With the Washington Redskins in the news recently due to the announcement from the U.S. Patent & Trademark office that the Redskins trademark would be cancelled, we thought it might be a good time to take a brief look at the origins of the Redskins nickname and the franchise itself.
The Redskins franchise is one of the oldest in the NFL, tracing its roots back to the 1932 NFL season. The franchise entered the NFL at a time when financial hardships were causing off-field struggles for many professional American football franchises. Case in point, three teams from the 1931 NFL season did not make it to the 1932 season – the Cleveland Indians, Frankfurt Yellow Jackets, and Providence Steam Roller.
The franchise, owned by George Preston Marshall, entered the NFL in 1932 as the Boston Braves. The Braves became the 8th NFL team in 1932, joining the defending champion Green Bay Packers, runner-up Portsmouth Spartans (later the Detroit Lions), Chicago Bears, New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago Cardinals (later the St. Louis and Arizona Cardinals), and Staten Island Stapletons. Of that group, only 6 still exist as NFL franchises today.
The Boston Braves played the 1932 season in Braves Field, home of the Major League Baseball franchise that went by the same name. Following that initial year, the franchise changed its home stadium, moving from Braves Field to Fenway Park, and thus must have felt it needed a name change. Presumably keeping a name with Native American ties, but also utilizing a reference to the Red Sox, the name was changed to become the Boston Redskins. The change also allowed the team to keep the same insignia it had used as the Braves – an indian head (as seen above).
But alas, the change in venue and the change in name did not result in a great deal of stability in Boston. The team actually had its first winning season in 1936, going 7-5 to win the Eastern Division and appearing in the NFL Championship Game (losing 21-6 to Green Bay). However, despite the on-field success that year, the team was typically drawing only 5,000 fans for home games, thus a relocation was in order. Team owner, Marshall, who had previously owned a chain of laundries in the Washington area, and had also dabbled in sports team ownership with a basketball team called the Washington Palace Five, naturally brought the team to Washington, with plans to play in Griffith Stadium (home to MLB’s Washington Senators). Thus, the Washington Redskins were born in the 1937 season.
And the move seemed to suit them well, as the Redskins once again won the NFL’s Eastern Division with an 8-3 record, and promptly defeated the Chicago Bears 28-21 in the NFL Championship Game, played in Wrigley Field in Chicago.
An interesting closing note on Marshall – In the early days of the NFL, the college football game was more popular. Marshall, wanting to bring more elements of the college atmosphere into the professional game, introduced such elements as a marching band and a fight song for the Washington Redskins. Today, the Redskins marching band is one of only two such recognized bands in the NFL, and the Hail to the Redskins fight song might be the about the only NFL fight song that most fans would be able to identify.