Category: Sports


Football Names

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St. Louis Rams  When they were founded in Cleveland in 1937, the team’s owner resisted public pressure to call his club the Indians, after the local baseball team.  Instead, he named them after  New York City college football team – the Fordham Rams.  In 1945, the Rams became the first NFL franchise to switch cities when it moved to Los Angeles.  In 1995 they moved again, from L.A. to St. Louis.

Cleveland Browns  When the Rams left Cleveland, a new NFL franchise took its place and a contest was held to pick a new name.  The winner was the “Panthers”. . .but the owners found out there was already a semipro Ohio football team called the Panthers, and they stunk.  So another contest was held.  This time the winner was “Brown Bombers,” inspired by boxing champion, Joe Louis.  The name was then shortened to the “Browns,” probably because the coach’s name was Paul Brown.

Houston Oilers  The owner of the team made all his money in oil and picked the name “for sentimental reasons.”

Oakland Raiders  Originally called the “Metropolitan Oakland Area Football Club.”  That was too unwieldy, so the Oakland Chamber of Commerce held a contest to find a new one.  The winner:  “Oakland Senors.”  The team’s reaction:  “Forget it.”  The owners came up with “Raiders” on their own.

Green Bay Packers  The club was named for the Indian Packing Company, which sponsored the team when it was formed in 1919.  Ironically, the company went out of business during the Packers’ first season.  But the team was a success; they joined the NFL two years later.

New Orleans Saints  The team was admitted to the NFL on November 1, 1966, which happens to be All Saints Day.  But the team probably got its name from the classic New Orleans jazz tune, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Philadelphia Eagles  When they first began playing, in 1924, they were a pathetic club called the Frankford Yellowjackets (Frankford was the section of Philly they played in).  The team went belly-up during the Depression, and two local businessmen bought it for $2,500.  FDR had just been elected president; his two major economic programs – the New Deal and the National Recovery Act – used an eagle as their symbol.  The team’s new owners adopted the New Deal eagle as their symbol, too.

Phoenix Cardinals  Originally the Chicago Cardinals.  They got their name when the team’s owner bought a batch of secondhand jerseys from the University of Chicago.  Someone commented that they looked like the university’s maroon shirts, and the owner replied defensively that they weren’t maroon – they were “cardinal red.”  The name stuck.

Washington Redskins  They started out as the Duluth (Minnesota) Eskimos in 1928.  In 1932, because they were having a tough time surviving, they moved to Boston.  Their new home was the stadium owned by baseball’s Boston Braves (now the Atlanta Braves), so they changed their name to the Boston Braves as well.  But the arrangement didn’t work out:  the following season, the football team moved to Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.  To avoid offending the Red Sox (by keeping the name of the local rivals), the football team changed its name from Braves to Redskins.  In 1938, the Redskins moved to Washington.

New York Giants  When the team was formed in 1925, it played in the Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants baseball team.  Owner Timothy Mara was a Giants fan already, so he named his team after them.

Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, and New York Jets  All derived their names from local baseball teams – the Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers, and New York Mets.

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Golf

Who invented golf?  We could say the Scots, but that wouldn’t be telling the whole story.  The ancient Romans, for instance, played a golf-like game called paganica, using a bent stick and a leather ball filled with feathers.  the Visigoths – known for their plundering and overall pillaging – for sure played paganica after they overthrew ancient Rome on August 4, 410, but may have played a golf-like game even before then.

Its been documented in writing and art that the Chinese played Chuiwan (“hitting ball”) as early as the tenth century, but the French swear that golf came from their ancient game jeu de mail.  Golf also might’ve come from an early British game called knur and spell, Belgium’s chole that goes back to the 1300s, or the Dutch game of kolven.

The truth is that no one knows the origins for sure.  Linguists agree that the word “golf” comes from an ancient Scottish word gowf, that meant “to strike.” And everyone agrees, as well, that the Scottish did love their golf.  In 1744, the Company of Gentlemen Golfers of Leith (Scotland) created the earliest known written golf code, consisting of thirteen rules.  Ten years later, Scotland’s St. Andrews Golf Club formed.

At the end of the nineteenth century golf really began to take off.  In 1873, the Royal Montreal Golf Club opened, making it the first permanent golfing club in the Western Hemisphere.  The first golf book in America, Golf In America:  A Practical Manual, was published in 1895.

Baseball

Despite a myth spread enthusiastically by early promoters, baseball was not really invented by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York.  In fact, it wasn’t exactly invented at all – instead it evolved from the British games of cricket and rounders which, early on, were sometimes called “base ball.”

By the early 1800s, Americans had already begun adapting the games into new variations called “town ball” and “one old cat – two old cat – three old cat”.”  In 1845, Alexander Cartwright drew up some rules for the new York Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, arbitrarily fixing the diamond size at ninety feet square, and putting the batter at home plate instead of in a batters’ box nearby.  He also ruled out the deadly practice of “plugging” base runners – hitting them with a thrown ball to get them out.  But still, the game had quite a bit of evolving to do in the coming years before it became the game we know today.

