Megatron, Run DMC, The Refrigerator – you probably think this is a nostalgic article paying homage to hip hop icons, classic children’s TV or favourite things found around your house.
But this is very much a sports article, mixed in with a bit of pop culture. American football is one of the most popular sports on the planet and the stars who light up the NFL on a weekly basis some of the world’s most colourful characters.
From icons like Joe Montana, Joe Namath and Peyton Manning to current leading lights like Christian McCaffrey and Bill Belichick, the brutal and brilliant US sport is and has been home to some breathtaking talents.
Every team in the NFL has a moniker, while throughout history iconic and cult players have had some brilliant, bewildering nicknames bestowed upon them.
We’ve picked out 25 of the best…
AIR MCNAIR – STEVE MCNAIR
With 31,304 passing yards in a career that lasted 12 seasons, it’s not hard to see why McNair was given his nickname. His passing yards place him 44th all time.
It was originally bestowed upon his older brother Fred, but Steve assumed it when his career began to take off in college.
McNair was shot and killed by his mistress, Sahel Kazemi, in a murder-suicide on July 4, 2009.
ALL DAY OR AD – ADRIAN PETERSON
Simple nickname, sublime player. All day was given this name because, well, he would run all day.
Still in the league with the Washington Redskins, it was with the Minnesota Vikings he made his name, falling nine yards shy in 2012 of breaking the single season record of 2,105 set by Eric Dickerson.
With 107 career rushing touchdowns, he is only three behind the legendary Walter Payton in fifth.
BEAST MODE – MARSHAWN LYNCH
Beastly nickname, monstrous player. Lynch gave himself the title once during an interview, and it stuck – unlike defenders to him, who he would shake off like cavemen trying to tame a T-Rex.
It was appropriate, due to his powerful running style and ability to break tackles. Rushed for over 10,000 yards and 84 touchdowns – placing him 16th in history, winning Super Bowl XLVIII with the Seattle Seahawks.
BIG BEN – BEN ROETHLISBERGER
Bestowed because of his imposing size – he’s a gargantuan at 6ft 5in and 109kg – and a nod to London’s iconic clock.
Big Ben has lived up to the name on the field too, throwing for 56,545 yards (sixth most all-time) and 363 TDs (seventh) and winning two Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers. At 37 though, and with his 2019 season ended by injury, is time ticking down on Big Ben’s career?
BILL BELICHEAT – BILL BELICHICK
Arguably the game’s greatest-ever coach, although a certain Vince Lombardi might have something to say about that. Belichick has orchestrated all of the New England Patriot’s six Super Bowl wins – over an 18-year period.
But there has also been controversy too, with Belichick besmirched by the ‘Spygate’ and ‘Deflategate’ scandals.
BROADWAY JOE – JOE NAMATH
Namath was known for his showmanship and what better show than New York’s famous Broadway?
It was in the City That Never Sleeps that Namath made his name, soaring to fame and fortune with the Jets, whom he led to victory in Super Bowl III. Already a celebrity before the win, Namath established himself as both a sports and pop culture icon, parlaying his notoriety into success as a talk show host, actor and broadcaster.
THE BUS – JEROME BETTIS
Named quite simply because he was built like a bus. And Bettis drove through NFL defences like one too, carrying tacklers on his back.
At 5ft 11in and 116kg, Bettis was a weapon, rushing for 91 touchdowns, his 13,662 yards the eighth-most in history. In a fairytale ending to his career, The Bus drove off with a ring when the Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
DWIGHT HICKS AND THE HOT LICKS – DWIGHT HICKS AND SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
It’s a mouthful, but it’s also brilliant. And they didn’t call the 49ers’ defensive secondary Dwight Hicks and the Hot Licks, led by Hicks in the team’s Super Bowl heyday of the 1980s, just because it rhymed.
Hicks, Ronnie Lott, Carlton Williamson and Eric Wright were second to none – winning 12 Super Bowls between them.
FITZMAGIC – RYAN FITZPATRICK
Even though Fitzpatrick’s career as a journeyman quarterback hasn’t exactly provided Harry Houdini levels of wonder and awe, he has pulled several rabbits out of hats.
He is the only player in NFL history to throw a touchdown pass with eight different teams, in a career spent with the St. Louis Rams, Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans, Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and currently the Miami Dolphins.
THE SAMOAN HEADHUNTER – TROY POLAMALU
In a nod to his Polynesian ancestry, Polamalu was nicknamed the Samoan Headhunter for his fierce and ferocious play as a strong safety in a 12-year career spent in Pittsburgh.
One of the most instantly recogniseable NFL players with his flowing, curly locks, Polamalu may have looked pretty but he was a tough player, who won two Super Bowls as well as the 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
GREG THE LEG – GREG ZUERLEIN
An easy name to give a kicker, and one of the best to ever play the game. Zuerlein’s completion percentage for field goals (83.3) makes him one of the most accurate in history while his longest effort – 61 yards playing for the Rams against the Vikings in 2015 – is the joint fourth-longest ever made.
JOE COOL – JOE MONTANA
The name alludes to Vince Guaraldi’s song of the same name and paints an apt picture of not just one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, but also one of the calmest. In Super Bowl XXIII, the 49ers were down 16-13 with 3:10 left against the Bengals, on their own eight-yard line.
Trying to settle team-mates down, Montana turned to Harris Barton and said: “Hey, isn’t that John Candy?,” before proceeding to drive the Niners 92 yards, rifling the winning 10-yard touchdown pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left.
THE HUMAN JOYSTICK – DANTE HALL
The return specialist has the sixth-most return yards in NFL history (12,397). His coach at the Kansas City Chiefs, Dick Vermeil, bestowed the nickname upon him for his elusiveness and stunning ability to avoid tackles.
