Best Nicknames in NFL History
Where in the wide world of football would we be without nicknames?
Without "Ha Ha" and "Hopalong," "Big Daddy" and "The Fridge"? Oh, and "Jack Splat," too?
We’d be stuck with a bunch of Dicks. That’s what. And lots of plain ol’ Charlies, Daves, Franks and Eds.
All together now — borrr-iiing!
The best nicknames cling to an athlete like stickum. They’re as creative as a fumblerooski, more fun than a Bill Belichick glare. And the really, really good ones have stories behind them that are as memorable as the monikers themselves.
And nowwwww, the top 50 nicknames in NFL history.
#50-49: Charlie (Chuckin' Charlie) Conerly and Sammy (Slingin' Sammy) Baugh
Careers: Conerly — 14 years (1948-61)
Baugh — 16 years (1937-52)
Teams: Conerly — New York Giants
Baugh — Washington Redskins
Charlie Conerly starred at quarterback in college at Mississippi, where he was known as "Chunkin' Charlie," the Southern-fried version. That changed in New York, where he went on to become "Chuckin' Charlie," a one-time NFL Most Valuable Player and league champion.
Fun fact: Giants fans were known to tweak the name on bad days, especially early in his career.
A few years earlier, a Texas sportswriter gave Sammy Baugh his name at Texas Christian University because of his ability to throw a baseball. Surprise, surprise. The quarterback also starred at third base there.
"Slingin' Sammy" went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Washington Redskins in the NFL.
#48: Adrian (A.P./A.D./All Day) Peterson
Career: 12 years (2007-present)
Teams: Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, New Orleans Saints, Washington Redskins
Adrian Peterson prefers the first two initials of his first name, which his father gave him as a child. He also goes by "All Day" because "he always had energy to burn and was always in motion," according to a biography.
Hey, when you have run for more than 15,000 yards from scrimmage in your career, you can be called almost anything you please.
#47: Ha'Sean (Ha Ha) Clinton-Dix
Career: 5 years (2014-present)
Teams: Green Bay Packers, Washington Redskins
Thought C-D's first hame was Ha Ha, didn’t you? Well, haha, gotcha.
"See, my first name is pronounced 'Ha-SEEN,' but some people said 'Ha-SHAWN,' " Clinton-Dix set the record straight at the 2014 NFL scouting combine. "So some people got mixed up a lot, and my grandmother gave me that name when I was about 3 or 4 years-old, and everyone’s been calling me that since then."
#46: Alonzo (Skip/Dr. Death) Thomas
Career: 6 years (1972-77)
Teams: Oakland Raiders
Alonzo "Skip" Thomas got the name "Dr. Death" for his many dirty, um, felonious, uh, illegal, er, vicious hits.
Coach John (I Wrote A Book!) Madden credited teammate Bob (Boomer) Brown, who thought the colorful cornerback resembled the Dr. Death cartoon character.
Actually, Dr. Death would have fit any number of Raiders cheap-shot artists in his era. Ain’t that right, Jack (The Assassin) Tatum?
#45-44: David (Deacon/The Secretary of Defense) Jones and Dan (Deacon Dan) Towler
Careers: Jones — 14 years (1961-74)
Towler — 6 years (1950-55)
Teams: Jones — Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers, Washington Redskins
Towler — Los Angeles Rams
David Jones couldn’t wait to get to the quarterback. Or fame, for that matter. So the sack master tagged himself.
"Football is a violent world, and Deacon has a religious connotation," Jones said. "I thought a name like that would be remembered."
Towler was a part-time member of the famed Bull Elephant Backfield and a full-time student while he pursued a theology degree. He also led the team prayer before games. Hence, the name.
At 26, "Deacon Dan" gave up a potential Hall of Fame career to become a Methodist minister in Pasadena, Calif., $12,400 pay cut and all.
