From Senors to Raiders: The Story of a Football Name
Photos by 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 named the Oakland Senors, but it was a decision that touched off a “unanimous and extremely vociferous disapproval” from almost everyone in town.
Oakland was officially awarded a franchise in the AFL on January 31 of that year; by March 20, a Name Your Football Team contest was being held in conjunction with the Oakland Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Oakland Boosters in conjunction with the Oakland Tribune. Participants would clip out the official entry blank with their name suggestion and an explanation in 25 words or less of why they chose the name.
All of the entries were judged on suitability, completeness, and originality. The winner would receive a trip to Acapulco, Mexico, plus two tickets to the first home game. The second-place winner would receive a trip for two to Oakland's game in Los Angeles, plus two tickets to the first home game. The third-place winner won a season pass 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 Prune Pickers.
A little more than two weeks later, on April 5, a five-man committee dwindled the suggestions to the Admirals, Lakers, Diablos, Seagulls, Metros, Gauchos, Nuggets, Senors, Dons, Coasters, Sequoias, Missiles, Knights Redwoods, Jets, Clippers, Dolphins, and Grandees. In the end, the Senors were chosen as the victor.
Helen Davis suggested the name, along with seven others, but her explanation of why the name would make a good fit for the football team was the deciding factor. She had entered contests before but had never won, even at bingo. She stated that she was “flabbergasted.”
Davis stated that the name “symbolizes the history, strength, and solidarity of the Old World of California. The name personifies the original fighting spirit characteristic of the first settlers of California.”
Davis added that she was not an “ardent fan” of football but that she would now be due to her name being selected for the team. Management chose the “Americanized” spelling of the name Señores, which translated to a gentleman in Spanish, and team colors of black and silver with gold trim.
There appeared to lean towards naming the team with a Spanish-influenced name. Members of the voting committee liked the name Dons, but that was already in use by the University of San Francisco. Also, it was suggested for fans early on in the voting process to look for inspiration from California's rich Spanish ancestry.
However, by 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 had not come across anyone who liked the name. Councilman Robert L. Osborne quipped that he would sell his interest in the team due to displeasure with the name.
The next day a petition appeared in the Oakland Tribune to change the name. It listed that the new name is without force, impact, local significance, or color. The name will not hold up and be subject to community ridicule.
“If it can't be spelled correctly, don't use it because it is not dignified to misspell it. Miss Helen Davis had a very good idea, but somebody botched it up for her,” wrote Emily Castro in a letter to the editor Tribune.
A few other letters to the paper pointed out the lack of a tilde over the "n", and the misspelling of the name has been deemed a source of confusion. A few more stated that it was a lack of foresight from a 3rd rate city and that it belongs on the pages of the comic strips. Then there were the voices who said they would no longer support the new club and remain fans of the San Francisco 49ers.
It was business as usual for the Senors, who were signing players, looking for a suitable stable to call home, and setting ticket prices at $4.50 a person, the same as the 49ers across the bay at Kezar Stadium. Also, 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 was met with a universal appeal from the populace of the area.
Martin and 26 other contestants submitted the name Raiders 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 imply early sustained offense carrying the fight to the opponent's camp.”
The new name was met with almost universal appeal, Alan Ward wrote in his column for the Oakland Tribune the following:
"The switch from Senors to Raiders for the local grid team has been greeted with undisguised glee by the populace. Not in 100 years would football fans, and non-football fans, have been satisfied with the appellation Senors. It simply didn't fit. It had no meaning. It might have had meaning elsewhere, but not for an Oakland club. Raiders-now there's a solid name. It conjures images of Sir Frances Drake and Blackbeard. It's pithy, provocative, and fits easily into a newspaper headline."
Tribune columnist Ray Haywood suggested in his column that if the club keeps changing names, there will be enough Oakland area fans in Acapulco to hold a Raiders pep rally.
Miss Davis was not bitter about the name change and still planned on attending every home game shouting “Ole!” after every first down.
“Raiders is a nice name. I don't care that they discarded my name. I want everyone to be happy. I'm just sorry Senors caused so much satisfaction. I've been kidding so much since the contest I'm actually relieved that they changed the name.”
Perhaps the public would have learned to accept and love the Senors name; it could have been possible, but after a modest 6-8 maiden season, the club went 3-25 in their next two seasons playing out of three stadiums between San Francisco and Oakland. Crowds were no bigger than 13,000 per game, and a name change would have most likely arrived sometime soon.
Raiders GM Chet Soda added the following statement after the end of the 10-day naming saga.
“We certainly appreciate fans' interest in our club. Public sentiment disapproves of 'Senors’. We hope everyone will like Raiders as much as we do.”
After 63 years, three Super Bowl championships, and legions of fans all over the country. I think many people liked the name Raiders.
Follow all of Marc’s stadium journeys on Twitter @ballparkhunter and his YouTube channel. Email at Marc.Viquez@stadiumjourney.com