Also nicknamed ‘X-Factor’, he scored 12 return touchdowns in his career, fourth most. He also added nine receiving TDs.
LIGHTS OUT – SHAWNE MERRIMAN
Earned due to his reputation of being a hard hitter, Lights Out is a former San Diego (now LA) Chargers linebacker and was on course for a glittering career when he won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award in his first season.
He recorded 39½ sacks in his first three seasons and made three Pro Bowls before injury curtailed his fiendish progress.
MATTY ICE – MATT RYAN
In reference to Atlanta Falcons QB Ryan’s ability to forge long game-winning drives under pressure. But, the name actually dates back to Ryan’s days at Penn Charter School in Philadelphia and later Boston College.
He was a polite, geeky guy off the field and was younger than team-mates, but on the field was said to have ice in his veins.
MACHINE GUN KELLY – JIM KELLY
The Bills of today are a much different team to the one that lit up the NFL with Machine Gun Kelly – named after the infamous American prohibition gangster – firing darts all over the field.
Inside the top 30 for passing yards (35,467 – 27th) and TDs thrown (237 – 28th) Kelly sizzled during 11 seasons in freezing cold Buffalo. He established them as one of the NFL’s most dangerous offences, taking them to four straight Super Bowls – although they lost every single one.
MEGATRON – CALVIN JOHNSON
A Mega name for a Mega talented player, who retired too young, aged 30, in 2015. Johnson was nicknamed after the Transformers character, leader of the Decepticons, but there was nothing deceptive about the wide receiver’s talent.
He broke Jerry Rice’s single-season record of 1,848 receiving yards in 2012, and still holds the record today, at 1,964 yards.
MINITRON – JULIAN EDELMAN
Small in stature but big in heart and a furtive weapon for Tom Brady over the years, miniscule Minitron might have been taken in the seventh round of the 2009 draft while monstrous Megatron went No2 overall in 2007.
But he has made a gigantic contribution to the Pats’ success in the last decade. Edelman was named MVP of Super Bowl LIII and is the most productive receiver in post-season history behind Jerry Rice.
THE MINISTER OF DEFENSE – REGGIE WHITE
White won Super Bowl XXXI with the Green Bay Packers, fitting considering packing up quarterbacks was what he did, sacking them 198 times – second most ever behind Bruce Smith’s 200.
The name is a reference to his Christian ministry as an ordained Evangelical minister but, on the field, White was anything but holy as he sacked quarterbacks for fun and was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
NIGHT TRAIN – DICK LANE
A nickname so famous that on the list of most career interceptions, Lane – fourth with 68 – is etched in as ‘Night Train Lane’.
One of the coolest nicknames ever, but sadly rumours of a perceived fear of flying and riding a night train to away games while his team flew, are false.
It was actually given to him by former LA Rams team-mate Tom Fears because Lane loved Jimmy Forrest’s 1952 hit “Night Train” which he would often be seen dancing to.
PILLSBURY THROWBOY – JARED LORENZEN
There are plenty of 300 pound players in the NFL – just none who aren’t offensive or defensive linemen. Certainly no quarterbacks – except Lorenzen, who finished his brief career with a Super Bowl ring.
He backed up Eli Manning and won with the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. A giant of a man whose nicknames included: Hefty Lefty, the Abominable Throwman, Round Mound of Touchdown and BBQ (Big Beautiful Quarterback).
Lorenzen died in July this year, aged 38, from heart and kidney problems.
THE REFRIGERATOR – WILLIAM PERRY
“Even when I was little, I was big,” Perry, who at 11 weighed 200 pounds, once said. The 6’ 3”, 350lb defensive linemen nevertheless became a stellar athlete and was picked in the 1985 draft’s first round by the Chicago Bears.
But when defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan initially refused to play him, head coach Mike Ditka used him on offence as a fullback. He even scored a touchdown in Super Bowl XX, trampling linebacker Larry McGrew as the Bears did likewise to the Patriots in a 46-10 triumph.
RUN CMC – CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY
Every artist needs a nickname and McCaffrey’s fledgling two-and-a-half years as a dual-threat running back has seen him labelled Run CMC, in homage to iconic hip hop act Run DMC.
McCaffrey is already painting quite a picture book career for himself, averaging 173.2 yards from scrimmage per game this season, putting him on pace to beat Chris Johnson’s record of 2,509.
He could become just the second non-QB to become MVP in the last 13 seasons.
THE SHERIFF – PEYTON MANNING
One of the game’s greatest ever signal callers, Manning was renowned for calling his own plays at the line of scrimmage.
He was the law for many years during his playing days, winning two Super Bowls and is at the top of most stats lists. Owns the third most passing yards (71,940) after being surpassed by Brady and Drew Brees in recent seasons, with both men also chasing down his leading mark of 539 TDs.
SLINGIN’ SAMMY – SAMMY BAUGH
Primarily known for his passing prowess, Slingin’ Sammy led the league in completion percentage seven times, passing yards four times and an NFL record six times in passer rating.
He led the Washington Redskins to the pre-Super Bowl NFL Championship twice, in 1937 and 1942. But Baugh was also a revered all-rounder who played adroitly as a high level punter and defensive back.
TWO POINT TUPA – TOM TUPA
No casual NFL fans will have heard of Tupa. Not many outside of Cleveland have either, but he is the owner of his own bit of NFL history – the man who scored the first two-point conversion.
Tupa took advantage of its legalisation in the 1994 season. As the holder on extra points, he picked the ball up and ran for the conversion in a game against the Bengals, and did so three times that season.
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