#43: Howard (Hopalong) Cassady
Career: 8 years (1956-63)
Teams: Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles
Howard Cassady earned the nickname "Hopalong" as an Ohio State freshman halfback in the 1952 season opener. Local sportswriters reported the future Heisman Trophy winner "hopped all over the field like the performing cowboy," a reference to the character Hop-Along Cassidy (William Boyd) of movie fame.
Hopalong came off the bench to score three touchdowns in his debut that day, and the rest was nickname history.
#42-40: Andy (The Red Rifle) Dalton, Ron (The Polish Rifle/Jaws) Jaworski and Sam (The Rifle) Etcheverry
Careers: Dalton — 8 years (2011-present)
Jaworski — 15 years (1974-89)
Etcheverry — 2 years (1961-62)
Teams: Dalton — Cincinnati Bengals
Jaworski —Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs
Etcheverry — St. Louis Cardinals
Much, much better than "The Crimson Carbine," "The Polski Popgun" and "Slingshot Sam." Don’t you think?
#39: Gary Glick (The Bonus Pick)
Career: 7 years (1956-61, 1963)
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins, Baltimore Colts, San Diego Chargers (AFL)
In 1956, the down-on-their-luck Steelers won a lottery for the best college senior in the country.
So they chose the unheralded Gary Glick over Lenny Moore, a future Hall of Famer. Or "Gary Stick The Bonus Pick," as local sportswriter Bob Drum chided the front office.
A decision with rhyme, not reason, one could say.
#38: Tyrann (The Honey Badger) Mathieu
Career: 6 years (2013-present)
Teams: Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans
Tyrann Mathieu got his name at LSU because his uncanny knack for big plays at any number of positions. His career 11 forced fumbles are the most in Southeastern Conference history.
Then Mathieu refused to accept a pay cut from the Arizona Cardinals and became "The Money Badger."
#37: Terrell (T-Sizzle/Hacksaw) Suggs
Career: 16 (2003-present)
Teams: Baltimore Ravens
In pregame introductions, Terrell Suggs announced himself as "T-Sizzle" from "Ball So Hard University," a reference to the Jay-Z song. The gag went viral, and it wasn’t long before the linebacker owned trademark rights to the name. He proceeded to make a small fortune off it though internet sales.
The lesser known nickname also was that of a late uncle, one that Suggs had tattooed on his right leg.
Sorry, there’s room for only one "Hacksaw" here, but more on that later.
#36: Tom (The Bomb) Tracy
Career: 9 years (1956-64)
Teams: Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins
New York glamor boy Frank Gifford might have gotten the hype in the late 1950s, but Tom Tracy was every bit his equal as an explosive triple-treat halfback.
"Tom the Bomb" was a 5-foot-9, 205-pound grenade with the firing pin pulled — he could go off any way, any time. Just ask the 49ers — boom! — whose defense he blew up the 1957 West Division playoff game.
#35-34: Casey (Big Snack) Hampton and Damon (Snacks) Harrison
Careers: Hampton — 12 years (2001-12)
Harrison — 7 years (2012-present)
Teams: Hampton — Pittsburgh Steelers.
Harrison — New York Jets, New York Giants, Detroit Lions
Jets defensive line coach Karl Dunbar heaped "Big Snack" on Damon Harrison as a motivational ploy. But Casey Hampton had the moniker first, so head coach Rex (Sexy Rexy) Ryan shortened it.
Together, that was 673 pounds worth of KFC and Rice Krispies treats, I’ll have you know.
#33: L.G. (Long Gone) Dupre
Career: 7 years (1955-61)
Teams: Baltimore Colts, Dallas Cowboys
In seven seasons, the original Cowboy had one touchdown run longer than 12 yards. "Long Gone," very cool. "Almost But Not Quite Long Gone," not cool at all.
#32: Luke (Captain America) Kuechly
Career: 7 years (2012-present)
Teams: Carolina Panthers
Luke Kuechly wasn’t much into nicknames, but teammate Cam Newton left him no choice.
