Doug Williams looked a bit surprised. And judging by his stalling, it appeared as if he even disapproved of the Washington Football Team’s new name.
The Washington Commanders.
The National Football League franchise officially revealed its long-awaited secret with a rebrand on Wednesday, burying the name Washington Football Team on NBC’s “TODAY” show. It had used that generic moniker since it dropped its previous name, long considered a racist slur against Native Americans, in July 2020 following the threat of corporate sponsors pulling business.
During the announcement, Williams, a team executive and the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, sat beside team President Jason Wright, the first Black team president in the NFL.
“We are the Commanders,” Williams said.
“It’s something that allows us to tie the rich history and championship legacy of this franchise to new traditions of the future,” added Wright.
The NFL team, which is worth more than $4 billion, still has the same problems — there are new sexual harassment allegations surrounding the owner, Dan Snyder, accusations Snyder has denied.
And now the team has its new brand. But it missed a chance to revisit a fun part of its past with its name change. Here’s why.
Love them Hogs
The Commanders isn’t the worst name the team could have selected, but it’s not original, either.
The short-lived Alliance of American Football owned the San Antonio Commanders franchise before the league folded in 2019. Hence, it’s likely the name was up for grabs after the football property filed for bankruptcy. The league owed more than $40 million, $7 million of that to MGM, which was an initial investor in AFF, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Throughout the search, Wright, who took the role of president in August 2020, solicited fan responses for a new name. He wrote in a blog post that the franchise couldn’t go with fan favorite the Red Wolves because of trademarks held by other teams. And the Presidents, another rumored name, was the least favorite among polls of NFL fans.
Research company the Morning Consult found the Defenders name was the most favorable. The Admirals and Commanders were next.
But leading up to the name reveal, I became curious about what a true fan would think. So I called my good friend Ron Burke, a lifelong Washington football fan, and he told me about the Hogs.
The Hogs nickname traces back to the 1980s offensive linemen, including Pro Bowlers Jeff Bostic, Joe Jacoby and Russ Grimm. The group was coached by longtime assistant Joe Bugel, the creator of the “Hogs” nickname. The unit helped Washington appear in three Super Bowls during the 1980s, winning in the 1982 and 1987 seasons.
“The name was there, but it never took off until you started winning,” Grimm said in a video explaining the Hogs’ origins. “The fans — they made it as big as it’s turned out to be,” added Grimm, who was known as “Porky.”
The group was fun and had character. The Hogs grew with their annual “5 o’clock club” gatherings, which started in 1982 and took place after practices. And according to Jacoby, they created Hog T-shirts that they wore every Thursday or suffered a $5 fine among the group. That money collected helped fund their annual Hogs party.
“You had to be ugly, you had to be fat, and you had to be semi-lineman to be in the 5 o’clock club,” joked former Washington lineman Don Warren in the video.
After researching the Hogs, I thought the name was a great fit for the team and the business would excel. The merchandise play was there with the Hog noses. Fans would probably dress up again as the “Hogettes.” And Ron had some suggestions about how the franchise could honor the original Hogs for the first few seasons to help reintroduce the history and rebuild the brand.
The Red Hogs. Ron agreed. My CNBC colleague, Dominic Chu, even chimed in on Twitter to approve of “Warthogs” — but that was after the team went with the Commanders.
“That’s what we are,” Williams said. “We’ve got to go forward with it. And I do like the name. It has a good sound to it. The Washington Commanders.”
A secret no more
On Wednesday, I tuned in to “TODAY” for the reveal, even though the name was no longer a secret after a video shot from a helicopter captured the Commanders name inside the team’s home stadium, FedEx Field.
“It’s a name that has the weight and meaning befitting a 90-year-old franchise,” Wright explained during the reveal. “It’s something that broadly resonated with our fans and it’s something that we believe embodies the values of service and leadership that really define the [District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia area].
“It’s also something, importantly, that we could own and grow for the next 90 years,” Wright added.
Perhaps Ron, Dominic and I are in the minority regarding any version of the Hogs name. It sounded fun, though.
Following the reveal, e-commerce company Fanatics told CNBC the Commanders was the top-selling team across its platform. In addition, the company added four of the top five selling products: two Commanders jerseys, a team hoodie and a long sleeve T-shirt.
The fifth most-popular item: Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey, because the NFL quarterback retired one day before the Commanders name went live.
And that Morning Consult poll? Well, it showed the Red Hogs name is one of the least popular. It turns out 54% of fans thought the name was unfavorable. Armada and the Presidents were also at the bottom of the list.
Asked his response to fans who disapprove of the Commanders name, Williams responded: “What I would say to those people is — with guys like Jonathan [Allen] and this football team, they’re going to come to love the Commanders.”
I still like the Red Hogs.