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The Best NFL Nicknames of All Time From “Slash” to “Sweetness”

Megatron. The Sheriff. Night Train. Beast Mode. Who has the best NFL nickname of all time? We've ranked the 20 most memorable monikers in league history.

NFL nicknames are part of football lore, a kind of shorthand for those who follow the game closely to refer to their favorite players.

Pro Football Network has ranked the top-20 NFL nicknames of all time, and one thing is clear — for a nickname to stick, the player in question almost has to be legendary.

Among the 20 players we’ve listed, 15 are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Ten were on the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, which was presented in 2019. (However, neither qualification applies to two of our two three best nicknames.)

Which players have the NFL’s best nicknames? Here are the most memorable monikers in league history.

Top 20 NFL Nicknames of All Time

20) QB Kordell Stewart | “Slash”

After throwing a Hail Mary pass in college that earned the nickname the “Miracle at Michigan,” Kordell Stewart landed the moniker “Slash” upon entering the NFL thanks to his ability to play quarterback, running back, and wide receiver.

With Neil O’Donnell entrenched as the Pittsburgh Steelers starting QB, Stewart primarily ran the ball and caught passes early in his NFL career. In the 1996 playoffs, he punted in a game against the Buffalo Bills before converting a 4th-and-1 quarterback sneak against the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX.

Stewart remains the only rookie in NFL history to take a snap under center in a Super Bowl.

19) RB Red Grange | “The Galloping Ghost”

Called “The Galloping Ghost” for his elusiveness and speed, Red Grange went on barnstorming tours after his college career at Illinois, helping to save the NFL and professional football.

Arguably the greatest college football player of all time, Grange won NFL titles with the Chicago Bears in 1932 and 1933. He was also the first football player to appear on a box of Wheaties cereal.

18) S Tyrann Mathieu | “Honey Badger”

Tyrann Mathieu earned the “Honey Badger” for his toughness, persistence, and patch of blonde hair. While he initially attempted to distance himself from the nickname upon joining the NFL, Mathieu said in 2019 that he’d grown accustomed to the label.

A three-time first-team All-Pro, Mathieu is now entering his 12th pro campaign and third year with the New Orleans Saints.

17) WR Lance Alworth | “Bambi”

One of the best receivers in league history, longtime San Diego Chargers pass catcher Lance Alworth got his “Bambi” nickname thanks to his slender build, smooth strides, and youthful face.

From 1963 to 1969, he posted seven consecutive 1,000-yard campaigns, earning first-team All-AFL honors in the first six. In 1966, Alworth secured the AFL’s receiving triple crown, leading the league in catches (73), yards (1,383), and TDs (13).

16) DE David Jones | “Deacon”

Hoping to become a star and worried that “David Jones” was too common a name, Jones gave himself the nickname “Deacon” after joining the Rams in 1961.

“Football is a violent world, and Deacon has a religious connotation,” Jones said in 1980. “I thought a name like that would be remembered.”

Of course, Jones hardly needed a sobriquet to go down in the history books. One of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL annals, Jones helped coin the phrase “sack” while posting 173.5 of them during his career, third-most in league history.

15) QB Kenny Stabler | “The Snake”

Kenny Stabler grabbed his nickname long before his NFL career began in 1970. His high school coach called him “Snake” after watching him run through opposing defenders, and the term of endearment stuck.

A four-time Pro Bowler, Stabler earned the 1974 NFL MVP award before winning Super Bowl XI with the Las Vegas Raiders during the 1976 campaign.

14) DE Ed Jones | “Too Tall”

Some nicknames don’t need much explanation. Ed “Too Tall” Jones was a 6’9″ defensive end — you get the picture.

One of the tallest players in NFL history, Jones anchored the Cowboys’ defense for 15 seasons (sandwiched around a brief retirement to pursue a pro boxing career).

Jones, who never missed a game during his active career, finished with 106 sacks.

13) QB Joe Montana | “Joe Cool”

Joe Montana became one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks thanks to his ability to stay calm under pressure. Two of the three-time Super Bowl winner’s nicknames — “Joe Cool” and “The Comeback Kid” — are testaments to his poise.

However, those weren’t the only nicknames that Montana earned during his playing career. Some of his San Francisco 49ers teammates reportedly called him “Bird Legs” because of his small calves, while Montana was also referred to as “Golden Joe.”

12) DT Joe Greene | “Mean Joe Greene”

“Mean” Joe Greene’s label only extended to the field of play. Off the field, the longtime Pittsburgh Steeler was considered a warm person.

But you didn’t want to get in his way after kickoff. Greene, enshrined in the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, recorded 77.5 sacks from the Steelers’ interior and won Defensive Player of the Year awards in 1972 and 1974.

In 1979, he starred in the Clio-winning “Hey Kid, Catch!” Coca-Cola ad, which is widely considered one of the best commercials of all time.

11) WR Calvin Johnson | “Megatron”

Defensive back Roy Williams spent eight years in the NFL, but his most memorable contribution might be coining Calvin Johnson’s “Megatron” nickname. Williams gave Johnson the moniker after seeing the Detroit Lions wide receiver’s size and speed. Megatron is the primary antagonist of the fictional “Transformers” universe.

