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Original photo by Tim Mossholder/ Unsplash
How 6 Sports Teams Got Their Distinctive Names
Read Time: 5m
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Original photo by Tim Mossholder/ Unsplash

You don’t have to actually watch sports to be aware of the country’s most famous teams — or wonder how they got their names. While some are obvious (the Boston Red Sox wear red socks), others are anything but. If you’ve ever wondered what a knickerbocker is or what the 2020 World Series champions have been “dodging” all these years, read on for the story behind six teams’ unique names.

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New York Knickerbockers

The New York Knicks logo is seen as players from the bench watch the NBA game.
Credit: Nic Antaya/ Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

Though almost always called the Knicks these days, New York’s oldest basketball team is still officially known as the Knickerbockers. If you don’t know what a knickerbocker is, you’re hardly alone — the team even has an explanation on its NBA page. History buffs will remember that New York was settled by the Dutch and was even known as New Amsterdam for a time; the “knickerbocker” name is in honor of that history.

The term refers not only to the distinct style of pants worn by those settlers but also to the pseudonym Washington Irving used for his 1809 book A History of New York From the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty: Diedrich Knickerbocker. At the time, the word was used as an affectionate term for both New Yorkers in general and the settlers’ descendants in particular.

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Green Bay Packers

The empty Lambeau field seats, the NFL stadium for the Green Bay Packers.
Credit: Sunil GC/ Unsplash

Corporate sponsorship is nothing new. Just ask the NFL's third-oldest franchise, which celebrated its centennial in 2019 and has been winning championships since long before the Super Bowl became football’s top prize. The team was cofounded in Wisconsin by George Whitney Calhoun and Earl “Curly” Lambeau, the latter of whom struck a deal with the company he worked for at the time: The Indian Packing Company would provide $500 for uniforms, equipment, and the right to use their athletic field, and in return, Lambeau would name his team the Packers.

It was quite the bargain. (For context, SoFi recently paid $400 million for the naming rights to the new stadium where the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers play.) Alas, the meat-packing company ceased to exist just two years later, when it was absorbed by the Acme Packing Company — whose name briefly appeared on team uniforms in 1921 — but its legacy lives on through the Packers to this day.

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St. Louis Blues

Alex Pietrangelo #27 of the St. Louis Blues celebrates with the Stanley Cup.
Credit: Bruce Bennett/ Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

Lots of teams are named after fierce animals and local landmarks. Not many are named after songs. The rare — and possibly only — exception would be the St. Louis Blues, a hockey team whose moniker is derived from W.C. Handy’s song of the same name. First recorded in 1914, the classic tune has been covered by everyone from Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby to Dizzy Gillespie and Bessie Smith. Blues owner Sid Salomon Jr. chose it as the team's namesake because "no matter where you go in town there's singing. That's the spirit of St. Louis."

Unlike most expansion teams, the Blues were instantly successful — they made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1968, 1969, and 1970, but were swept in all three series. Don’t feel too bad, though — they finally won the big one in 2018.

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Los Angeles Dodgers

A general view of the Dodgers Stadium during player introductions before the game.
Credit: Stephen Dunn/ Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

Not unlike the Utah Jazz, the Dodgers trace their name to their original city — Brooklyn, where the team was founded as the Grays (and later the Bridegrooms) in 1883. Writers began referring to them as the "Trolley Dodgers" in 1895, when trolley cars became ubiquitous in the borough. At the time, the subtle art of evading those vehicles was as much a pastime in Brooklyn as playing baseball. The team officially adopted the nickname and became the Dodgers in 1932, ultimately keeping the title even after their 1958 move to Los Angeles, despite now being in a city that isn’t exactly known for its public transportation.

Although the name sounds quaint, historical context reminds us that it had a far different connotation at the time. “In the 1890s, the electric trolley terrified many New Yorkers,” Joseph P. Sullivan wrote in his essay “The Terror of the Trolley.” “The electric streetcar was much faster than a horse streetcar and caused many accidents. In Brooklyn especially, the trolley frequently killed or maimed young children. As a result, the electric trolley became a symbol of the chaotic nature of modern, urban life.”

