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What to Call Sports Teams That Play in Northern New Jersey: An Awkward History

LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 3: Runningback Tiki Barber #21 of the New York Giants rushes during a NFL game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on December 3, 2000 in Landover, Maryland. The Redskins won the game 9 to 7. (Photo by Michael J. Minardi/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Tiki Barber
Giants running back Tiki Barber in 2000, after the team revived its “NY” logo. Photo: Michael J. Minardi/2000 Michael J. Minardi

Metlife Stadium, the site of Super Bowl XLVIII, is only about five miles from New York City, as the crow flies. But to call it a “New York” Super Bowl isn’t really accurate, since it’ll be taking place across state lines in East Rutherford, New Jersey. To call it a “New Jersey Super Bowl” isn’t quite right, either; MetLife Stadium was awarded the game because of its proximity to New York City, and the NFL teams that call it home identify with New York. (The NFL’s solution has been to use “New York/New Jersey,” though some have argued the Garden State’s been overlooked in the promotion of the game.) The problem is hardly new: The question of what to call sports teams and events in northern New Jersey dates back decades, and the results can be awkward.

• In a New York Times article in which the governor of New Jersey says he’s gotten a verbal commitment from the New York Football Giants to move into a to-be-built sports complex in the Hackensack River meadowlands, the paper notes, “The unofficial word here was that the football club would be called the New Jersey Giants, but nothing about this was said publicly for fear of antagonizing New York sports fans.” Later that year, columnist Arthur Daley writes, “If [Wellington] Mara thinks he can transport the noble label, the New York Giants, across the Hudson — presuming he ever moves the team — he is mistaken. The corporation counsel will refuse to let it leave the state, claiming a proprietary interest in it. Jersey Giants? Ugh!”

• When the Giants officially announce that they’ll be moving to New Jersey, owner Wellington Mara is asked whether the team name would be changing. “It was always the New York Giants and it will always be the New York Giants,” he says. New York Mayor John Lindsay vows to go to court to keep the team from keeping “New York” in its name. (No real attempt was actually made.)

• New Jersey officials still hold out hope that the Giants will change their name. From the May 12 New York Times:

Once the New York Giants agreed to begin playing football in the new sports complex in the Hackensack meadows, it was only a matter of time before someone in the Legislative introduced a measure aimed at persuading the club to drop its New York identification.

Since former Gov. William T. Cahill promised that the advent of professional football (and the Giants) would give New Jersey the kind of identity that the state has lacked in the past, he said it followed that the team should ultimately assume some kind of state identity, too.

In a resolution introduced last month, State Senator Eugene J. Bedell, Democrat of Monmouth County, urged Wellington Mara, owner of the Giants, to give “serious consideration” to renaming his team the New Jersey Giants or some other name that appropriately reflects the club’s new location.

• The Giants move into Meadowlands, and New York remains in the team name, as is stipulated in their official agreement to relocate. (New Jersey’s sports authority would eventually place a logo on the 50-yard line identifying the site as the “New Jersey Meadowlands,” along with an outline of the state.)

• 1977
The New York Cosmos soccer team, after playing in various stadiums in the Empire State, moves to Giants Stadium and drops “New York” from its name. The team is known simply as “Cosmos” until “New York” is added back in 1979.

The New York Nets (who began as the New Jersey Americans) move back to the Garden State, this time becoming the New Jersey Nets.

Devils goalie Chico Resch during the 1982-83 season. Photo: Focus On Sport/1983 Focus on Sport

The Colorado Rockies hockey team moves into the Meadowlands and becomes the New Jersey Devils, though an article from the time suggests there was briefly some thought that the team could end up being called the “Jersey Devils.” Perhaps the New Jersiest of all the state’s teams, their logo includes an “NJ” and their nickname is a reference to the mythical Jersey Devil.

New York City announces that the Jets will be following the Giants to New Jersey. Via the Times, Frederick A.O. Schwartz, city corporation counsel, says that the city “might” consider trying to force the Jets to change their name so it didn’t include “New York.”

