There is one thing about today’s topic that I think everyone can agree on – and that is, throughout the history of professional football, there have been a lot of players who have had some great nicknames. Indeed, from the infancy of the NFL to the present, many players have been/are recognizable by their nickname alone.
Coming up with a top 10 list, given the number of potential candidates, is about as subjective and effort as there is. My top 10 likely will not be your top 10. But that’s what makes this so much fun.
Certainly, by limiting this to just the top 10 nicknames, a number of great ones will be left out. So in order to expand this a bit, I decided to break it up into two categories. This week we will do the top 10 nicknames from the pre-modern era (prior to 1970). Next week, we will present the top 10 nicknames from the modern era. In instances where a player’s career spanned the two time frames, I included them in the era in which they spent the bulk of their career and/or enjoyed their most success.
And now finally, a qualifier. I did not necessarily base my selection of a nickname on how successful of a career the player had. Instead, I tried to focus more on the intrigue of the nickname – in some cases, the history behind it, and for some, I just liked the sound of it! So let’s get started
Lou “The Toe” Groza, played 21 seasons for the Cleveland Brown’s from the late 1940s to the late 1960s. He was one of the top place kickers of his time, leading the league in field goals made six times and field-goal percentage five times. Although he was also an outstanding offensive lineman, his accomplishments as a “straight on” place kicker always defined him and prompted the nickname. Back in the day, he could have abandoned his last name. All you had to say was Lou “The Toe” and everyone knew who you were talking about.
Eugene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb was an outstanding defensive tackle who played 10 seasons in the NFL with the Colts, Rams, and Steelers. He was also widely known as a character off the field. Tragically, he died in 1963 from a heroin overdose.
Lipscomb was named to the All-Pro team twice and was one of the most feared defensive lineman in the league. Standing 6’6” tall and weighing over 280 pounds, he was a “mammoth” lineman relative to the standards at the time. I don’t know why, but the combination of his nickname with his last name just seems to have a certain enduring ring to it. Or perhaps it’s just me harkening back to my days trying to be “Big Daddy” while playing backyard football with my friends in the early 60s.
Daryle Lamonica, the quarterback out of Notre Dame, played for the Buffalo Bills and more notably, the Oakland Raiders during the 1960s and early 70s. He was named to the All-Pro team twice and in 1969, he led the league in a number of passing categories. Two years earlier, he helped take the Raiders to Super Bowl II, where they lost to the Green Bay Packers.
Lamonica was considered THE downfield passer of his day. He loved to throw deep and seemed to have a penchant for hitting on long touchdown passes late in the game to bring his team back from the brink of defeat. That ability of course was most prominently on display in 1969 in the infamous “Heidi” game against the New York Jets. It was that reputation that prompted famed broadcaster Howard Cosell to dub Lamonica as “The Mad Bomber”. Although it probably wouldn’t be a politically correct nickname today, back in the late 60s, it was a very appropriate description of Lamonica.
Wide receiver, Lance Alworth, had an 11 year Hall of Fame career in the NFL. For nine of those years, he played for the San Diego Chargers, where he made the All-Pro team six times.
He had a knack for turning a rather short reception into a long touchdown and for making spectacular leaping catches despite his small size. He was extremely fast and ran gracefully, almost effortlessly. It was the combination of all those traits that prompted many people to say that he looked like a deer bounding around on the field. So it’s not surprising that he got tagged with the nickname “Bambi”. While that nickname is not one that you would expect to be associated with an NFL football player, in Alworth’s case, it is most fitting and worthy of inclusion on this list.
Fred Williamson was a cornerback who played in the NFL for eight seasons with the Steelers, Raiders, and Chiefs. He was named to the All-Pro team twice.
Williamson was noted for his aggressive style of play and his hard hitting ability. Because of that, at some point Williamson was given the nickname “The Hammer”, a name that he embraced and wasn’t shy about promoting. He played in the first Super Bowl with the Chiefs and it is that game for which he is probably most recognized.
Prior to that Super Bowl with the Packers, Williamson suggested that he was going to essentially deliver “The Hammer” to the Packer wide receivers and boasted that he would knock both of them out of the game. As it turned out, it was Williamson who got knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter with a concussion.
Many a football fan can recall watching the NFL Films feature on Super Bowl I and the part where they show Williamson being carried off the field on a stretcher. There were several shots of Packer players on the sidelines commenting about the fact that “The Hammer” (Williamson) was down, no doubt enjoying the irony of the situation. Regardless, there can’t be many nicknames more suitable for a cornerback.