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Indiana Pacers

A general interior view of the Indiana Pacers arena during pregame festivities.
Credit: Chris Chambers/ Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

When basketball came to Indianapolis in 1967, it was probably inevitable that the new franchise would draw inspiration from the city’s most famous event: the Indy 500. Indiana’s capital and most populous city has long been synonymous with the annual race, which was established in 1911 and is billed as the Greatest Spectacle in Racing to this day. Among the Indy 500’s many traditions is the pace car, which has been used in the race since its very first edition.

The pace car’s purpose is both ceremonial and highly important: Its appearance on the track signals a caution period during which racers aren't allowed to pass either it or the competitor in front of them, often to allow safety technicians to clear the track of obstructions or wait until it’s safe to drive at full speed again. It’s considered an honor, as well as an advertising opportunity, for a manufacturer to provide the Indy 500’s pace car — the vehicle will be seen by millions, after all.

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San Francisco 49ers

Teammates celebrate a touchdown in the second quarter of a game.
Credit: Thearon W. Henderson/ Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

If you aren’t up to date on your California history, the number 49 might not carry much significance. But there's a reason it's called the Golden State, and that reason is the gold rush that began in 1848 and reached its peak in 1849. The California Gold Rush brought some 300,000 people to the state over the course of seven years, with hopeful prospectors becoming known as forty-niners. Formed nearly a century later in 1946, San Francisco's first major sports team took its name from those prospectors. Seventeen years later, the Philadelphia 76ers followed suit by naming themselves after the year America declared its independence from Great Britain.

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Original photo by lucky-photographer/ iStock
8 Presidential Myths, Debunked
Read Time: 6m
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Original photo by lucky-photographer/ iStock

One thing’s for sure: U.S. Presidents are the stuff of legends. However, just because personal tales about the leaders are passed down from generation to generation doesn't mean the stories are rooted in truth. In fact, many of the stories are so outlandish that it’s amazing people believed them in the first place.

From flammable teeth to ridiculous bathtub debacles, we take a look at the eight of the oddest presidential myths out there — and set the record straight.

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Myth: George Washington Had Wooden Teeth

Replica of a set of dentures made for George Washington.
Credit: Science & Society Picture Library via Getty Images

Cherry tree aside, one of the most chewable facts is that the nation’s first President had a mouth full of wooden teeth. While it seems like an odd story to be linked to the founding father, a deeper dig gets to the root of the issue. Washington did indeed have terrible teeth, so much so that he had multiple dentures made. Those mouthpieces were made out of ivory, gold, lead, and even human teeth, but never any wood. Wood was not used by dentists at the time, because not only could wooden dentures cause splinters, but wood is also susceptible to expanding and contracting due to moisture — not ideal for something that lives in your mouth.

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Myth: Thomas Jefferson Signed the Constitution

The signing of the United States Constitution in 1787.
Credit: Bettmann via Getty Images

It seems incomprehensible that a big-name founding father like Thomas Jefferson missed out on signing the U.S. Constitution, but he never inked the deal. He was actually absent during the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787, as he was across the Atlantic Ocean in Paris, France, as the U.S.’s envoy.

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Myth: Abraham Lincoln Wrote the Gettysburg Address on an Envelope

Lincoln making his famous 'Gettysburg Address' speech.
Credit: Library of Congress/ Archive Photos via Getty Images

There’s no doubt that the 16th President was a brilliant orator. But the idea that he haphazardly scribbled one of the most important speeches in American history on the back of an envelope during a train ride sounds a little far-fetched. In reality, Abraham Lincoln toiled away at different versions of the Gettysburg Address, which he gave on November 19, 1863. Not just that, it was anything but a solo project. He collaborated with several associates on it — and there are even five original copies of the speech, not one of them on an envelope.

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Myth: William Howard Taft Got Stuck in a Bathtub

President William Howard Taft makes a point during an election speech.
Credit: Bettmann via Getty Images

One of the stranger presidential myths might be chalked up to potty humor. Somehow, 27th President William Howard Taft became associated with an embarrassing incident around getting stuck in a bathtub. While it’s true that he was larger in stature, weighing in at 350 pounds, he never had to be rescued from a tub.

