Friendly, fluffy and fierce. Perhaps it’s that incongruity, the image of cats as both cuddly companions and ruthless predators, that has made them so beguiling to so many human cultures over the millennia.
From Egypt’s Old Kingdom – where the goddess Bastet was envisioned as a lioness warrior deity – to modern day, the image of a roaring cat is shorthand for power, a symbol of speed, strength and vitality.
With that in mind, it’s no wonder so many teams in modern-day sports choose cats to symbolize their ferocity and competitive spirit. Here are all 10 major American sports franchises to feature feline logos:
A logo that must have been designed by a cat-lover! The Panthers logo features a melanistic jaguar with its ears pulled back, whiskers flat against the face and mouth agape in a silent roar. It’s all rendered in a simple tri-color scheme that puts the emphasis on the jaguar itself. The message: This is one American big cat (and team) you don’t want to mess with.
Another tribute to the apex predator of the Americas, the Jaguars logo was redesigned prior to the 2013 season, replacing its heavily stylized feline visage with a more naturalistic version. Like its Charlotte-based brother, this big cat is all business.
Detroit is one of the NFL’s oldest franchises, and its regal lion logo hasn’t changed much in 50 years, gaining only resolution and detail as technology made it easier to print and stitch uniforms. The king of the savanna adopts a classic pose, standing on his back feet with both front paws ready to strike. It’s classic, time-honored and unmistakable. The team’s owners chose the lion as a counterpart to the city’s baseball franchise, the Tigers.
The Bengal tiger’s range is more than 8,000 miles and two continents from Cincinnati, so how did a smallish midwestern American city come to be associated with an iconic beast from southeast Asia? The history of the team’s name goes back more than 80 years to a version of the Cincinnati Bengals which predated the NFL. The owners of the new Bengals wanted to honor their predecessors, but mostly the decision to go with “Bengals” came down to the fact that tigers are awesome.
The Tigers are OG: The team’s roots go back to 1894, and when baseball’s American League was established seven years later, the Tigers were one of the eight original charter teams. The immutable franchise has kept the same name and played for the same city longer than any other American League team, with an all-time roster boasting some of the greatest players in the history of the game. While the name remains constant, there have been 23 different iterations of its logo in its 124-year history. During that time, there have been 10 different versions of its namesake tiger, ranging from the cartoonish to the awe-inspiringly realistic.
It’s hard out there for a cat. After decades as the only major sports league sans feline mascot or logo, the NBA finally welcomed a kitty to the family with the arrival of the Bobcats in 2004. The new franchise replaced the recently-departed Hornets, which moved from Charlotte to New Orleans two years earlier. There were eight different versions of the titular cat, from the side-profile primary logos to the head-on alternates like the version above, which was used from 2007 through 2012. Each version retained the same aggressive, snarling face. Sadly, it wasn’t to last. After a decade, NBA legend and franchise owner Michael Jordan successfully petitioned the NBA to revert the franchise name back to the Hornets, kicking the NBA’s lonely kitty to the curb.
I’m admittedly not much of a hockey guy, but the Panthers boast probably the most bad-ass cat logo in all of American pro sports: An alternate version features a head-on image of a leaping panther, claws extended, snapping a hockey stick in half as it charges toward the viewer. The team’s primary logo is unique in eschewing the snarling, fight-ready big cat depictions popular with other franchises, opting instead for an image of the majestic panthera onca with its head proudly held high. If you love cats, you’ll love this logo.
Although the name itself, absent any context, conjures images of mustachioed men being told to take a seat by To Catch A Predator’s Chris Hansen, Nashville’s team is named for the extinct saber-toothed tiger. It might seem odd for a city known primarily for its contributions to music to choose a long-extinct ferocious beast as the face of a local sports team, but there’s a pretty cool story behind the name: Construction crews were excavating a site in downtown Nashville when they unearthed the remains of a Smilodon, best known as a saber-toothed cat, some 30 feet below ground. In 1997, before Nashville’s expansion club played its inaugural season, the team’s owners chose a stylized Smilodon head as the logo and left the team’s name to a vote. “Predators” beat out “Ice Tigers,” “Fury” and “Attack” in the vote, and the team was born.
ORLANDO CITY SC “LIONS”
In a league that has a team named for an energy drink, there damned well better be at least one cat! Thus far, Orlando City Soccer Club’s Lions are holding it down as the league’s only feline-related franchise, but what MLS lacks in cats, it makes up for in badassery. The team logo features a golden lion on a field of royal purple, with the big cat’s mane taking the shape of a stylized Sun to represent the Sunshine State. It’s regal and majestic, the kind of design that might decorate a Lannister throne room.
This list has been dominated by members of the genus Panthera, aka the big cats. Since Charlotte ditched the Bobcats name and logo in 2014, the WNBA’s Lynx remains the only team named after a member of the subfamily Felinae, which includes small- and medium-size cats. The Lynx are the WNBA’s most successful franchise, with four championships and six conference titles in their 19-year-history. Logo-wise, the stylized cat on the team’s jerseys has the distinct tufted ears of its namesake and comes from the “snarling and ready to fight” school of cat-inspired sports logos. Here’s to this cat staying on top.
Written by Nik Bonopartis