What's Your Name Again: Top 15 Nicknames in NFL History
The NFL has always been identified as a sport played by big, tough, and conditioned men similar to professional wrestling.
Just like wrestling, nicknames have been tagged by reporters, fans, other players, or themselves to provide an identity to a player or a unit.
Nicknames are a tremendous marketing tool to sell tickets, posters, jerseys, and other merchandise.
It also may be used as a psychological ploy to scare their opponents.
I would hate to be a quarterback who is being chased by a defensive man nicknamed "Mean" or a wide-receiver about to be hit by a guy nicknamed "The Samoan Head Hunter." I may throw an interception, fumble or drop a pass.
This slideshow will list the notorious 15 nicknames given to a unit, therefore "Sweetness," "Snake," or "Refrigerator" won't be listed.
Hope you like this list and will comment on nicknames that were omitted.
No. 15: Over-the-Hill-Gang
After arriving from the Los Angeles Rams in 1971, 2002 Hall of Famer George Allen decided he was going to make the Washington Redskins contend with veterans and traded all but one of their first five picks in the '71 draft.
One of the trades brought in their starting quarterback, Billy Kilmer, who was 32 and played for the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints. Kilmer was a keystone to the Redskins and made the Pro Bowl team in '72 and '75.
In another trade, Allen received linebackers Jack Pardee, Myron Pottios, and Maxie Baughan, defensive tackle Diron Talbert, guard John Wilbur and special teams player Jeff Jordan from his former team the Rams. Most of these players were key defensive players on the "Gang."
The Redskins also picked up wide receiver Boyd Dowler, an 11-year veteran with the Green Bay Packers.
The average age of the starters was 31 years old.
Allen's strategy turned the Redskins around as the team improved to a 9-4-1 record in 1971 and finished the 1972 season with an NFC-best 11-3 record. In his seven seasons with the club, Allen and his veterans produced seven winning records, five playoff appearances, and one trip to the Super Bowl.
No. 14: Three Amigos
In 1986, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short starred in a movie named The Three Amigos.
In 1987, the NFL version of the "Three Amigos" was born and it starred Vance Johnson, Mark Jackson, and Ricky Nattiel.
They were not the most talented corps in football—that would have to be their 1987 Super Bowl counterpart the "Posse" (Art Monk, Gary Clark, and Ricky Sanders)—but they were solid.
Due to the movie, and the national attention received from being in the Super Bowl in '86, '87, and '89, this nickname will go down as one of the most popular names for a wide receiving corps.
No. 13: Dome Patrol
The best linebacking corps ever were the late 80s-early 90s unit named the Dome Patrol.
The group consisted of Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson, Sam Mills, Pat Swilling, and Vaughan Johnson.
In 1992, all four linebackers made history by being elected to the same Pro Bowl game.
Over their careers, all four were elected to a total of 20 Pro Bowl games, mostly for the Saints.
No. 12: Orange Crush
Orange Crush was named to identify the 1970s Denver Broncos' stellar defense.The name was derived from their orange jerseys and due to the popular Crush soft drink.
The unit included linebackers Randy Gradishar, Bob Swenson, Joe Rizzo and Tom Jackson, linemen Barney Chavous, Lyle Alzado and Rubin Carter, and defensive backs Billy Thompson and Louis Wright.
This unit was the major reason the Broncos made the Super Bowl in 1977. The linebacking corps were listed in the top 10 of all time.
It was brought back during the late 80s, during John Elway's Super Bowl run, led by defensive men Steve Atwater and Karl Mecklenburg.
No. 11: Earth, Wind & Fire
In 2000 the New York Giants tried to come up with a nickname for a successful offensive unit.
After being drafted as the 11th pick in the 2000 draft, Ron Dayne and the incumbent running back Tiki Barber were dubbed Thunder and Lightning. Dayne became a flop and the nickname became history.
After Barber prematurely retired in 2006, the back position belonged to the big bruising back Brandon Jacobs. He broke the 1,000 yard mark, even though he missed five games, thanks to the five yards per carry.
The five games missed actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The Giants were able to evaluate their other options at running back.
Derrick Ward rushed for over 600 yards in Jacob's absence, an impressive 4.8 yards per carry.
Ahmad Bradshaw also impressed management in his limited exposure, by running for 190 yards on 23 carries.
