Professional sports fans love handing out nicknames. I think it brings us closer to the players we love – makes them friends that we can hang out with. I don’t think it’s much different than referring to ourselves as part of our favorite team by saying things like “man we sucked today” and “next season we will be awesome” (I’m a Browns fan if you can’t tell). Some of these nicknames are purely awesome and some are so bad they’re amazing, and here are the 11 best NFL player nicknames.
11. Beast Mode
NFC Championship – San Francisco 49ers v Seattle SeahawksComing out of the University of California, Marshawn Lynch was known as a tough, hard-nosed runner that would take it you every week, but he had a rough start in the NFL. A couple decent, but overrated, seasons in Buffalo and some legal troubles, Lynch was traded to the, at the time, lowly Seattle Seahawks in 2010. It was under former USC Head Coach Pete Carroll that Lynch became Beast Mode. His tough-as-nails mentality and preternatural ability to break tackles broke records held by Shaun Alexander and won the Seahawks a Super Bowl. Why Beast Mode? Because the record for loudest crowd noise was broken, twice, when Lynch scored touchdowns. Folks, that’s seismic activity – like an earthquake!
10. Broadway Joe
Joe Namath has one of the most controversial legacy in sports. He is a Hall of Fame quarterback that, well, was not really that great of a quarterback, but no one will ever, ever deny Joe Namath his nickname. His public persona was larger than life with his fur coats, parties, jewelry, and constant media attention – so pretty much a precursor to Terrell Owens. Broadway Joe was the perfect quarterback for the NY Jets. He was as big as the city, inconsistent enough for constant media attention, a ladies man, and, in the end, he won big games.
9. The Bus
Jerome Bettis’s career can be summed up in one stat. Total Yards: 1 Touchdowns: 3. Week 1 of the 2004 season against the Oakland Raiders The Bus ran for one yard and three touchdowns. Now, his career had many games with a lot more yards, but his rushing style was always a short yardage brawl that would allow Bettis to destroy defensive linemen and break tough, long runs. The Bus played for 13 seasons (3 with the Rams and 10 with the Steelers) finishing his career with 13,662 yards and 91 touchdowns and 6th on the NFL’s rushing yard leaders.
8. Air Coryell
There’s no highlight video of Don Coryell throwing long touchdown passes or breaking tackles. Don was a coach, but his contributions to professional football were as big as any coach including names like Lombardi, Walsh, and Shula. The creator of the one-back formation that later became the Shotgun formation, Coryell rebelled against the traditional I-formation, with two back and the quarterback under center, and his teams threw the ball like mad. Nicknamed Air Coryell for his contributions to the passing game at the collegiate and professional levels. Coryell was the first coach ever to win 100 games as a college and NFL coach. Coaching the St. Louis Cardinals from 1973 to 1977 and the San Diego Chargers from 1978 to 1986, Air Coryell is often credited as the man who invented the modern NFL with his touch on every NFL team’s playbook.
7. Weapon X
Philadelphia Eagles Safety Brian Dawkins was the man. For 16 seasons, the safety known as Weapon X (after Wolverine from the X-Men) was the toughest guy on the field any given Sunday and an icon off the field. Regularly offering advice to teammates and troubled players off the field, Dawkins would turn into an animal on the field. Known as a ferocious hitter and playmaker, Weapon X had 41 interceptions and 27 sacks to finish off his career. The only safety close, Rodney Harrison with 40 interceptions and 25 sacks. Brian Dawkins will forever be an icon of professional sports.
6. 26 sacks in one season
Not many fans would know that Deacon Jones is actually David Jones, but his nickname, the Deacon, became his identity on and off the field. Also nicknamed The Secretary of Defense, Jones is considered one of the greatest defensive players ever and former Redskins Head Coach George Allen called him “The Greatest Defensive End in Modern Football.” But “The Deacon” was coined himself. “”Football is a violent world and Deacon has a religious connotation. I thought a name like that would be remembered,” Jones told the Los Angeles Times. Deacon Jones would finish his career with 173.5 sacks including a 26-sack season in 1967.
Without a doubt, Walter Payton is the greatest running back in the history of the NFL. Payton wore his nickname, Sweetness, as a badge of honor. One reporter said “he runs so sweet it gives me cavities just watching him. With a nickname like Sweetness, you need to be a great, and Payton was, in fact, a badass. His playing style – Payton never ran out of bounds. His philosophy of “Never Die Easy” informed his playing style by always delivering punishment before going down. Playing for the Chicago Bears for 13 seasons, Payton rushed for 16,726 yards and 110 touchdowns in his career.
4. The Refrigerator
In the realm of odd nicknames, Sweetness is pretty odd, but it’s William “The Refrigerator” Perry that takes the cake. The Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles Defensive Lineman became known as The Refrigerator for his large size (6’2 335). Perry was a very good defensive lineman finishing his career with 29.5 sacks in his ten year career, but it was his work as a fullback that made him a fan favorite. After his NFL career was over, Perry was still a fan favorite as he participated in wrestling events, hot dog eating contests, and music videos.
3. Mean Joe Greene
Charles Edward Greene was a defensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1970s, but it was his contributions to the best defense in the NFL, The Steel Curtain, that earned Greene the nickname Mean Joe Greene. Where his nickname came from is a lot less exciting than the defense he played; it was his college’s nickname, North Texas State “Mean Green.” Mean Joe Greene’s intensity and hardworking mentality won the veterans on the team early, and his play earned him his legacy. He became the first player to record a fumble, fumble recovery, and an interception in a Super Bowl.
2. Prime Time and Neon Deion
The only player on the list with two nicknames that are equally awesome, Deion Sanders was one of the best, if the best, corners in the history of the NFL. The only crack against his play, he hated tackling. But when you run a 4.27 40-yard dash, record 53 touchdowns, and have hands as good as any wide receiver, you don’t need to tackle. Sanders is a Hall of Fame Cornerback, but he also played Wide Receiver, Running Back, Punt Returner, and Kick Returner during his NFL career winning 2 Super Bowls (with the Cowboys and 49ers). He became known as Prime Time during his NFL career since he always played bigger during Prime Time games, but it was during his two-sport career that Sanders became Neon Deion. The first player to ever score a home run and a touchdown in the same week, the two sport athlete was an amazing football player and a pretty good baseball player even playing in a World Series with the Atlanta Braves. Oh, yeah, and I forgot to mention that, unlike Michael Jordan, Sanders played both sports at the same time.
1. Minister of Defense
The best NFL player nickname of all time goes to the toughest defensive player of all time, Reggie White. Finishing his incredible career with 1,112 tackles and 198 sacks, White was a nightmare at Defensive End for quarterbacks. Going to 13 Pro-Bowls and being the best Defensive Lineman ever wasn’t enough for White, so he became an ordained minister and opened an Evangelical Church – thus his nickname, The Minister of Defense. For 15 seasons, The Minister of Defense was an icon of professional sports with community service, leadership, and the toughest play on the field.