"He has the smile, the charisma, the lawyer look, but he has like a demolition mentality," Newton explained to ESPN. "He's like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But in my eyes, he'll always be Captain America because he makes every play."
Hey, works for me.
#31: Gale (The Kansas Comet/Galloping Gale) Sayers
Career: 7 years (1965-71)
Teams: Chicago Bears
Is there an unknown rule that great Bears halfbacks are required have great nicknames, too?
Gale Sayers burst on the scene as a Kansas sophomore, when it took him all of six games to set the Big Eight single game rushing record (283 yards). Local media were quick to break out "The Kansas Comet" reference.
Longtime Bears broadcaster Jack Brickhouse often referred to Sayers as "Galloping Gale" (as in carries the mail) after he turned pro. Sadly, the Kansas Comet came and went before we knew it.
#30: James (Silverback/Deebo) Harrison
Career: 15 years (2002-2017)
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots
Teammate Bryant McFadden once said this of James Harrison: "He’s an animal, a straight beast. Unstoppable." Silverback did him justice.
Harrison also bore a close resemblance to actor Tommy Lister, the muscle-bound badass in the "Friday" comedy. The Pro Bowl edge rusher with freakish strength did pretty much whatever he damn well pleased on the field. And that was no joke.
The name also fit Harrison in the weight room, where he was an all-time workout warrior.
#29: Andre (Bad Moon/Spider-Man) Rison
Career: 12 years (1989-2000)
Teams: Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders
After Andre Rison scored a touchdown late in his career, he pretended to shoot a web with his hands like the Spider-Man comic book hero.
ESPN name-dropper Chris Berman finally hit one when he called the wide receiver "Bad Moon" after the Creedence Clearwater Revival oldie. Remember when Rison's girlfriend, rapper Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, burned down his $2-million mansion in Atlanta?
#28: L.C. (Hollywood Bags) Greenwood
Career: 13 years (1969-81)
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers
According to the best and most flamboyant defensive end not in Canton, L.C. Greenwood kept his bags packed in anticipation of a Hollywood offer that would never come.
Isn’t it time for a shoe company to bring back his trademark gold high-tops?
#27-26: Ron (The Dancing Bear) McDole and Alex (Big Al/Mr. Twinkletoes) Karras
Careers: McDole — 18 years (1961-78)
Karras — 12 years (1958-62, 1964-70)
Teams: McDole — St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Oilers (AFL), Buffalo Bills (AFL-NFL), Washington Redskins
Karras — Detroit Lions
How many 6-foot-4, 265-pound athletes go by "Dancing Bear" in any sport, for gosh sakes? But when Redskins quarterback Sonny Jurgensen saw Ron McDole perform some fancy footwork on the dance floor at a bar in Georgetown, Md., he couldn’t resist.
In an odd sort of way, the name fit McDole on the field as well. Four decades after retirement, he still owned the NFL record for most interceptions (12) by a defensive lineman.
Like McDole, the 245-pound Alex Karras was a different breed in more ways than one. His coaches called him "Mr. Twinkletoes" because he resembled a mad duck on the field. Otherwise, the defensive tackle was just plain "Big Al" to most.
#25: Deion (Prime Time/Neon Deion) Sanders
Career: 14 years (1989-2000, 2004-05)
Teams: Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens
"Prime Time" came courtesy of a high school buddy, the result of many pickup basketball games that Deion Sanders played in peak television hours. He was known as "Neon Deion" at Florida State, where he wore a tuxedo to his final game.
Hey, any ego this enormous required two nicknames.
#24-23: John (Riggo/The Diesel) Riggins and Jerome (The Bus) Bettis
Careers: Riggins — 14 years (1971-79, 1980-85)
Bettis — 13 years (1993-2005)
Teams: Riggins — New York Jets, Washington Redskins
Bettis — Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers
Jerome Bettis got his famous name while at Notre Dame. When the fullback carried a bunch of defenders into the end zone one day, the student body made the connection. Then Bettis took his talents to the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose team colors were yellow and black. Bingo!
