Joe Namath. “Broadway Joe”. Use them interchangeably. No matter which way you go everybody knows who you are talking about.
Hall of fame quarterback Joe Namath’s 13 year career actually spanned the two eras. While he had his most significant accomplishments in the pre-modern era, the majority of his career was played in the modern era and that is why his nickname was thrown into this week’s topic.
Namath of course is the guy most credited with starting the transformation of professional football back in the mid-1960s when he came out of the University of Alabama in 1964 and signed a huge contract to play for the American Football League’s (AFL) New York Jets. A couple of years later, in Super Bowl III, Namath led his Jets team to a victory over the Baltimore Colts.
Understandably there was a tremendous amount of hype surrounding Namath’s signing with the Jets and the fact that he would be coming to New York City. Namath quickly embraced the city and the “City That Never Sleeps” quickly embraced him. He clearly enjoyed the nightlife and the incessant media attention given to his very high profile lifestyle. The fact that he arrived on the scene at a time when the country was in a cultural revolution didn’t hurt either.
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While Namath was not the type of self-promoter that we see all too often today, he certainly didn’t shy away from attention. Whether it was doing something like a pantyhose commercial, or being photographed going to clubs wearing a full-length mink coat, sporting a Fu Manchu, and surrounded by a number of attractive young ladies, the limelight always seemed to find him.
“Broadway Joe” was the perfect nickname for a guy who, for a time, seemed to own the city. Given the iconic nature of the nickname, it just had to be on this list.
Reggie White, the Hall of Fame defensive lineman, played 15 years in the NFL, most notably with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers. He was a 13 time Pro Bowler and he was selected to the All-Pro team eight times.
White was a dominating defensive lineman and he was particularly known for his fierce pass rushing ability. In 12 of his 15 seasons he registered double-digit sack totals and by the time he retired, he was considered by many to be the greatest pass rusher to ever play the game.
White’s contributions on the field may only have been exceeded by his contributions off the field. He was well known for his Christian ministry work as an ordained evangelical minister (he was ordained at the age of 17). He lived his faith as passionately as he played the game of football. He willingly donated his time, money and support to a variety of causes throughout the community.
White was recognized for having that special leadership ability to get the most out of his defensive teammates. When you combine that fact with his obvious faith leadership skills, what fitting nickname could you possibly come up with for him other than “The Minister of Defense”?
Defensive back Jack Tatum out of Ohio State University played for 10 years in the NFL, nine of which were spent with the Oakland Raiders. Tatum broke in with the Raiders in 1971 and quickly became a stalwart in their defensive backfield.
Tatum also quickly became known throughout the league as one of the fiercest hitters in the league. It was a reputation that actually followed him into the NFL from his college days roaming the field for the Buckeyes. But the reputation was well deserved. He played the game with a ferocious, punishing style.
No one can actually say with any certainty how Tatum acquired the nickname “The Assassin”. Some say that it was given to him while he was in college and that it traveled with him to the NFL. Others say that he was labeled with that nickname after making a couple of high profile hits on wide receivers while playing with the Raiders.
One of those hits of course was the tragic instance where he leveled the Patriots Darryl Stingley when Stingley was about to catch a pass coming across the middle in a 1978 preseason game. The hit severely damaged Stingley’s spinal cord rendering him a quadriplegic for the rest of his life. While it did not appear that the hit was an illegal one at that time, the effect of the hit brought a lot of notoriety Tatum’s way.
Former Raiders head coach John Madden reportedly is on record as saying that Tatum never had “The Assassin” nickname during his playing days. He has maintained that it was only given to Tatum well after the Stingley hit occurred. He essentially suggested that it was an unfair label to put on Tatum just because the result of Tatum’s typical hard-hitting style of play in that instance unfortunately meant that the player was unable to get up.
Wherever, whenever, and for whatever reason Tatum acquired “The Assassin” nickname probably is not all that relevant. What is important is that, although the nickname would certainly have trouble gaining acceptance in today’s climate of political correctness, back in the time frame in which it was supposedly associated with Tatum, it would have been considered a colorful nickname that reflected the violent nature of the game that fans had grown to love.
So, with all due respect to the PC police, “The Assassin” gets ranked high on this nickname list!
This is another one of those nicknames where all you have to do is say the nickname and just about every NFL fan will know exactly who you are referring to. That of course would be none other than the late, great Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton.
Payton enjoyed an exceptional 13 year NFL career, all with the Bears. He was a nine time Pro Bowler and, he was selected to the All-Pro team five times. At the time of his retirement after the 1987 season, he held numerous NFL rushing records.
Tragically, Payton died from bile duct cancer in 1999 at the age of 45. The cancer was prompted by a rare liver disease that Payton had been diagnosed with the previous year.
Early on, after the initial liver disease diagnosis, there was hope that Payton could make a full recovery if he could get a liver transplant. His name was then added to a huge list of people who were awaiting such a transplant.
As was his style, Payton insisted that he not be given any preferential treatment with respect to becoming eligible for a transplant. Unfortunately, the transplant never happened and once he was diagnosed with the bile duct cancer, he no longer was a candidate for the procedure.
Both during and after his career, Payton involved himself in a number of charitable campaigns. Through his own charitable foundation, he supported a variety of causes in the community. After his liver disease diagnosis, Payton lent his support to promoting the idea of organ donorship.
The “Sweetness” nickname is another one where it is difficult to pinpoint the origin of the name. It has been suggested that the nickname came in response to the smooth and graceful (sweet) running style that Payton possessed.
Payton was also known as being a tough, punishing type of rusher, willing to take on a potential tackler head on, as opposed to trying to avoid contact and ducking out of bounds. As a result, some folks suggested that the nickname was actually a way to sarcastically highlight that fearless running style.
Other explanations for the nickname include recognizing the genuinely sweet, cheery disposition that Payton displayed or even relating it to his characteristically high pitched voice. Again, it doesn’t really matter why or how. Pick one and you can’t go wrong.
But for me, I like to think that the nickname embodies the type of person Payton was. He was a very giving individual – to his teammates, to his fans, and most importantly to those around him who were less fortunate than him. What better way to recognize such a person than with the simple nickname “Sweetness”?
Of course that would be Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds, a guy who enjoyed a stellar 15 year career playing for the Rams and the 49ers. Reynolds was a two-time Pro Bowler who had a reputation for being a tough, hard-nosed linebacker. He ended up winning two Super Bowl rings during his time with the 49ers.
Of course, it’s not his NFL resume that led to his nickname. Indeed, the nickname goes back to his college days playing for the Tennessee Volunteers.
Reynolds was an All-American linebacker in 1969 at Tennessee. As the story goes, his previously undefeated team got shellacked, 38 – 0 in a game at Ole Miss. Upon returning back to campus, an extremely angry and frustrated Reynolds went out and bought a hacksaw and a bunch of blades. He then proceeded to spend the next eight hours sawing an abandoned 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air in half!
Now in some versions of the story, it was suggested that he actually sawed his own Jeep in half. My question is – does it really matter? Well, I take that back. If he did saw his own vehicle in half, then I imagine it might have mattered to his insurance company!
But the point is, he SAWED A CAR IN HALF! You have to look pretty hard to find a funnier, more intriguing background story as to how a guy acquired a certain nickname. The sheer absurdity of it makes it almost unbelievable. Yet, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence indicating that this story has ever been refuted. And after all, he was a linebacker. That fact alone should give you reason enough to believe that the story might very well be true!
So, it’s “Hacksaw” that gets my vote as the # 1 nickname of NFL players from the modern era. Which one gets yours?