Nicknames. They can fire you up or make you run cold with fear. They evoke inspiration and dread. They give depth to some of the greatest, and mediocre players who have ever played the game of football. Just say the names, “Slot Machine” and “Nigerian Nightmare” and you’ll know I’m right. But, if those don’t work for you, then try out the other eight nicknames on this top ten list.
Wes Welker - TE/ Patriots
No matter how he got the name, the fact is it’s the name that was intimidating and daring, a name that fit his persona very well. This man –an NFL version of Jack Kerouac meets Paul Hornung- was so daring and outrageous that, while playing for the Duluth Eskimos, he once recited poetry outside during a heavy Chicago snowfall on a crowded street corner…in his underwear.
Arguably the game’s most dangerous defensive back of his time, Richard Lane opted to take the night train to games rather than fly with the rest of his team, for fear of flying. That is how he got the nickname, “Night Train.”
Or, maybe he got it because his opponents would feel so rested after waking up from a train-rocking induced slumber after getting their butts planted in the ground from one of his signature clothesline hits.
Or, was it because he hit with the force of a train? By the way, Night Train is the man solely responsible for the NFL banning the clothes-line tackle.
David "Deacon" Jones - NFL Hall of Fame
This fearsome defensive end played hard and went after his opponents with the ferociousness of a head-butting, big horned sheep, the electricity of a bolt of lightning, and the warrior spirit of Crazy Horse. But, Deacon is such a warm and fuzzy sounding name. I suspect David Jones got the nickname because his opponents got religion and found God after getting hit by him.
Born Charles Edward Greene, “Mean Joe” was a quiet and self-unsure kid. But, it was his enormous size and insatiable eagerness to tackle anyone with a football that earned him the nickname “Mean Joe.” He carried that name with him into the NFL on account of his volcanic outbursts before and after tackles. How mean was he? He was mean enough to deliver eleven bell-ringing sacks in 1972 during the playoffs. In one post-season game alone against the Houston Oilers, he sacked the Oilers QB five times. That’s how mean he was. He was also mean enough to play 181 of 190 career games. Now, that’s mean!
Bettis was so big and powerful, he earned TWO nicknames. He was so powerful, in fact, that he would drag defenders with him down the field and into the end zone, like a big gold and black bus carrying little kids to school. Bettis also loved bowling, which is funny because he would also knock over defenders like bowling pins…or a big horned sheep knocking over Bambi.
The most honored defensive end in the history of the NFL, White earned the nickname “Minister of Defense” in reference to his ministry and his accumulated career 198 QB sacks. In 1987 alone, as an Eagle, White sacked QBs 21 times. His career as a Packer was capped by sacking Patriots' QB Drew Bledsoe five times during Super Bowl XXX. He went to the Pro Bowl 12 times.
Johnston got his nickname from Cowboys' backup QB Brandon Laufenberg. Laufenberg says that Johnston, in the offensive meetings, stood “like a moose in a herd of deer.” Yeah, you know what else he did like a moose? He rutted the opposing defenses by battering his way to the end-zone with 22 career rushing TDs, and 294 career receptions for 2,227 yards at 7.6 yards per catch. He also rushed for 753 yards on 232 carries, averaging 7.4 yards per carry. Johntson went to one Pro Bowl and won three Super Bowls with the Cowboys. Bullwinkle would be proud.
Most fans aside from Chiefs fans may not know him like we know Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, or Emmitt Smith. Heck, he only played six years and retired. Bad knees and concern for his own health led to him hanging it up. However, he got those bad knees rushing 1,246 times for 4,897 total yards at an average of 3.9 per carry and 40 touchdowns, as well as receiving 42 times for 294 yards at 7.0 yards per reception. Oh, he was from Nigeria. But more importantly, he was huge, fast and one heck of a nightmare for opposing defenses. The numbers don’t lie.
Though it was not used during his NFL career, Troy Aikman was given this nickname by his high school coach because he was cool as ice under pressure. The first time I saw Aikman play was in the ’92 NFC Championship Game against San Francisco (I ignored football for a few years). He was in the pocket with defenders wrapping him up and he still planted his back foot and rifled the ball to Alvin Harper. With strength and accuracy, he helped lead the Cowboys to three SB victories. That’s three rings covered in ice. Now, that’s cool.
Wes lines up in the slot and cuts through defenses like a hot knife through butter. He’s fast, small and built like a Mac truck. Trying to catch him in the slot and on the run is like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Speaking of lightning, Wes was on the Chargers' 2004 roster out of training camp, but was cut after Week 1 of the regular season. How’s that for a flash of genius, San Diego?
But wait, there’s more. Wes then played for Miami and broke several NFL and team records for receiving and kick-off/punt returns in addition to actually kicking and punting the ball itself. One such highlight is his 77 receptions in a game against the Patriots in 2006. Anyhow, Belichick liked what he saw and brought Welker on over to the Patriots. Cha-ching!