The Real Reason The Dallas NFL Team Changed Their Name To The Cowboys

Love them or hate them, it's hard to imagine the National Football League without the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are wildly divisive, with its fans embracing the "America's team" moniker the team gained thanks to massive success throughout the 1980s and 1990s. At the same time, detractors see the entire organization as the league's greatest heel. According to ESPN, the Dallas Cowboys — a franchise that's become the most valuable in all of sports, according to Forbes — almost had a completely different name, albeit one that also paid homage to Texas heritage.

Coming up with a name for a pro sports team is no easy feat, and there are a multitude of steps in the process and hurdles to clear before the first jerseys can be sewn up and the first hats can be sold to fans. In 1960, one of those hurdles caused the new Dallas NFL franchise to reevaluate its original choice for a team name.

Dallas gets an NFL team

According to the Amarillo Globe-News, by the late 1950s powerful figures in the NFL wanted the league to expand into new markets. Until that point, the league had more or less followed Major League Baseball's lead and placed clubs in the same markets. Sometimes the names were even the same as was the case when the Chicago Cardinals moved to St. Louis — home of Major League Baseball's St. Louis Cardinals — and didn't bother to change the team's name. There was also a practical reason for this, which was that football teams could simply start playing games in baseball stadiums that had already been built.

One of the key figures looking to grow the league in new markets was Chicago Bears owner George Halas. Halas wanted to see a team set up shop in Dallas, Texas, and fortunately so did Clint Murchison Jr., a football fan and member of a wealthy Texas oil family. In 1959, Murchison was officially awarded an expansion franchise, in the league's first attempt at expansion since the former All-American Football Conference ceased operations, per the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

According to ESPN, from the very beginning, Murchison had a name in mind for his new football club: the Dallas Rangers. This was a nod to the Texas Rangers, a military outfit founded in the 1830s that eventually merged with the state's highway patrol in the 1930s. However, there was a significant problem with the name.

The Dallas Rangers could've caused confusion

Nowadays, the assumption would be that the reason for tossing aside the Rangers nickname was the checkered past of the Texas Rangers themselves (via Texas Monthly). Instead, it had to do with a local minor league baseball team. According to ESPN, Cowboys team president Tex Schramm was concerned that calling the team the Dallas Rangers would cause some confusion with the Dallas Rangers, a baseball team that formed around the same time as the NFL team, per Texas State Historical Association.

Despite Murchison's assertion that the name was a bit of divine inspiration that had hit him "like a bolt from the blue," the name needed to be changed. it was then changed to Cowboys, which has stayed for over 60 years, but that doesn't mean that Murchison forgot his original name choice. According to the book "America's Team: The Official History of the Dallas Cowboys," Murchison once considered changing the name back to his first choice, perhaps after the Dallas Rangers played their last season in 1964, per Baseball Reference. However, Murchison's office received over a thousand calls about the possible name change when that information leaked to the public. According to ESPN, all but a handful favored keeping the Cowboys name, which by that point was on its way to amassing its own level of prestige and notoriety. Another reason the Dallas Rangers name will likely never appear in the NFL is that Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers began play in 1972, when the second iteration of the Washington Senators relocated to Arlington, Texas (via Britannica).