Imagine if “New York Yankees” was the name of an NFL franchise. Seems impossible, right? The Yankees are so synonymous with baseball and American folklore that it would be weird if another sport had a team with that name. What if I told you that it actually isn’t impossible? What if the NFL had a New York Yankee team? Well, from 1926 to 1929, they did. They even played at the old Yankee Stadium. One of the more notable running backs in the game’s history, Red Grange, played for them in-between two stints with the Bears. It doesn’t stop there, as the team contained four members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in its three seasons of existence. This proves that the name “New York Yankees” is guaranteed to attract greatness, no matter the sport. Would you believe that there were other franchises in sports that share their names with teams we know today? Well, throughout the history of sports, there have been several. Let’s begin.
These former NFL franchises all shared their names with an unrelated MLB franchise. I already mentioned the Yankees, but there was also another team called the New York Yanks. The team had previously been known as the Boston Yanks before croaking and being reincarnated in the Big Apple in 1949. They were actually named the Bulldogs for that first year in NYC, before switching back to the Yanks name. After a disastrous 1951 season in which they finished 1-9-2, the players were bought out and moved to a new Dallas team, the Texans. More misfortune followed, and that team also croaked, and from that dead frog rose the Baltimore Colts. The Yanks also contained a few Hall of Famers: Art Donovan, Bobby Layne, and Mike McCormack.
New York had yet another doppelganger NFL franchise in the form of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who in 14 years of existence had as many head coaches as the Browns in the last 14 years.
Like the 1920’s Football Yankees, they also shared a stadium with their MLB counterparts and spawned a few Hall of Famers. They later changed their name to the Tigers before croaking.
Cleveland saw a team named the Tigers that was originally named the Indians, and strangely reverted back to the Indians name before they bit the dust. In 1921, they had one of the greats of the early NFL, Jim Thorpe. However, this was the first of three different NFL franchises named the Cleveland Indians. The second one was named the Indians only in 1923, before renaming themselves the Bulldogs. This name change actually resulted in Cleveland getting an NFL Championship.
This championship claim was then challenged by the Chicago Bears, who claimed that due to the bears playing more games, they should be the champs. The Bulldogs and Bears finished the season 7-1-1 and 6-1-4 respectively. They then met in an exhibition, where the Bears dominated 23-0. The Bulldogs would be dead four years later. The third Cleveland Indians franchise existed for one season in 1931, finished 2-8, and disappeared forever.
Detroit saw a Tigers football team that wasn’t getting paid and promptly ceased to exist, as some of their players moved to the Buffalo All-Americans. Another Midwestern city that saw a team die in the middle of a season was the Cincinnati Reds, who in 1933 finished 3-6-1, but completely fell apart in 1934.
This team has a legitimate claim to being the worst in NFL history, with an 0-8 record and allowing 6.4 rushing yards per attempt. They were so bad that they had to play all four of their home games in different stadiums around Ohio. In 1934 alone, they got shut out six times. The 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns never got shut out.
The Reds scored ten points ALL SEASON, which those two 0-16 teams frequently surpassed in a single game. I know NFL offenses weren’t quite as potent as they would later become, but this is embarrassing. Their swan song came in Philadelphia, where the Eagles destroyed them 64-0. Issues paying the league then meant a swift death for the football Reds. The Eagles effectively murdered a football team. Wow.
In 1933, the NFL saw the debut of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
From 1933-39, they never once had a winning record. Their most notable player was Byron White, who would eventually become a Supreme Court Justice. Their most remarkable game came against the aforementioned Cincinnati Reds in 1933, where there were 31 total punts in the game, and zero points scored. This sounds like an unbreakable record, but lo and behold, on the exact same day, the eternal rivals, the Packers and Bears, also punted 31 times. Naturally, the Pirates name did not work out, so in 1940, they changed their name. They still carry this name today. You may have heard of them.
