Love me some Pro-Football-Reference.com. I mean, not as much as this site (Area Man Saves Job), but it's right up there. Whether you're a diehard fan or a member of the football cognoscenti, PFR is an invaluable resource for pure, unadulterated pigskin knowledge.
For years, one minor and easily overlooked element of the website has fascinated me. Sometimes, when I'm on a player profile page, I am stopped in my tracks by a nickname that is completely foreign to me. Here's a prominent example:
Strange, right? Tom Brady is one of the two most famous athletes in America. How many of those nicknames were you aware of? Curious, I finally reached out to the Sports Reference people to find out how they decide which nicknames make the cut. A representative from the site explained that nicknames are "just a fun bonus" and they don't put "too many strict rules on it." That said, Sports Reference has recently made an effort to only add nicknames that have appeared in multiple sources, "including Twitter, mainstream sport sites or team fan blogs."
It's an understandable practice that befits a site that prides itself on accuracy. Then again, I'm here for the wild, wild west era of Pro-Football-Reference.com nicknames. Consider this a celebration of a potentially bygone era.
Let's get to it.
Tom Brady (Tom Terrific, Touchdown Tom, The Pharaoh, Comeback Kid or Sir)
Lots to unpack here. Let's start with Tom Terrific and Touchdown Tom. These are both unremarkable and nobody outside tabloid headline writers in 2001 use them. I'm similarly dismissive of Comeback Kid. Sir makes some sense, considering Brady's unparalleled bona fides and the fact that he is old enough to be the father of many teammates. The Pharaoh, however, stopped me in my tracks -- and thankfully we found the origin story. It comes from former Patriots linebacker Takeo Spikes, who explained it thusly in 2014:
"I feel like there's levels to this game, and he's achieved the maximum of them all," Spikes said, via the Boston Herald. "I mean, what do you want? You've got a beautiful wife, a beautiful family. He's one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. He's got the rings that prove it. He's got the MVPs. What more could you achieve at this level? I just feel like he's in a league of his own. He's still going. I always admired him because of the edge he had each and every year coming into the season. He always would tell me, 'Hey B, they drafted me in the (sixth) round, man.' That was a long time ago, and he's still got that fire burning in him. As a player, you've got to respect that man."
OK, that's not exactly an explanation, but a pharaoh is a sacred king and Tom Brady is certainly that in New England.
Terrell Suggs (T-Sizzle or Hacksaw)
T-Sizzle, of course, the big man on campus over at Ball So Hard University. Less known is
Hacksaw -- full name Hacksaw Smithers -- a pseudonym Suggs used in 2016 when he portrayed a journalist during a media availability conference call with Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. According to ESPN, Hacksaw was also a nickname for Suggs' late uncle. The name is tattooed on the linebacker's right leg.
Adam Vinatieri (Automatic Adam or Iceman)
Vinatieri's history of clutch kicks in the biggest moments will one day lead to his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (well, it better), but I can't recall ever hearing anyone use either of these nicknames. I can imagine Vinatieri calling himself the Iceman while looking in the mirror, though. Like, when he puts on his suit for the ESPYs or something.
J.J. Watt (The Milkman or J.J. Swatt)
J.J. Swatt is a thing. Been around for years. But The Milkman?
The Milkman never really had a moment, but it's hard to argue with Barwin's logic on either count.
Malcolm Butler (Scrap)
This one is a little weird. According to The Boston Globe, Butler earned the nickname "Strap" during his first rookie minicamp because of his sticky coverage abilities. Teammates mutated the coach nickname to "Scrap", a nod to the undrafted free agent's blue-collar playing style.
He makes things tough [in practice]," said Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. "We get a chance to practice against him quite a bit, and he's competitive, he's physical, he's always near the ball, and he's a good football player."
Tyrod Taylor (T-Mobile)
Fantasyheads go with TyGod, which is, well, aggressive. Taylor has said that T-Mobile is his least favorite nickname, and we get it. No one wants to be connected with America's third-most-reliable cell phone carrier.
Myles Garrett (Superman or Big Foot)
An extensive web search yielded zero connection between Garrett and Big Foot, though one can presume the Browns pass rusher has some gargantuan feet, given the rest of his generous body proportions. Speaking of Garrett's bod, Superman was a nickname earned during his dominant college run at Texas A&M. Let's let Aggies strength coach Larry Jackson explain:
"The only word that usually comes to me is 'Superman.' He has a body that all other men dream of."
Easy there, Lar.
Kiko Alonso (Goldilocks)
You can safely assume this is a nickname Alonso would have no problem disappearing forever. It's connected to an arrest during his college days at Oregon. As legend (and an official police report has it), a drunken Alonso attempted to re-enter a house party, but mistakenly broke into a neighbor's home instead -- then passed out on the couch. The neighbor called 911 and a coach later christened Alonso "Goldilocks" in reference to the fairytale character who enters the unoccupied forest home of three bears.
Andy Dalton (Red Rifle)
Fun fact: For the past five years, I've been trying to get Glowing Gingerman off the ground as a Dalton moniker on this website. It remains a work in progress.
