I’m sitting here, scarfing down potato chips (mmmmm… garlic and sea salt) and watching the opening weekend of the NFL season. It’s the usual litany of big hits, bigger plays, hot sideline reporters, hotter cheerleaders, and ads for drugs to combat erectile dysfunction. It feels like home. But something is missing.
It’s been missing for quite some time now. I can’t quite put my finger on when it disappeared from NFL football, but it’s definitely gone. It’s not the athletic ability. If anything, NFL players are bigger, stronger, faster, and more capable of jaw-dropping athletic feats than ever before. It’s not the strategy of the game. Football has always been a bit of a chess match to see which team can outsmart the other. But I think I finally figured it out.
Back in the day, I gave most of my friends nicknames. There was Toonces, Halfstack, Binki, and Bobo. There was the guy who went from Buttercup (which, in retrospect was a far better nickname cuz it pissed him off so much) to Ham, because he kinda resembled Ham from The Sandlot. Eventually, I stopped calling those guys by their given names and just used their nicknames. As far as I was concerned, that gave my buddies more character and made them more interesting.
Growing up watching football, and trying to learn about the history of the game, I noticed that many of the greatest players had awesome nicknames. There were guys like Dick “Night Train” Lane, “Mean” Joe Green, “Too Tall” Jones, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, and Walter “Sweetness” Payton. More mediocre players also got great tags, like William “Refrigerator” Perry, Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, and Elbert “Icky” Woods. Positional units even got cool nicknames, like “The Hogs” (Washington O-Line), Denver’s “Orange Crush” defense of the 70’s, or the Dolphins “Killer Bees” defense.
Recently, though, I haven’t been giving my friends nicknames. I guess I have less imagination nowadays, and I’m also a lot lazier. Similarly, the NFL is suffering through a dearth of great player nicknames. There are a few, like Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch and Adrian “All Day” Peterson (cuz he keeps coming at you all day long). More often, you get guys being called after their initials or their jersey numbers. It’s a bit dispiriting and takes some of the character out of the game.
It makes me wonder what the problem is. Are sportswriters and media types less imaginative than they used to be? Are they just lazy? Do contemporary NFL’ers just lack personality? Whatever it is, I miss the days when teams were full of players with colorful nicknames or oversized personas. I guess if I wanted that kinda stuff, I could watch wrestling. Yeah. That’ll definitely happen…