A rare athlete at 6’5″, 240 pounds, Johnson set the NFL single-season receiving record by posting 1,964 yards in 2012, which still stands today. He ranks second all-time in receiving yards per game (86.1) among WRs.

10) RB Elroy Hirsch | “Crazylegs”

Elroy Hirsch earned his “Crazylegs” nickname in 1942, securing the label due to his odd running style.

One report from the Chicago Daily News said the Chicago Rockets halfback’s “crazy legs were gyrating in six different directions, all at the same time, he looked like a demented duck.”

Hirsch — who also served in the U.S. Marine Corps, worked as a film actor, and was the GM of the Los Angeles Rams — was a fan of his nickname.

“Anything’s better than ‘Elroy,'” Hirsch said later in life.

9) QB Joe Namath | “Broadway Joe”

Who came up with “Broadway Joe”? Joe Namath credits his New York Jets teammate, offensive tackle Sherman Plunkett, who gave the high-profile QB the nickname after seeing a July 1965 Sports Illustrated cover with Namath under the lights.

Namath finally made good on his nickname in 1983, when he appeared on Broadway as a cast replacement in a revival of “The Caine Mutiny Court Martial.”

8) RB Jerome Bettis | “The Bus”

Contrary to what Michael Scott might’ve told us on “The Office,” Jerome Bettis isn’t called his “Bus” nickname because he’s afraid to fly. It’s because the Hall of Fame running back measured in at a studly 5’11” and 252 pounds, giving him a powerful running style and absurd tackle-breaking ability.

Bettis owes his “Bus” title to a writer at Notre Dame’s student newspaper, and the Fighting Irish faithful soon started chanting “Nobody stops the Bus!” during his games.

Bettis ranks ninth all-time in rushing yards (13,662) and is tied for 11th in rushing touchdowns (91).

7) CB Deion Sanders | “Prime Time”

Deion Sanders was a successful two-sport athlete in the NFL and MLB, but his “Prime Time” nickname comes from basketball.

A teammate gave Sanders the name after he scored 37 points in a high school game. The moniker stuck and made sense for Sanders as he developed into one of the NFL’s greatest cornerbacks in what became a Hall of Fame career.

6) DE Reggie White | “Minister of Defense”

Reggie White was one of the NFL’s best all-time pass rushers, but he also became an ordained Baptist minister as a high school senior. After spending two seasons with the USFL, White made his NFL debut in 1985 and dominated from the jump.

White registered at least 11 sacks in each of his first nine pro campaigns, winning Defensive Player of the Year honors after posting 21 sacks in 1987. He won another DPOY award after somehow putting up 16 sacks as a 37-year-old in 1998.

“The Minister of Defense” and his never-ending production defied all logic.

5) QB Peyton Manning | “The Sheriff”

Think of Peyton Manning in your mind’s eye. You’re probably envisioning him at the line of scrimmage, the play clock winding down, barking out signals, and using hand motions to audible the play and confuse the defense.

That’s what ESPN commentator Jon Gruden was thinking when he described Manning as “The Sheriff” in a 2009 Monday Night Football broadcast, referring to the then-Indianapolis Colts quarterback’s ability to “lay down the law.”

A first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer in 2021, Manning ranks third all-time in passing yards (71,940) and touchdowns (539).

4) CB Dick Lane | “Night Train”

One of the best defensive backs in NFL history, Dick “Night Train” Lane posted 14 interceptions in his 1952 rookie season with the Rams, setting an NFL record that still stands to this day.

He acquired his “Night Train” nickname that same year after a Los Angeles Times article noted Lane’s penchant for dancing whenever his teammate, Tom Fears, would play the song “Night Train” by Jimmy Forrest.

Lane is fourth on the NFL’s all-time interceptions list, a seven-time first-team All-Pro, and was unanimously selected to the league’s 100th Anniversary Team in 2019.

3) RB Marshawn Lynch | “Beast Mode”

Marshawn Lynch nicknamed himself during the 2007 pre-draft process. When a reporter asked him to describe his attitude on the field, the soon-to-be first-round pick exclaimed, “Beast mode!”

Three years later, having been traded to the Seattle Seahawks, Lynch turned Beast Mode into the “Beast Quake.” Making his first career playoff appearance, Lynch famously broke nine tackles on a 67-yard touchdown run in the Seahawks’ upset win over the Saints.

2) DT William Perry | “Refrigerator”

While William “Refrigerator” Perry started 118 games as a defensive tackle over his 10-year NFL career, he might be best remembered for his occasional work as a fullback for the Chicago Bears.

At 335 pounds, “The Fridge” was undoubtedly cut out for blocking work, but he also scored touchdowns.

In 1985, he scored three times (two rushing, one receiving) during the regular season before posting another rushing TD in Chicago’s blowout Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots. Perry remains the heaviest NFL player to score a Super Bowl touchdown.

1) RB Walter Payton | “Sweetness”

The NFL’s best nickname belongs to one of the sport’s greatest players.

Walter “Sweetness” Payton retired as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher (16,726) and rushing touchdown scorer (110). He played in 198 out of a possible 199 career games and posted at least 100 rushing yards in 77 of those contests.

A five-time first-team All-Pro, Payton won the 1977 MVP award and earned a Super Bowl trophy after the 1985 campaign.

While he was an outstanding player, Payton was arguably a better person, and the NFL’s Man of the Year Award is named in his honor.