Today’s matter for debate is the ranking of sports’ all-time best nicknames. The criteria considered here included 1) the profile of the player (no reserves or bums, please), 2) the fitness of the nickname (the yep-that’s-totally-accurate factor), and 3) blessed brevity if not actual poetry. One observer’s picks:
5) Ted “The Splendid Splinter” Williams: Was it the angular physique improbably coupled to that beautiful swing, or was it the legend that he used to shatter hotel bedposts practicing that swing before hotel mirrors? Hard to say, but yes, Virginia, hotel beds once had bedposts.
4) “Shoeless Joe” Jackson: The disgraced White Sox superstar picked up his nickname when he decided to played a minor league game without his new spikes, which had blistered his feet the day before.
3) “Pistol Pete” Maravich: The nickname for college basketball’s most entertaining player ever pointed to both his odd shooting motion—somewhat from the hip—and his ridiculously high-level passing. He may have picked up his handle at the age of twelve or later at LSU. Sports Illustrated couldn’t sort that out.
2) Dick “Night Train” Lane: Hailed by his last team’s surely disinterested history website as “one of the all-time fiercest defensive players,” Lane was a former junior college player and Army veteran who debuted for the Los Angeles Rams in 1952, played 14 violent years, and ended up in pro football’s shrine at Canton, Ohio. His other teams were the Chicago Cardinals and Detroit Lions, but his nickname was earned in his very first exhibition game for the Rams after he broke an opposing player’s collarbone. A news headline the next day read, “Rookie Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane derails Charlie ‘Choo Choo’ Justice.” Lane said he decided to keep the cool moniker because he thought “it was pretty good to be mentioned in a big paper.” Legend has it, however, that Lane’s fear of flying also led him to take trains to some game locations during his career. In the modern NFL, he would likely incur six-figure fines. See a compendium of his famously dangerous hits here, “Trainwrecks” all.
1) “Concrete Charlie” Bednarik: Following 30 missions as a B-24 waist gunner during World War II, Bednarik became a two-way star both at Penn and with the Philadelphia Eagles, playing both center and linebacker. He is sometimes called “the last of the 60-minute men” although he didn’t actually cover kickoffs in the NFL. And he didn’t always play both offense and defense, but in 1960, was pressed into double service by an injury to a teammate, most famously putting in 58 minutes on the field in that year’s NFL championship game. He sealed the victory with a tackle of Green Bay’s hard-charging Jim Taylor.
Was his nickname only poetry about toughness, though? Bednarik also actually sold concrete during his Eagles years.