That said, there is a reason he’s associated with baths. During his presidency, a super-sized porcelain tub that was 7 feet long, 41 inches wide, and a ton in weight was installed in the White House. It was so massive that four grown men could fit inside. In another bath incident after his presidency, he filled a tub at a hotel in Cape May, New Jersey, a little too high and when he stepped into it, it overflowed to the point that the guests in the dining room below got a bit of a shower.

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Myth: The Teddy Bear Got Its Name After Theodore Roosevelt Saved a Real Bear

A Teddy Bear describing the origin of the toy and US president Theodore Roosevelt.
Credit: Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Theodore Roosevelt had long been a hunter, but didn’t exactly show off his best skills on a bear hunt in November 1902. Everyone else in the group had had a fruitful hunt, so to help Roosevelt, the guide tracked a 235-pound bear to a watering hole, clubbed it, and tied it to a tree so the President could claim it. As the story goes, Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear.

The incident made its way to the Washington Post, which published a satirical cartoon about the President sparing the bear. New York City store owners Morris and Rose Mitchom saw the cartoon, were inspired by the President's act of heroism, and created stuffed animals in his honor, appropriately naming them “Teddy’s bear.”

The problem? Roosevelt didn’t shoot the bear, but he didn’t save it either. He saw that it had been mauled by dogs so savagely already that he asked for the bear to be killed with a hunting knife. Given the dark nature of this true tale, it makes sense that the details are often ignored when talking about this beloved childhood toy.

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Myth: John F. Kennedy Won the Election Because of the TV Debates Against Richard Nixon

John Kennedy delivering an address.
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The televised broadcast of a 1960 presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon is often said to have clinched the victory for JFK, who many found to be more photogenic and charismatic. But when you truly look at the election numbers, it didn’t really have that big of an effect on the results. The candidates were pretty much neck-and-neck throughout the campaign, even appearing to be tied in the polls before and after the four debates. Kennedy seemed to have a slight boost after the first one on September 26, but then Nixon hit it out of the park on the others, especially with his foreign policy take during the final one. In the end, Kennedy won the election by a mere 119,000 votes.

Kennedy and Nixon’s September 1960 debate is often credited as the first televised presidential debate, but that is also a myth. In 1956, a televised debate aired during the run-off between Republican President Dwight Eisenhower and Democrat Adlai Stevenson. However, neither of them attended, and sent surrogates in their place. Eisenhower sent Maine senior senator Margaret Chase Smith, while Democrats went with Eleanor Roosevelt, and it aired on CBS’ Face the Nation.

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Myth: Zachary Taylor Was Poisoned

US President Zachary Taylor dies at home, surrounded by his wife and son and his colleagues.
Credit: MPI/ Archive Photos via Getty Images

Just over a year and four months into his term, 12th President Zachary Taylor fell ill and died while in office. For years, many thought that he may have been the first President to be assassinated, since it was rumored that he was poisoned. Despite his death in July 1850, it wasn’t until 1991 that Kentucky scientists definitively concluded there was no arsenic in his blood. Another story, that he died of eating cherries in iced milk, unfortunately may have more truth to it. After leaving the Washington Monument dedication in 1850, he had that combo as a snack and likely came down with severe gastroenteritis — an inflammation of the digestive system — dying five days later.

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Myth: Gerald Ford Was a Total Klutz

President Ford smiles as he acknowledges the reception given to him at a convention.
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Throughout Gerald Ford’s presidency, many joked that his Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller, was only a banana peel away from the presidency, since the 38th President was so often caught being clumsy. He tumbled down ski slopes, slipped in the rain, and fell coming out of Air Force One, so much so that he was spoofed by Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live. But in actuality, Ford was quite an athlete in his younger days. He was a football star at the University of Michigan, where he earned his letter for three years. He even tackled future Heisman Trophy winner Jay Berwander in 1934. During his White House years, he also swam and skied regularly, and played tennis and golf, so perhaps all that falling was just to add to his relatability.