(Some Baltimorons have tried to stick Gus Edwards with the same name, but no, stop it, please, that doesn’t work. There’s only one Bus — and there will never be another. Got that, people?!)
John Riggins was the 230-pound engine that drove the Washington Redskins offense. At the end of practices, coaches would run the Riggo drill, which called on the Super Bowl XVII MVP to carry the ball on 10 consecutive run plays.
Riggins required no introduction to internal combustion. This was the free spirit who once told Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner to "loosen up" at a public dinner before he fell drunk on the floor. He sent her a dozen roses the next day.
#22: Calvin (Megatron) Johnson
Career: 9 years (2007-15)
Teams: Detroit Lions
Lions veteran Roy Williams was so blown away by his teammate in the 2007 season that he named the rookie wide receiver after the Megatron robot in the live action "Transformer" movie.
Then, Calvin Johnson proved him to be accurate with machine-like numbers — an average of 81 pass receptions and nine touchdowns over nine seasons.
Too bad Megatron played for so many mega-losers all those years.
#21: William (The Refrigerator/The Fridge/Biscuit) Perry
Career: 10 years (1985-1994)
Teams: Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles
In 1981, Ray Brown told William Perry, his Clemson teammate, "Man, you’re about as big as a refrigerator" when Brown attempted to squeeze into an elevator with the very, very large defensive tackle and their laundry.
Some Bears players preferred "Biscuit," because Perry was only that much short of 350 pounds, of course.
#20-19: Joe (The Jet) Perry and Hugh (The King) McElhenny
Careers: Perry — 16 years (1950-63)
McElhenny — 13 years (1952-64)
Teams: Perry, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Colts
McElhenny — San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, Detroit Lions
Along with John Henry Johnson and Y.A. Tittle, also future Hall of Famers, Joe Perry and Hugh McElhenny teamed up in the "Million Dollar Backfield" of the 1950s. San Francisco 49ers public relations chief Dan McGuire coined the name because of their collective talent.
Except that, as Hugh "The King" once told me, "Most people thought that we were paid a million dollars every year, but that was how much the team made in ticket money for each game. I doubt the four of us made a million dollars put together in our careers."
#18: Gene (Big Daddy) Lipscomb
Career: 10 years (1953-1962)
Teams: Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers
The 6-foot-6, 290-pound-or-so load was tagged early in his career. He was among the first monstrous linemen in pro football — except with the athleticism of a linebacker.
As legend had it, Gene Lipscomb would grab a handful of opponents then weed them out until he found the ballcarrier. Lucky for them, "Big Daddy" was known to be a big teddy bear, too.
#17: Christian (The Nigerian Nightmare) Okoye
Career: 6 years (1987-92)
Teams: Kansas City Chiefs
Christian Okoye was a dream running back for the Chiefs offense and an absolute nightmare for defenders who were supposed to get his way.
The late starter out of Enugu, Nigeria, stood 6-foot-1, 253 pounds and was clocked at 4.45 in the 40-yard dash.
Okoye got his nickname courtesy of the media in 1989, his career season. He rushed for 1,480 yards and 12 touchdowns on 370 carries.
#16: Ed (Too Tall) Jones
Career: 15 years (1974-89)
Teams: Dallas Cowboys
Nobody knows exactly who’s responsible for the famous name, only that the person was a Tennessee State player who remarked that his 6-foot-9 teammate was "too tall" to play football.
Too Bad. The mystery man deserves some serious royalty money. The handle became so popular that "Too Tall" landed TV commercials, a part in "Diff'rent Strokes" and even movie roles because of it.
More like Too Lucky, if you ask me.
#15: Walter (Sweetness) Payton
Career: 13 years (1982-97)
Teams: Chicago Bears
Walter Payton’s all-around game was so sweet that it came with a warning from the American Dental Association. But as this one proves, not all nicknames are all what they appear to be.