The most recent example of an NFL team sharing their name with an MLB team is the St. Louis Cardinals. The franchise was in the city from 1960 to 1987 after having been in Chicago, and then proceeded to never win a single playoff game. They only made it three times.
Some of the more notable players for the team were in the secondary, including cornerback Roger Wehrli and safety Larry Wilson. These two had 15 Pro Bowl appearances between the two of them, and they are both in the Hall of Fame. They were only teammates for four seasons, though, as Wilson dominated the 60’s, whereas Wehrli dominated the 70’s. Offensive tackle Dan Dierdorf and tight end Jackie Smith add an additional 11 Pro Bowl appearances and two more Hall of Famers. The team didn’t lack talent, but it never produced any playoff success. The St. Louis Football Cardinals relocated to Arizona in 1988, where they remain today. St. Louis’s next NFL team, the Rams having just moved from Los Angeles in 1995, gave the city what the Cardinals couldn’t: A Super Bowl in 1999 and a spot in NFL history thanks to the Greatest Show on Turf. The Rams were then beloved by St. Louis… until they moved back to LA in 2016.
When it comes to hockey, there are only two examples of a doppelgänger franchise, but only one existed when the team that shared the name did: The Pittsburgh Pirates. Man, Pittsburgh must love Treasure Island. Even their original logo looks strikingly similar to the baseball Pirates’ later logo. Yes, later logo. The hockey Pirates were actually the first team in the city to use their now-famous black and yellow color scheme for sports. The baseball Pirates didn’t use it until 1948, whereas the hockey Pirates debuted in 1925.
In their inaugural 1925-6 season, they actually finished 19-16-1 and made the playoffs, but they ultimately lost to the eventual champions, the Montreal Maroons. Their most interesting win was against the Montreal Canadiens and the great Georges Vezina, who today is the namesake of the award given to the NHL’s best goalie. That game turned out to be Vezina’s last NHL appearance, as he would sadly pass away a few months later due to tuberculosis. The Pirates would make the playoffs again in 1928, but once again got eliminated in the first round. The team didn’t find much success in their other years of existence, including a move to Philadelphia and being renamed the Quakers, but they still left their mark on the sport. They spawned four Hall of Famers, and their coach, Odie Cleghorn, was actually the first one to substitute players in shifts during the action of the game, or as it’s more commonly referred to, “changing on the fly.” (source: https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=cHgrAAAAIBAJ&sjid=FEoEAAAAIBAJ&pg=6918%2C2509147)
This facet of the sport that adds so much strategy and excitement originated from a team that stole a name from a baseball team. There is such a thing as magic in the world.
The other NHL team that shared a name was known as the Colorado Rockies, but they existed from 1976-82, and the MLB Rockies didn’t begin play until 1993.
The hockey team actually originated as the Kansas City Scouts from ’74-’76, but moved to Colorado and took the name “Rockies,” probably for the same reason the baseball team did. It really is a perfect name, but it’s more poignant for the hockey team. Not because of the region’s beautiful mountains, but because their performance was… rocky. They made the playoffs only once, in 1978, albeit with a record below .500. This winning percentage range turned out to be a running theme for them, as their six seasons were riddled with mediocrity. Interestingly enough, Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll, Part 2” was played after their goals at home games. This is the first known sports team to play it at a sporting event. Colorado eventually got another NHL team, as the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Denver in 1995 and became the Colorado Avalanche. The team has given the state two Stanley Cups, one of which was against the team the Rockies became after they left Colorado in 1982, the New Jersey Devils. The Devils have been more successful, winning three Stanley Cups and five conference championships in contrast to the two conference titles won by the Avalanche. The Avalanche do have two Presidents Trophies, but they only won the Cup in one of those seasons. They say there’s a curse surrounding that award (cough, 2019 Lightning, cough).
Well, there’s a lot more to say about these teams than I thought there would be. So, I’m gonna have to divide this post into two parts. Check back here in about a week to see the conclusion to this article, and thanks for reading!