The Story of a Football Name
Photos of Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey
How many people know that the Las Vegas Raiders were once known by another name when they entered the American Football League in 1960? The franchise was originally called the Oakland Senors, but it was a move that sparked “unanimous and extremely vocal disapproval” from nearly everyone in town.
Oakland was officially granted a franchise in the AFL on January 31 of that year; on March 20, a Name Your Football Team contest was held in conjunction with the Oakland Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Oakland Boosters in conjunction with the Oakland Tribune. Entrants would cut out the official entry blank with their name suggestion and an explanation in 25 words or less of why they chose the name.
All entries were judged on relevance, completeness and originality. The winner would receive a trip to Acapulco, Mexico, as well as two tickets to the first home game. The second-place winner would receive a trip for two to the Oakland game in Los Angeles, plus two tickets to the first home game. The third-place winner won a season ticket for two to all home games that season.
There were 10,000 entries submitted, including 1,777 different names. Many of them stood out and would be ideal for a current minor league club, including the following: Atom Smashers, Aristocrats, Bonecrushers, Bicarbonates, Electrons, Gringos, Iron Ponies, Litterbugs, Nutcrackers, Poison Oaks, Termites, Zodiacs and Plum Pickers.
Just over two weeks later, on April 5, a five-man committee narrowed down the suggestions to the Admirals, Lakers, Diablos, Seagulls, Metros, Gauchos, Nuggets, Senors, Dons, Coasters, Sequoias, Missiles, Knights Redwoods, Jets, Clippers, Dolphins and Grands. In the end, the Senors were chosen as the winners.
Helen Davis suggested the name, along with seven others, but her explanation of why the name would fit the football team perfectly was the deciding factor. She had participated in competitions before but had never won, even at bingo. She said she was “flabbergasted”.
Davis said the name “symbolizes the history, strength and solidarity of Old World California. The name personifies the original fighting spirit that was characteristic of California’s early settlers.
Davis added that she was not an “ardent fan” of football, but would be now because her name was selected for the team. Management chose the “Americanized” spelling of the name Señores, which translates to gentleman in Spanish, and team colors of black and silver with gold trim.
He seemed inclined to name the team with a Spanish-influenced name. Members of the voting committee liked the name Dons, but it was already being used by the University of San Francisco. Additionally, fans were suggested early in the voting process to take cues from California’s rich Spanish ancestry.
However, the next day there were already questions about the new name. The city council disapproved of the name 4-1. Mayor Clifford E. Richell said he hadn’t met anyone who liked the name. Councilman Robert L. Osborne joked that he would sell his interest in the team due to dissatisfaction with the name.
The next day a petition appeared in the Oakland Tribune to change the name. He said the new name is without strength, impact, local meaning or color. The name will not hold up and will be subject to community ridicule.
“If it can’t be spelled correctly, don’t use it because it’s not worthy of misspelling it. Miss Helen Davis had a great idea, but someone screwed it up for her,” Emily Castro wrote in a letter to the Tribune editor.
A few other letters to the newspaper pointed out the lack of a tilde over the “n”, and the misspelling of the name was seen as a source of confusion. A few others said it was a lack of foresight from a third-rate city and it belongs on the pages of the comics. Then there were the voices that said they would no longer support the new club and would remain fans of the San Francisco 49ers.
It was business as usual for the Senors, who were recruiting players, finding a suitable stable to call home and pricing tickets at $4.50 per person, the same as the 49ers across the way. the bay at Kezar Stadium. Additionally, the Oakland City Council approved a $13,500,000 bond to build a new stadium for the team.
Finally, on April 14, Oakland management bowed to public objection and changed the name to the now familiar Raiders. The winner of the new name was Kendrick Martin, who also won a trip to Mexico. It met with universal appeal from the people of the region.
Martin and 26 other contestants submitted the Raiders name and won trips to Acapulco. However, he was selected as the winner based on his reasoning why the club should adopt the name.
“Our team of supporters must be fired and inspired by a fighting name. Raiders involve a sustained early attack taking the fight to the opponent’s side.
The new name met with near universal appeal, Alan Ward wrote in his column for the Oakland Tribune as follows:
“Senors’ move to Raiders for the local grid team was met with undisguised joy by the populace. Not in 100 years will football fans and non-football fans have been happy with the “Senors. It just didn’t fit. It didn’t make sense. It might have made sense elsewhere, but not for an Oakland club. Raiders – now there’s a solid name. It conjures up images of Sir Frances Drake and Blackbeard. It’s concise, provocative, and fits easily into a newspaper headline.”
Tribune columnist Ray Haywood suggested in his column that if the club continues to change its name, there will be enough Oakland-area fans in Acapulco to hold a Raiders cheer rally.
Miss Davis was not bitter about the name change and still planned to attend every home game shouting “Ole!” after each first down.
“Raiders is a nice name. I don’t care if they rejected my name. I want everyone to be happy. I’m just sorry that Senors caused so much satisfaction. I’ve been joking so much since the contest that I’m really relieved that they changed the name.
Perhaps the public would have learned to accept and love the name Senors; it might have been possible, but after a modest 6-8 inaugural season, the club went 3-25 in its next two seasons playing in three stadiums between San Francisco and Oakland. Crowds were no larger than 13,000 per game, and a name change would likely have happened very soon.
Raiders GM Chet Soda added the following statement after the 10-day naming saga ended.
“We certainly appreciate the fans’ interest in our club. Public opinion frowns on ‘Senors’. We hope everyone loves Raiders as much as we do.
After 63 years, three Super Bowl championships and legions of fans across the country. I think a lot of people liked the name Raiders.
Follow all of Marc’s stadium runs on Twitter @ballparkhunter and his YouTube channel. Email to [email protected]