park), but in 2014 they moved 40 miles away, to Silicon Valley. However, the Santa Clara/San Jose area actually has a larger population than San Francisco, and twice the population of Oakland. So having them represent the Bay Area isn’t too wild of a notion.
Orchard Park Bills
In the AFL days, the Bills played near downtown Buffalo at War Memorial Stadium. But since 1973, they’ve played 13 miles away in what locals call the Southtowns. In the 2000s, the Bills even boldly (and unsuccessfully) tried to expand their territory across international borders, playing select home games 100 miles away in Toronto.
City of Tampa Buccaneers
This name is an homage to Gregg Easterbrook’s brilliant Tuesday Morning Quarterback column, one of the aforementioned NFL pedants who inspired this article. In this case, however, his pedantry is completely appropriate: Nobody lives in Tampa Bay — it’s a body of water! (MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays and the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning suffer the same misnomer, obviously.)
Glendale CardinalsSun Devil Stadium is in Tempe, 10 miles to the east. Their current stadium in Glendale is 17 miles west of Phoenix. That’s why they changed their name to the more region-friendly Arizona Cardinals in 1994.
It’s taken a long time to stop reflexively saying “San Diego Chargers.” But even after first moving to “Los Angeles” in 2017, they didn’t play in Los Angeles – they played in Carson, 16 miles away. So is calling them the “Inglewood Chargers” really that much of a stretch? (For the record, they did play their first AFL season in 1960 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.)
Hollywood Park Rams
The Rams are also not strangers to playing outside of LA, having spent the 1980s in Anaheim, 33 miles to the south. Even their current stadium suffers from geographic mislabeling; it’s part of an entertainment complex called Hollywood Park, despite being located 12 miles south of Hollywood.
I can’t take Washington’s new name seriously, so I decided to give them a new minor league-style rhyming name to match their Maryland location.
Some additional trivia:
- Fun fact No. 1: When former owner Jack Kent Cooke decided to move the team out of downtown DC in 1997, he registered “Raljon” as an alternate name for Landover’s zip code (named after his two sons, Ralph and John). He then compelled TV broadcasters to say the stadium was located in “Raljon, Maryland.” After Dan Snyder bought the team in 1999, he reverted the name back to Landover – the only good decision he ever made as owner!
- Fun fact No. 2: They are the only NFL team whose stadium and team headquarters are in two different states (Maryland and Virginia respectively, neither in the District of Columbia). The Panthers came close (see below).
- Fun fact No. 3: Landover, Md., also used to host the similarly misnamed Washington Bullets (NBA) and Washington Capitals (NHL), who both played in the misnamed (and curiously European-spelled) Capital Centre.
True, the Dallas Cowboys did start out in Dallas in 1960, playing at the Cotton Bowl. But they aspire to represent all of Texas (and, if the folklore is to be believed, the whole country as “America’s Team“). Even the NFL chooses to err on the side of regionalism: When Cowboys Stadium hosted Super Bowl XLV, the NFL didn’t advertise it as being in “Dallas” or “Arlington,” but “North Texas.”
Miami Gardens Dolphins
The Fins’ former home, the Orange Bowl, was indeed in the city of Miami. But when their current stadium was built in 1987, it was located 14 miles away in unincorporated Miami-Dade County (but with a Miami postal address). The surrounding neighborhoods have since been incorporated into the new city of Miami Gardens. Much like the “North Texas” situation (see above), the NFL chose to split the difference in 2007 and refer to Super Bowl XLI’s location as “South Florida.”
New Jersey Giants and East Rutherford Jets
The ultimate example of city-as-region, the two “New York” teams (who aren’t located in New York City or State) actually represent our country’s largest metropolitan area, comprising more than 20 million people. Even though they have shared a stadium in New Jersey since 1983, their two fanbases have an interesting geographical delineation based on history. The Giants, who used to play at Yankee Stadium, generally tend to be favored in Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. The Jets, who used to play in Shea Stadium, tend to attract fans from Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island.
- Fun fact No. 1: If you think East Rutherford (seven miles from midtown Manhattan) is too far from New York, imagine what things were like in 1973, when the Giants played in the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Conn. – 76 miles away!
- Fun Fact No. 2: Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but in 2010 the NFL chose to officially refer to the Super Bowl XLVIII host as “New York – New Jersey.”
The Panthers were engineered from the start to be a regional team, representing both North and South Carolina. They played their first season in 1995 in Clemson, S.C., before moving to Charlotte, N.C. Even their panther-head logo mimics the shape of the two states. However, their quest to formalize this regional dominance by building a massive $1 billion new headquarters in Rock Hill, S.C., fell through last year when owner David Tepper’s real estate company filed for bankruptcy. (Editor’s Note: The amusement park Carowinds literally straddles the North/South Carolina border. The Panthers should set up their team offices there! — Paul]
Born as the Boston Patriots, the team played most of the 1960s in Fenway Park. But in 1971 they moved 22 miles south, expanding their ambition by renaming the team after the entire New England region. Their new stadium would eventually be called “Foxboro Stadium.” Or is it “Foxborough“? The town officially adopts the longer spelling, yet both the post office and the highway signs recognize the shortened version. For the logo, I think the longer version looks more appropriately colonial.
Cue the CGP Grey video explaining why Las Vegas isn’t really Las Vegas. For what it’s worth, “Paradise Raiders” sounds like a pretty rad video game.
This team has served as a cautionary tale of how not to represent a region. In 1997, Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams intended to relocate to Nashville, but with no stadium ready to host them, Adams figured that Memphis (212 miles to the west) would happily welcome them as a “Tennessee” team. He was wrong! Not only did Memphians not show up, but Nashvillians refused to drive five hours one way to see their future team (which was still called the Oilers!). 1999 brought resolution in the form of a new stadium and a new alliterative name: Tennessee Titans. But let’s be real — this is Nashville’s team. They’d sooner wear throwbacks from Houston than recognize their neighbors in Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga, or anywhere else.
The Vikings’ first home in 1961, Metropolitan Stadium, was technically 11 miles south of downtown in the suburb of Bloomington. Every stadium since – even their temporary home during their current stadium’s construction – has been within the city limits of Minneapolis. Interestingly, almost all pro teams in the Twin Cities call themselves “Minnesota” – the only American city that consistently yields its identity to its home state in this way.
So what do you think? Are the pedants right? Which of these new identities strikes more of a chord than the existing ones?
Paul here. Really fun project! Big thanks to Jared for sharing it with us.