Payton went by "Bubba" as a kid and "Little Monk" and "Spider-Man" at Jackson State. In the book "Walter & Me," older brother Eddie said acquaintances came up with "Sugarman," which morphed into "Sweetness" because of his shrieky voice.
Payton absolutely loved the name. And why not? How often can an athlete and his game be described in one printable word?
#14: Rich (Tombstone) Jackson
Career: 7 years (1966-72)
Teams: Oakland Raiders (AFL), Denver Broncos (AFL-NFL), Cleveland Browns
Rich Jackson was one of the baddest Broncos in team history, not to mention one of the most feared edge rushers in football before injuries sacked his career.
"Tombstone is the termination of life," Jackson explained in Broncos Magazine. "The stone is the symbol of death and, when you put the tomb and the stone together, that’s the end of the road."
Uh, you gonna argue with the man?
#13: Willie (Willie O'Wisp) Galimore
Career: 7 years (1957-63)
Teams: Chicago Bears
To many defenders, Willie Galimore really was a ghost-like figure. They didn’t always see him blow through a hole and speed up field. They could almost hear him do it — whooooosh!
If not for injuries and his premature death in a car accident, Galimore would have had a more distinguished career. He was ahead of his time, a halfback who could run inside, outside or even spread out wide as a pass receiver.
How much would this guy be worth with the no-touch rules of today?
#12: Joe (Broadway Joe) Namath
Career: 13 years (1965-77)
Teams: New York Jets, Los Angeles Rams
In the mid-1960s, Joe Namath emerged as the handsome face of the new breed of mod, cocksure athletes. The quarterback even appeared amid the Broadway lights on a 1965 Sports Illustrated cover — as a rookie, no less — copies of which found their way into the Jets locker room one day.
Needless to say, some veteran teammates were highly unimpressed, with one large exception.
"(Sherman Plunkett is) sitting over there, looking at this thing straight across the locker room." Namath said of his right tackle in an SI interview. "I look at him, he looks at me and a big smile breaks out on his face. He says 'Old Broadway, Broadway Joe.' That was the first time I ever heard that."
And not the last, that’s for sure.
#11: Frank (Bucky/The Catawba Claw) Pope
Career: 4 years (1964, 1966-68)
Teams: Los Angeles Rams
The flanker out of tiny Catawba College (North Carolina) played barely two seasons — he scored 10 touchdowns as a rookie — but he left us with one of the best nicknames ever.
#10: Elroy (Crazy Legs) Hirsch
Career: 9years (1949-57)
Teams: Los Angeles Rams
In the Chicago Daily News recap of a Wisconsin victory, Francis Powers wrote, "Hirsch ran like a demented duck. His crazy legs were gyrating in six different directions all at the same time during a 61-yard touchdown run that solidified the win."
So was born one of the crazy good nicknames in sports history.
Elroy Hirsch also was crazy popular in his day. After his Hall of Fame football career, he moved up the road to Hollywood and starred in movies: "Crazylegs," "Unchained," "Zero Hour!"
#9: Marshawn (Beast Mode) Lynch
Career: 11 years (2007-present)
Teams: Buffalo Bills, Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders
The term had its roots in the video game world in the early 2000s, when it meant to power up. It worked quite well for this maniacal workhorse back as well.
According to Marshawn Lynch, a Pop Warner coach was the first to call him a "beast" as a kid. Such an attention-grabber was the name in his Seahawks career, Lynch cashed in yugely off trademark rights.
After all, his nickname was "Money" in college, right?
#8: Chuck (Concrete Charlie) Bednarik
Career: 14 years (1949-1962)
Teams: Philadelphia Eagles
Chuck Bednarik was a World War II combat pilot and Hall of Fame center-linebacker, played all but two minutes of the 1960 championship game and literally knocked Frank Gifford into next year. The Giants' star sat out through the 1961 season, so vicious (and legal) was the hit on him.
Yeah, except that Bednarik first got the name because he ... sold concrete in the offseason?
