The New England Patriots head into Sunday's Super Bowl boasting one of the most recognizable team names in professional sports.

However, it is a little-known fact that the team has not always been known by its current name -- and the switch to its now-famous title was the result of an identity crisis 40 years ago. tracked down esteemed NFL historian Joe Horrigan to regale us with the story of how the Boston Patriots came to adopt the New England brand back in 1971, and how the franchise narrowly avoided adopting a name that is far less catchy.

"Things were pretty tough for the Boston Patriots in the early 1970s," Horrigan says. "There was not a lot of interest in pro football in the Boston area and the team had bounced around a number of different sites.

"They were play in the old AFL and when they moved out to Foxborough they were really trying to broaden their reach and become a regional team. At the time most football fans in that area actually supported the NFL’s New York Giants."

Several names were considered by the club owners, with the Bay State Patriots -- based upon Massuchusetts' official nickname -- was strongly considered. However, that idea was scrapped at the last minute, partly because the name didn’t exactly roll off the tongue and partly due to fears that rival fans might label the team the "B.S. Patriots."

The result was the tag of New England, and the decision seems to have had a significant role in shaping the future of the franchise.

"You can really say it was a turning point for the Patriots," Horrigan says. "They have really developed a regional following and been embraced by the New England area. Now they are one of the most famous teams and brands in the world and are playing for another Super Bowl. As name-changes go, it has to be one of the most successful ones ever."

Yet while switch may have played a crucial role in setting up the Patriots’ modern success, its relevance was lost on the players. Of the 12 Patriots asked about the meaning and reason behind the team name at Media Day earlier this week, not one knew about the unusual backstory.

"I didn't know the history behind it," says offensive guard Logan Mankins. "But I think it is pretty cool and it makes sense."

So what about the other name -- the one the team ditched?

"I am glad we are not called Bay State, I think New England sounds a lot better."

Good luck finding anyone who will disagree.


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