Tennis

The French originated tennis during the twelfth century.  They called it jeu de paume, (“game of the palm”) because, in the beginning, players used their hands to bat the ball back and forth over the net.  Rackets came later, and the name changed to tenetz (“get and hold”).

The father of modern tennis is Major Walter Clopton Wingfield of England, who in 1873, introduced the modern sport with the idea of playing it on grass courts.  Wingfield wasn’t quite as good at coining names – he called the game sphairistike, Greek for “playing ball.”

Most went back to the French name and tennis soon replaced croquet as England’s most popular outdoor sport, and in 1874, Mary Ewing Outerbridge, an American sportswoman, purchased tennis equipment from British army officers in Bermuda and introduced the sport to America.

Badminton

Badminton was invented in the 1860s by the daughters of the Duke of Beaufort.  It was based loosely on an ancient game called battledore and shuttlecock, and used the same equipment.

They named the game after their dad’s Badminton House in Gloustershire, England, where they first played it.  The dimension of the modern official badminton court (44 feet long and 17 feet wide) reportedly matches those of the room where the young women developed the game.

Badminton has been an Olympic event since 1992, and it’s Malaysia’s official national sport

Soccer

As early as 400 BC, Chinese athletes played a soccer-like game.  The Romans played a non-kick version in the third century.  By the 100s, London children played a form of soccer they called “football.”  Soccer moved into all English schools by the early 1800s, but each school interpreted the rules differently.  In 1848, school representatives met at trinity College in Cambridge an agreed upon a standardized set of soccer rules.

Rugby

According to its legendary history, rugby was invented by a renegade schoolboy named William Webb Ellis at rugby School in Warwickshire, England.  One day in 1823, when his “football” (soccer) team was badly losing, Ellis picked up the ball and ran for the goal while onlookers watched in dumfounded amazement.  He was heavily penalized on the field and forced to write a letter of apology afterward.  However, his simple act of frustrated defiance inspired the idea of a game where you can kick, throw, or run with the ball, and “Rugby-styled football” eventually became jus “rugby.”

American Football

It’s hard to believe, but football was once so deadly that it was nearly outlawed in the United States.  In 1874, a team from Montreal’s McGill University visited Harvard and taught its soccer team how to play variation of rugby.  Harvard then introduced it to other Easter colleges.  Walter Camp, who had played for Yale from 1876 to 1882 established a scoring system, downs, yards to gain, and the center’s snap to the quarterback.

By 1900, football had become increasingly violent, but players still did not yet wear pads or helmets.  In 1909 alone, 27 players died and hundreds more were permanently injured.  Gunfighter-turned-sportswriter Bat Masterson, no stranger to mayhem, wrote, “Football is not a sport in any sense.  It is a brutal and savage slugging match between two reckless opposing crowds.  The rougher it is and the more killed and crippled, the more delighted are the spectators, who howl their heads off at the sight of a player stretched prone and unconscious on the hard and frozen ground.”

Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, convened an intercollegiate football rules committee to see if the game should be changed, or even outlawed.  After five month, the committee issued its recommendations, prohibiting some of the most dangerous practices, like diving tackles, blocking with linked arms, picking up and carrying ball carriers, and interfering with pass receivers.  Deaths and injuries went way down, however, some hardcore fans complained that the changes ruined the game forever.

Basketball

“Basketball” could’ve easily been called “box ball” or even “trashcan ball.”  In 1891, James Naismith invented a dribble, pass, and shoot game for bored, snowbound students at a YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts,  In designing the court, he had intended to use wooden boxes for his targets.  Unfortunately, when he asked the custodian for boxes, he said there were none in any of the club’s back rooms.  “But,” he added, “I have two old peach baskets down in the store room, if they’ll do you any good.

Naismith shrugged and nailed the peach baskets on the balconies at either end of the gym.  They just happened to be ten feet off the floor, which is why that came to be the regulation height for baskets.  Later, when it became clear that the thin wood baskets weren’t going to hold up for long, Naismith switched to wire trash cans, and then eventually to the hoop and netting combination we see today.

Volleyball

Volleyball was invented in Holyoke, Massachusetts by William Morgan in 1895 for sedentary businessmen who found the new sport of basketball too strenuous.

Hockey

McGill University, which had an important role in the development of football, played an even more pivotal role in the invention of ice hockey.  But the game itself was invented by unknown members of the British Army.

It’s true that field hockey games – with balls and without the ice – were played by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Arabs, Romans, and Persians.  Irish played “hurley” more than 2000 years ago, and native South Americans had a similar game when Columbus arrived in1492.  However, the dubious genius of trying to play the basic game while sliding on ice skates took a special kind of crackpot genius you’d expect to find only among extremely bored soldiers in a wintry clime.

And so it was:  British soldiers stationed in Canada in the mid-1850s came up with the basics of ice hockey.  The rules were refined and set down by students at McGill University in Quebec in 1879.  The name comes form the French word for a shepherd’s crook, hoquet.  By the beginning of the twentieth century, the sport had spread into the U.S. and later Europe.  In late 1917, professional players formed the National Hockey League.