Entering 2008, the Giants were very confident with their three backs and one of the best offensive lines in football.
The Giants score 427 points, third best in the NFL, mostly due to the best rushing attack in football. Earth, Wind & Fire ran for an average of five yards per carry.
Jacobs (Earth) and Ward (Fire) both broke the 1,000 mark. This was only the fifth time in NFL history that two players from one team broke this mark in the same year. The other teams were the '72 Dolphins, '76 Steelers, '85 Browns, and the '06 Falcons.
Bradshaw (Wind) also chipped in over 300 yards and was now ready for an expanded role in the near future.
The Giants were so loaded in running backs in 2008, they cut a future Pro Bowler named Ryan Grant.
Unfortunately, the trio lasted only three years as Ward took the money and ran down south to sunny Florida to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Giants are now left with Earth and Wind or more like Ashford and Simpson, with Jacobs complaining in recent years.
No. 10: Air Coryell
Like this list, top defenses have dominated the NFL's history and are remembered by all fans.
But in 1981, prior to the birth of Bill Walsh's "West Coast" offense, the Dan Fouts-led San Diego Chargers lit up the scoreboard like a pinball machine.
Air Coryell was named after head coach Don Coryell and because of Fouts' passing ability.
Fouts threw for over 4800 yards and finished his Hall of Fame career passing over 43,000 yards. Dan was the third player to surpass 40,000 yards.
The receiving corps were led by two players who broke 1,000 yards. Wide receiver Charlie Joiner caught 70 passes for 1188 yards and tight end Kellen Winslow caught 80 passes for 1075 yards.
Unlike the Dan Marino-led Miami Dolphins, the Chargers offense also included a running game, led by Chuck Muncie who ran for 1144 yards and 19 touchdowns. James Brook also chipped in 854 total yards working alongside Muncie.
Even though the Chargers had the premier offense during Coryell's era (1978-1985), they were not able to make the Super Bowl.
The 1981 team was listed as one of the five best teams to not win a Super Bowl.
No. 9: Fearsome Foursome
This nickname seems to come straight out of Stan Lee's imagination. Fearsome Foursome has superhero ring to it, but in the 1960s, quarterbacks probably felt like the Los Angeles Rams defensive line were more like super villains.
The notorious line included Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy, Merlin Olsen, and Rosey Grier. This line, under head coach George Allen, led the Rams from perennial loser to a powerhouse.
As Woodstock neared, the players above, which was dubbed the best in history by Dick Butkus, were replaced one member at a time until George Allen left the Rams for the Washington Redskins.
The "New Fearsome Foursome" was formed in 1973, led by mainstay Merlin Olsen and Jack Youngblood. Both players have plaques residing in Canton, Ohio. Fred Dryer and Larry Brooks rounded out the quartet.
From 1973-1979, the Rams won seven division titles.
No. 8: New York Sack Exchange
This nickname began when fans started carry signs to identify their outstanding defensive line unit. It actually started after the unit was invited to ring the ceremonial opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange.
The unit consisted of Mark Gastineau, Joe Klecko, Marty Lyons, and Abdul Salaam. In 1981, they combined for a total of 66 sacks and led the team to their first playoff appearance since Joe Namath's amazing victory in '69.
The unit stayed intact until after the 1983 season. Salaam was traded to the San Diego Chargers.
Mark Gastineau was an outstanding pass rusher in the early to mid-80s, which his defense was only equaled by Lawrence Taylor.
Gastineau made the Pro Bowl five times from '81-'85, which include winning the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 1982. In '83, Mark totaled 19 sacks and followed up that season by breaking the record for most sacks in a season with 22.
Joe Klecko is currently second to Gastineau for total career sacks by a NY Jet. His career peaked in 1981 by having 20.5 sacks and winning the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
The unit's attitude and confidence can be summed up by the following quote from Marty Lyons:
“It wasn't a question of whether we'd get to the quarterback, it was how many times."
No. 7: Big Blue Wrecking Crew
In the early 80s, Bill Walsh improved one of the best offensive schemes, dubbed the West Coast offense, which is still being used today.