A Queens city councilman introduces a resolution that calls on both the Jets and Giants to sever ties with New York. Proposed names for the soon-to-move Jets include the “New Jersey Flowers.”

The Donald Trump–owned New Jersey Generals begin play in the USFL. New Jersey officials require the team to include a reference to the state in its name in order for them to play at the Meadowlands. Says general manager Jim Valek: “It’s no use trying to hide your location.”

Generals quarterback Doug Flutie. Photo: Focus On Sport/1985 Focus on Sport

The Jets begin play at the Meadowlands and remain the New York Jets.

The World League of American Football franchise playing at Giants Stadium gets a name that’s a mouthful: The New York/New Jersey Knights.

• The building formerly known as Continental Airlines Arena hosts the Final Four. The official logo includes an image of the Statue of Liberty but makes no explicit mention of either state, instead referencing the “Meadowlands.”

Major League Soccer begins play, and the franchise playing its home games at Giants Stadium takes a cue from the defunct WLAF Knights, dubbing itself the New York/New Jersey MetroStars.

An Arena Football League team — the New Jersey Red Dogs — begins play at the Meadowlands.

The Jets reintroduce a logo with the letters “NY” in the background, using it for the first time since moving to New Jersey.

The Giants reintroduce the lower-case “NY” logo they’d used before moving to the Meadowlands.

Chris Brantley of the XFL’s Hitmen fights for the balll to decide possession. Photo: New York Daily News Archive/2000/Daily News, L.P. (New York)

Like the Knights and MetroStars before them, the XFL franchise playing at Giants Stadium references two states in its name and takes the field as the New York/New Jersey Hitmen.

The MetroStars drop “New York/New Jersey” from their official name and go simply by a nickname without a geographic location.

The MetroStars are sold and change their name to the New York Red Bulls. Says a spokesperson for Governor Jon Corzine when the name change is announced: “Their new name may be Red Bull New York, but striking New Jersey from their name seems to be a different kind of bull altogether.” Alexi Lalas, the team’s president, explains that it wasn’t a slight against New Jersey, but that New York is more internationally known than New Jersey. “There are companies all over the world that recognize this point about New York,” he says. “Other teams that play in Giants Stadium also reflect this.” Meanwhile, the president of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority threatens to kick the Red Bulls out of Giants Stadium: “They will not play in our stadium unless they have New Jersey in their name.” The Red Bulls continue to play in Giants Stadium until 2010, when they move into a soccer-specific stadium in Harrison, New Jersey.

Red Bulls forward Youri Djorkaeff at Giants Stadium in 2006. Photo: TImothy A. Clary/2006 AFP

Three New York assemblymen sponsor a bill that would require sports teams that play in New Jersey to stop using “New York” in their name. Said the head of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority: “That bill does sound like a Jersey thing, which is ironic considering that over here we basically seem to have given up on this. But I think with all the money we give these teams, they should be called ‘New Jersey.’”

The United Football League is founded, and one of its teams plays its three home games in three different venues: Giants Stadium in New Jersey, Shuart Stadium in New York, and Rentschler Field in Connecticut. No mention of New Jersey or Connecticut is found in the franchise’s name that season: The team is called the New York Sentinals for the 2009 season before moving to Connecticut full-time the following year.

New Jersey Senate Minority Whip Kevin O’Toole criticizes the Nets for removing the “NJ” from their road uniforms. His spokesman says at the time that the Office of Legislative Services is drafting a bill that would prohibit the use of state tax dollars to help any team in the state that doesn’t use “New Jersey” in its name.

New Jersey State Senator Joseph Vitale objects to the large “NY” logo that appears on the Giants’ office building on Route 3 — a facility built by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.

New Meadowlands Stadium becomes MetLife Stadium thanks to a naming-rights deal. The New York City skyline appears in the stadium’s new logo.

A Super Bowl banner in midtown Manhattan.

Metlife Stadium prepares to host Super Bowl XLVII. The host committee is officially called the New York/New Jersey Super Bowl Host Committee.

A History of Northern New Jersey Team Names