#7: Lance (Bambi) Alworth
Career: 11 years (1962-72)
Teams: San Diego Chargers, Dallas Cowboys
While Chargers teammate Charlie Flowers watched Lance Alworth deke and dodge and dart away from evil defenders like a frightened deer one day, he had a fit of absolute genius.
"You’re Bambi," Flowers told the future Hall of Famer after practice.
Yep, Alworth even had brown eyes.
Has any nickname been more spot on ever?
#6: Jack (Hacksaw) Reynolds
Career: 15 years (1970-84)
Teams: Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers
After his Tennessee team lost for the first time in the 1969 season, the half-crazed linebacker cut an old Chevrolet Bel Air in half with a hacksaw and 13 blades in an extreme fit of frustration. That’s right — frame, drive shaft and all.
"I came back to school and I was very upset," Jack Reynolds said of the eight-hour job. "I had to do something to relieve my frustration."
The "Hacksaw" handle spread so quickly — c'mon, how can one not like a name like that? — few ever knew that John was his first name.
Hall of Fame nickname, Hall of Fame story.
#5: Frank (Fudgehammer) Nunley
Career: 10 years (1967-76)
Teams: San Francisco 49ers
Teammate Stan Hindman believed there were two Nunleys, actually. There was the guy who was sweeter than chocolate off the field, he said, then there was the middle linebacker who struck with hammer-like force on it.
Frank Nunley was overshadowed by the likes of Dick Butkus, Mike Curtis and Tommy Nobis at the position, but he was a unanimous Nickname Hall of Fame selection, nonetheless.
#4: Jack (Jack Splat/Count Dracula) Lambert
Career: 11 years (1974-84)
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers
Know that photo of the Jack Lambert glare, the one without his front fangs? Well, that’s all you needed to know about the middle linebacker.
Jack Splat could de-cleat all backs,
His team would spare no mean
Yep, I can just hear Count Dracula say with a wag of his right index finger, "That’ll cool your ass, Mother Goose!"
#3: Harold (Red/The Galloping Ghost) Grange
Career: 8 years (1925, 1927, 1929-32)
Teams: Chicago Bears, New York Yankees
Some gave the legendary Grantland Rice credit for the name, but Red Grange said Chicago Herald-Examiner sportswriter Warren Brown actually came up with it while the Illinois back ran roughshod in college.
This moniker was more than just another fabled name. In the days before television, "The Galloping Ghost" had a widespread mystique about it, one that did much to sell the NFL in its infancy.
#2: Joe (Mean Joe) Greene
Career: 13 years (1969-81)
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers
"Mean Joe" didn’t just define the ridiculously athletic 6-foot-4, 275-pound tackle who often played in a full-blown rage. It also signified an abrupt culture change for a woebegone Steelers franchise that didn’t win squat until he came along.
Joe Greene got the name at North Texas State, whose teams were called the Mean Green. It followed him to Pittsburgh, where the greatest Steeler of 'em all was the heart of a defense largely responsible for four Super Bowl titles.
(Quick — what was Mean Joe’s real first name? If you guessed Charles, you probably cheated.)
#1: Dick (Night Train) Lane
Career: 14 years (1952-65)
Teams: Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Cardinals, Detroit Lions
The No. 1 nickname of alllll tiiiiime checks every box in boldface. Context. Rhythm. Originality. Even historical value.
Nobody called him Dick or Richard. He was to forever be "Night Train," still one of the all-time great cornerbacks more than 50 years after his retirement, the first to combine size and freakish athleticism at the position.
There’s even a bit of delicious mystery here.
Some believe Night Train got the moniker because of a fear of airplanes, except that he was a frequent flyer in the military. Others say it was because of his many hellacious hits. (Check out his clothes-line decapitation of Rams halfback John "The Jaguar" Arnett for further proof.)
More likely, it was Rams teammate and music aficionado Tom Fears who made the connection to "Night Train," the 1952 jazz hit. Indeed, if one listened closely enough, you could almost hear Night Train Lane rollin’ up the tracks.