Roberto Aguayo (Mr. Perfect)
Kiko Alonso might have the worst nickname to come from his college days, but Aguayo's nickname carries with it an extra layer of sad irony. True story: At Florida State, Aguayo never missed an extra point in 198 attempts. He was, yup, perfect. He made 88.5 percent of his field goal tries, going 69 for 78. Now he's a camp body.
Jordy Nelson (White Lightning)
Wideouts of the Caucasian persuasion (say that three times fast) have long had a reputation for being possession-type chain-movers, rather than game-changing burners. This stereotype held no water when studying the game of Jordy Nelson.
"When you see Jordy out there, you think, 'Oh well, he's a white wide receiver. He won't be very athletic," Rodgers said on his weekly ESPN Milwaukee radio show in 2011. "I am not sure why he keeps sneaking up on guys."
While we're here, let's knock out a couple more of these race-based nicknames ...
Chris Long (White Thunder)
Michael Bennett (Black Santa)
Did you know that Bennett is known to sign "Black Santa" beneath his autograph? Why exactly Bennett views himself as the African-American Kris Kringle remains hazy, but no need to ask too many questions here.
Doug Martin (Muscle Hamster or Dougernaut)
Just as Dustin Diamond spends his life asking people not to call him Screech, Doug Martin just wants to live in a world where no one refers to him as the Muscle Hamster. We get it; it's a terrible nickname that Martin has repeatedly expressed displeasure over:
Martin has been proactive in his efforts to distance himself from the nickname, but results have been mixed at best. In 2012, he tried to make Douginator a thing, which maybe had a chance when the "Makin' copies!" guy was big on SNL, but wasn't going to fly in the '10s. His follow-up effort, Dougernaut, was somehow even worse.
Eric Berry (The Fifth Dimension)
Another confusing moniker that originated in college, not the NFL. According to this ESPN profile, Berry was called The Fifth Dimension "because what he does on the field is close to impossible to replicate on EA's 'NCAA Football 10' video game." OK. There's also this glowing Bleacher Report profile from that same year titled "The Fifth Dimension," but with no other reference to the nickname in the hundreds of words that followed.
In summation, I give up.
Patrick Mahomes (The Musician, Fatrick or The Gunslinger)
Wow. OK, so The Musician is a reference to Mahomes' improvisational abilities behind center. He plays quarterback like it's jazz, mannnnnnnn. The Fatrick nickname dates back to his early years at Texas Tech, where, I guess, he had a sneaky weight problem? Kids can be cruel. We only accept The Gunslinger when it's in reference to Brett Favre, sorry.
Tavon Austin (Pocket Rocket)
This nickname makes me ... uncomfortable. Let's move on.
Dak Prescott (The Fortress)
This is a weird one that's origins appear to have come from the SEC college football blog, SaturdayDownSouth.com. In one blog post about giving SEC stars new nicknames, the author offered this on Prescott, then a rising talent at Mississippi State: "This senior quarterback protects his team as an impenetrable force on offense capable of withstanding an opponent's best shot."
I don't know, man.
Richard Sherman (Optimus Prime)
Sherman changed his Twitter handle to the name of a popular "Transformers" character ahead of a 2012 matchup against Lions great Calvin "Megatron" Johnson.
Brent Grimes (Optimus Grimes)
Grimes was tagged with this moniker ahead of a 2011 matchup against Lions great Calvin "Megatron" Johnson. I blame Michael Bay for all of this.
Mitch Trubisky (Mr. Biscuit)
"Freshman year of college, one of my coaches was out with family friends or whatever," Trubisky said. "Somebody said my name and kind of stuttered it or mumbled it. He was like, 'What'd you say? Mr. Biscuit?' instead of Mitchell Trubisky. It kind of stuck that week of practice, and that's what all the boys started calling me."
That is titanically stupid. I cannot use Mr. Biscuit in good conscience with knowledge of the insipid back story.
Harrison Smith (The Heartbreak Kid)
PFR only rolls with The Heartbreak Kid, however. I'll respect their judgment.
Laquon Treadwell (Megaquon)
Like Roberto "Mr. Perfect" Aguayo, here's a college nickname that feels like pure sarcasm in the present day.
Pharoh Cooper (The South Carolina Pharoh)
Yes, we're all thinking the same thing: OK, SO WHO IS THE NORTH CAROLINA PHAROH?!? Show your face!
Earl Thomas (Deuce)
When Thomas arrived at his first minicamp, former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley asked Thomas if anyone had ever called him "Earl The Pearl," a reference to the former New York Knicks great, Earl Monroe.
The amazing thing is that I'm not charging any of you for this amazing knowledge.
Jimmy Garoppolo (Jimmy GQ, Prince Aladdin or Great Garoppolo)
Jimmy GQ needs no explanation, dude is handsome. Great Garoppolo is pretty basic, that should be excised. Prince Aladdin, however, is quite good and comes with a fun backstory: From a 2014 article in the Boston Herald:
Someone changed his locker name plate to read "PRINCE ALADDIN," which is apparently an inside joke with his teammates. Our astute deductive reasoning skills suggest Garoppolo's teammates make fun of him for looking like the main character of the Disney movie.
Peyton Manning (The Sheriff or The Caveman)
You're trying to tell me that we had an 18-year window to use "The Caveman" and we just, as a people, punted on it? That is shameful. Shame on everyone.