This offense was a similar to Air Coryell, which emphasized passing over running. Quick slant passes and pass action plays were the norm and made the San Francisco 49ers the team of the decade. It also didn't hurt that the key playmakers were the top at their positions, led by Joe Montana, Steve Young, Roger Craig, Jerry Rice, and John Taylor.
But just like the comics, Walsh had an archenemy and that was Bill Parcells. It was Joker vs. Batman or Lex Luthor vs Superman. Parcells' defense would be Walsh's biggest challenge, and it made for the best football games of all-time when these two coaches were facing off.
Prior to being called the Big Blue Wrecking Crew, Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, Brad Van Pelt, and Brian Kelley were simply called "Crunch Bunch" and terrorized opponents from '81 through '83. This "Bunch" would form the foundation for BBWC.
The "Crew" gained prominence by knocking out Walsh's 49ers in the 1985 Wild Card games 17-3 and became to the forefront as one of the top defenses in history the next season.
In the championship season, George Martin, Leonard Marshall and Jim Burt were grouped with the LT, Carson, Carl Banks, and Gary Reasons to complete the best 3-4 defense in history. They barely allowed an average of 80 rushing yards per game and 14.8 points per game.
The Big Blue Wrecking Crew continued their success until they peaked in 1990, winning their second Super Bowl against another offensive juggernaut the Buffalo Bills.
No. 6: Hogs
The Washington Redskins' offensive line, considered one of the largest and strongest in football history, originally consisted of Joe Jacoby, Russ Grimm, Mark May, George Starke, and Jeff Bostic.
The "Hogs" helped to lead the Washington Redskins to four Super Bowl appearances of which they won the title three times.
During the "Hog" era under Joe Gibbs, this unit blocked for Joe Theismann, Jay Schroeder, Doug Williams, and Mark Rypien. All four except Schroeder won the Super Bowl title.
This line also opened holes for many running backs during their time together. Backs John Riggins, George Rogers, Gerald Riggs and Earnest Byner all enjoyed success due to this line.
According to fellow member Mark May, no one lived up to the "Hog" persona more than Grimm: "He was a blue collar stiff and proud of it." In his 2005 memoir, May recalled a Christmas party at his house in 1982: "I iced down a keg of beer and stationed it on the landing between the first floor and basement. Russ turned the landing into his headquarters for the evening. He grabbed a chair and a Hog shot glass (a 60-ounce pitcher) and parked his butt on the landing next to the keg. Except for an occasional trip to the bathroom, we didn't see Russ on the first level all night."
That sums up why fans loved and felt connected to these linemen.
No 5: Greatest Show on Turf
The nickname derives from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey moniker, "The Greatest Show On Earth" and began by ESPN's Chris Berman. Eventually "Turf" replaced "Earth" due to the playing surface in St. Louis.
The offense was designed by offensive coordinator Mike Martz and featured unrelenting aerial attack and a potent ground game.
During 1999-2001, the success of the Rams' offense netted three NFL MVP honors and one Super Bowl title in 2000. The Rams also set a new NFL records for total offensive yards in 2000, with 7,335 total yards and team passing yards with 5,492.
Out of the six players who made up this unit, it is possible that three of them will be elected to the NFL Hall of Fame.
Running Back Marshall Faulk was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2011. Faulk won the MVP award in 2000, by breaking Barry Sanders' record of most yards from scrimmage. Marshall had an unbelievable yards per carry of 5.5 to net 1,381 rushing yards and added 1,048 yards from the air. He became the second player in history to rush and receive over 1,000 yards in the same year.
Quarterback Kurt Warner took over the helm after Trent Green was injured in a preseason game in 1999. Talk about the NFL's version of Gehrig replacing Wally Pipp.
Warner lit up defenses to a tune of 41 touchdowns and 4,353 passing yards. His completion rate was 65% and his quarterback rating of 109.2 was the third highest (behind Joe Montana and Steve Young) at the time.
Due to his accomplishments with the Rams and finally the Arizona Cardinals, Warner will find room in Canton.
Wide Receiver Isaac Bruce should also follow Warner to Ohio. Bruce had over 15,000 receiving yards and over 1,000 receptions.
In 1999, the Rams drafted a wide receiver who would complement Bruce's style. Torry Holt was drafted sixth in the '99 draft and became the only receiver to post 1,300 yards in six consecutive seasons and also set a record for most consecutive seasons of 90+ catches (2000-2005).
