The Washington Redskins name is not long for the official NFL. The U.S. patent decision announced Wednesday – the Redskins will not receive trademark protection, though the decision is up for appeal – seals the fate. The name will stay in use in a variety of circles, but it will be gone from any official status.
Which will be quite different in the NFL. Pro football teams hardly ever change their names, even if there’s relocation involved.
It actually happens quite often in baseball and basketball. But not football. Here are the franchises in the major American team sports that have changed their names without switching cities:
* The Jets started as the New York Titans in 1960. In 1963, they became the Jets.
* The Steelers started in 1933 as the Pittsburgh Pirates. They became the Steelers in 1940.
* The Redskins started in 1932 as the Boston Braves. In 1933, they became the Boston Redskins. The franchise moved to Washington in 1937.
* The Decatur Staleys of the NFL forerunner American Pro Football Association moved to Chicago in 1921 and became the Chicago Staleys. In 1922, the franchise became the Chicago Bears in the renamed NFL.
* The Braves started in 1876 as the Boston Red Sox. They became the Boston Beaneaters in 1883, the Boston Doves in 1907, the Boston Rustlers in 1911, the Boston Braves in 1912, the Boston Bees in 1936 and the Boston Braves again in 1941. So that’s six name changes before the franchise ever left for Milwaukee and eventually Atlanta.
* The Red Sox began in 1901 as the Boston Americans. They became the Red Sox in 1908.
* The Cubs began in 1876 as the Chicago White Stockings, became the Chicago Colts in 1890, the Chicago Orphans (I kid you not) in 1898 and the Chicago Cubs in 1903.
* The Reds started in 1882 as the Cincinnati Red Stockings, became the Cincinnati Reds in 1890, the Cincinnati Redlegs in 1954 and went back to the Reds in 1960.
* The Indians started in 1901 as the Cleveland Blues, became the Cleveland Bronchos in 1902, the Cleveland Naps in 1903 and finally the Indians in 1915.
* The Astros started in 1962 as the Houston Colt .45’s, then became the Astros in 1965.
* The Dodgers began in 1884 as the Brooklyn Atlantics, became the Brooklyn Grays in 1885, the Brooklyn Bridegrooms in 1888, the Brooklyn Grooms in 1891, went back to the Bridegrooms in 1896, became the Brooklyn Superbas in 1899, the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1911, went back to the Superbas in 1913, became the Brooklyn Robins in 1914 and finally the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1932. They stayed the Dodgers upon moving to Los Angeles in 1958.
* The Yankees started in 1901 as the Baltimore Orioles. They moved to New York in 1903 and became the Highlanders, switching to the Yankees in 1913.
* The Phillies started in 1883 as the Philadelphia Quakers and became the Phillies in 1890.
* The Pirates started in 1882 as the Pittsburgh Alleghenys. They became the Pirates in 1891.
* The Giants started in 1883 as the New York Gothams. They became the New York Giants in 1885 and kept the name upon moving to San Francisco in 1958.
* The Cardinals started in 1882 as the St. Louis Brown Stockings and became the St. Louis Browns in 1883, the St. Louis Perfectos in 1899 and the St. Louis Cardinals in 1900.
* The Rays started in 1998 as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and became the Rays in 2008.
* The new Hornets started in 2005 as the Charlotte Bobcats and became the Charlotte Hornets two weeks ago.
* The Nuggets started in 1967 as the Denver Rockets of the ABA and became the Denver Nuggets in 1974, as a merger neared with the NBA, which already included the Houston Rockets.
* The Pelicans started in 1988 as the Charlotte Hornets, moved to New Orleans in 2001 and became the New Orleans Pelicans last year.
* The Wizards started in 1961 as the Chicago Packers and became the Chicago Zephyrs in 1962. They moved to Baltimore in 1963 and became the Baltimore Bullets, Capital Bullets and Washington Bullets. They switched to Washington Wizards in 1997.
* The Red Wings started in 1926 as the Detroit Cougars. They became the Detroit Falcons in 1930 and the Red Wings in 1932.
* The Maple Leafs started in 1917 as the Toronto Arenas, became the Toronto St. Patricks in 1919 and the Maple Leafs in 1926.
So just counting current franchises, the NFL has swapped out nicknames four times. Only once since World War II (the Jets).
Major League Baseball has swapped nicknames without swapping cities 34 times. Of course, they’ve been playing baseball a long time. The National League is 44 years older than the origins of the NFL. Only two of the switches have come in the last 50 years – the Astros and the Rays.
The NBA has changed nicknames four times, including three since 1997 – the Wizards, the new Hornets and the Pelicans.
The NHL has swapped four times. None since the 1930s.
If you count defunct franchises, the numbers will rise. Baseball in the 19th century changed names all the time. So did early day pro football franchises and the ABA teams.