Muhammad Ali and the Origin of “What’s My Name?”

January 15, 2009 | Thyrl Nelson

There has been a lot of talk and excitement lately about the Ravens’ infectious “What’s our name?” chant. Coach Harbaugh was asked about it during a press conference this week and deferred the answer to the players if they chose to share it. Harbaugh said only that it’s something that has been special to him for a long time, and that it was pretty special to his dad too.


Ray and Casey had Brendon Ayanbadejo on the other day and asked him about it, and he said that it was in reference to Muhammad Ali. Ali apparently felt disrespected by a couple of opponents in his career, who refused to acknowledge him as Muhammad Ali after changing his name from Cassius Clay. It was speculated that Ali punished Floyd Patterson for 6 or 7 rounds longer than necessary in their first meeting for refusing to call him Ali.


Here’s a clip of the some highlights from the first Ali vs. Patterson fight.


In the more famous incident, albeit against a much less famous opponent, Ali fought Ernie Terrell less than a year and a half after the Patterson incident. After being stripped of his WBA title following his conversion to Islam in 1964, many still regarded Ali as the best heavyweight in the world, and a match up with the reigning WBA champion Ernie Terrell was set to make it official. Leading up to the fight Terrell, like Patterson, refused to call Ali by his new, Islamic surname. And just like Patterson before him, Terrell paid the price. This time in much more embarrassing fashion, as Ali could clearly be seen taunting him in the ring in the late stages of the fight, asking “What’s my name……..What’s my name?”.


Here’s a clip from that fight.



It’s a cool story. Ali was the fiercest of competitors, and perhaps the greatest of all heavyweights. In a season where the “us against the world” theme has been an easy sell it’s the perfect rallying cry too.


I love boxing, but was born too late to have enjoyed the greatness of Ali in real time. He may or may not be the best heavyweight ever, but there’s a lot to admire about Ali. He rope-a-doped opponents into fatigue and finished them late, much like the Ravens have done at times this season. He talked the talk, and then walked the walk to back it up, and maybe most importantly he finished every single jab. His God given abilities were superior to most, but he never took that for granted and never wasted anything in the ring. If the Ravens can approach the remainder of the season with that type of fervor, then their names will be indelibly etched into NFL history. And then everyone will know “What’s their name?”