The other two wide receivers were excellent role players. Ricky Proehl brought leadership and experience while youngster Az-Zahir Hakim was one of the featured punt returners during his time with the Rams ('98-'01).
No. 4: Monsters of Midway
The original moniker was given to the dominant Chicago Bears teams of the early 1940s. But it was reborn due to the Bears' stellar defense in the mid-80s.
From '84 through '88 no defense was better than the "Monsters of the Midway." The 1985 defense is still considered the best of all-time.
Not only were they dominant, but they were cocky, hated, and loved by all fans.
Buddy Ryan's 46 defense was an innovative defense designed to confuse and put pressure on the opposing offense, especially their quarterback. A hyper-aggressive variant of the 4-3 defense, the 46 dramatically shifted the defensive line to the weak side, with both guards and the center "covered" by the left defensive end and both defensive tackles.
This front forced offenses to immediately account for the defenders lined up directly in front of them, making it considerably harder to execute blocking assignments such as pulling, trapping and pass protection in general. Moreover, the weak side defensive end would be aligned one to two yards outside the left offensive tackle, leaving opposing tackle 'on an island' when trying to block the pass rush.
Another key feature of the 46 is that both outside linebackers tend to play on the strong side of the formation. The linebackers line up behind the linemen somewhere between one and three yards from the line of scrimmage.
The primary tactic is to rush between five and eight players on each play, either to get to the quarterback quickly or disrupt running plays; although dropping some players back into pass coverage after seemingly indicating that they will blitz is another method of creating confusion. Buddy Ryan would use all of these rushers to out-man and overwhelm the offense.
The popularity reached the sky with the recording of the "Super Bowl Shuffle" and the Super Bowl victory in 1985 with a 15-1 record.
No. 3: Purple People Eaters
"Meet at the quarterback" was the motto used by the Purple People Eaters from the late 1960s through the late 1970s.
The nickname was derived from a popular song name from 1958. It was also due to the defense's superior play and the color of their uniforms.
The unit with this nickname were DT Alan Page and Gary Larsen and DE Carl Eller and Jim Marshall.
They combined for a total of 19 Pro Bowl selections, with Hall of Famers Page and Eller appearing in nine and six Pro Bowl games, respectively.
The early '70s Vikings remained the best NFL team not to win the ring. If it wasn't for their top defensive line, the Vikings wouldn't have been in the position to have that tag.
No. 2: Doomsday Defense
During the late 1960s-early 1970s, the Dallas Cowboys won four Super Bowl titles and were in the midst of a dynasty.
Original members of the defense were led by Hall of Famer Defensive Lineman Bob Lilly and Defensive Back Mel Renfro.
Lilly was named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1960s and 1970s.
Other top members were Defensive Back Herb Adderly, named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1960s, and linebackers Chuck Howley and Lee Roy Jordan.
Doomsday Defense II ('76-'82) included Hall of Famer defensive lineman Randy "Monster" White. Also on the line was Ed "Too Tall" Jones and All-Decade Team member Harvey Martin.
From 1966 through 1981, the Cowboys finished with more than ten wins each year, except 1967 and 1974 when they won nine and eight games, respectively.
They wouldn't have a losing record until 1986. Pure dominance over two decades, led by their "Doomsday Defense".
No 1: Steel Curtain
The nickname "Steel Curtain" originated in a 1971 contest sponsored by a Pittsburgh radio station to name the defense. There were 17 contest submissions with "Steel Curtain," which was a play off the Winston Churchill phrase "Iron Curtain."
The Steel Curtain's famed front four were "Mean" Joe Green at tackle with Ernie Holmes. The ends were L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White.
Green was the best of the four, winning the Defensive Player of the Year award twice, being selected to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 70s and is in the Hall of Fame.
The peak of the Steel Curtain came in 1976. After starting out the season with a record of 1-4 and losing Terry Bradshaw to injury, the defense stepped up their game to win the remaining nine games.
During those nine games, they allowed an average of 3.1 points, which included five shutout games. Only one team scored in the double digits.
Even though they lost in the AFC Championship game to the Oakland Raiders, the 1976 defense is considered the best of all-time with the '85 Bears.
Eight of the 11 starters were elected to the Pro Bowl and four of them were inducted into the Hall of Fame.