Nothing captures the fun of sports like a great nickname. They add color to the game, spark the imagination, turn ordinary athletes into lifelong memories. They’re creative, enduring, and unique. Air Jordan. The Great One. Broadway Joe Namath. Each fits perfectly and instantly brings to mind moments of greatness. But nothing is more rare than the great team nickname.
Everything has to go perfectly for a team to get a nickname. It means that an entire unit has been embraced by the fans, and that name has to stick. It has to be clever, and it has to be organic. The greatest nicknames wholly encapsulate a city, a style of play, or a period of time. The best ones do all three. In over a hundred years of organized sports, there have been very few to do so.
Even if a team does get a nickname, there are other criteria it must pass to stand the test of time. The team must be memorable, and anything but boring. They must be historically great and have historically great “moments.” They have to capture the imagination of the whole country, not just their hometown fan base. The team must have at least one great player – the more, the better. And most importantly, they have to win a championship, or the very least contend. A team that doesn’t win doesn’t deserve an enduring nickname. If a squad passes all those tests, it has a chance.
Here is a list of the 27 best sports team nicknames in history.
27. The Idiots
The 2004 Red Sox had four Hall of Fame caliber players – Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Curt Schilling – and many other great ones. Most importantly, they were all colorful. Dubbed “The Idiots” by Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar because of their eclectic roster and being “too dumb to understand” the supposed Red Sox curse, the ’04 Sox did the impossible and won Boston their first World Series title in 86 years. And they did so in memorable fashion, by coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the playoffs against the New York Yankees, their hated rival.
26. Legion of Boom
Since 2012, the Seattle Seahawks have had one of the best and most outspoken secondaries in the NFL. Led by Richard Sherman, who burst onto the national scene by yelling at everyone from Tom Brady to Erin Andrews, the rest of the unit consists of the hard-hitting Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Byron Maxwell and Brandon Browner. A play on comic supervillains “Legion of Doom,” the Seattle defense is consistently one of the tops in the league, their greatness culminating with a blowout win in Super Bowl XLVIII.
25. The Hogs
Coined by offensive line coach Joe Bugel when he said in training camp, “Okay, you hogs, let’s get running down there,” the Washington Redskins’ mammoth offensive line of the 1980s and 1990s was one of the biggest and best in football. Led by Hall of Famer Russ Grimm, the unit led Washington to three Super Bowl championships. To this day, fans of the team still wear pig noses to games in honor of the Hogs.
24. Wally’s World
The 1999 Miami of Ohio RedHawks had one of the most improbable NCAA Tournament runs in recent memory. Entering as a #10 seed, the team upset University of Washington and #2 Utah on its way to the Sweet 16. Led by All-American Wally Szczerbiak, the forward scored 43 points in round 1 and more than 23 the rest of the way before eventually losing to Kentucky. Happily, his name fit perfectly with the amusement park from National Lampoon’s Vacation, and an amazing nickname was born.
23. The Killer B’s
The 1982 Miami Dolphins defense allowed only 131 points in the 9 game, strike-shortened season. The nickname was coined because six out of their 11 starters had last names beginning with “B” – Bob Baumhower, Bill Barnett, Lyle Blackwood, Kim Bokamper, Glenn Blackwood, Charles Bowser, Doug Betters and Bob Brudzinski. The Dolphins won the AFC Championship, before eventually losing in the Super Bowl. But the name lives on.
22. The Fun Bunch
Led by Hall of Famer Art Monk, the 1982 Washington Redskins wide receivers and tight ends carved out a unique place for themselves in NFL history. Credited with inventing the choreographed endzone celebration – which resulted in a league-wide “excessive celebration” ban two years later – the unit was known for having a blast and winning football games. Victors of multiple Super Bowls, the group popularized the group high-five after touchdowns, beginning in the 1982 playoffs.
21. Lob City
A longtime NBA laughingstock, the Los Angeles Clippers finally began righting their ship in the 21st Century. Drafting DeAndre Jordan and All-Star Blake Griffin, then assembling a solid team around them, all LA needed was one final piece to go with their squad of high flyers. When they dealt for All-NBAer Chris Paul in 2011, they finally had that piece. Tops in the league in dunks ever since, the nickname was coined when Griffin, having just heard news of the trade, excitedly yelled, “Lob city!” to close friend Jordan, as cameras captured the moment. It’s been the team’s monicker ever since.
20. The Marks Brothers
Mark Clayton and Mark Duper were the two best receivers to ever suit up for the Miami Dolphins. With eight pro bowls between them, the early-1980s duo flourished with Hall of Famer Dan Marino throwing them the ball. Dubbed “The Marks Brothers,” the two were entered into the Miami Dolphins Ring of Honor after their retirements.
19. Monsters of the Midway
Known for their dominant defenses and massive, punishing linebackers, the Chicago Bears have long held this well-known nickname. Particularly referring to the dominant 1940, 1941 and 1985 teams, the name refers to a park known as Midway Plaisance on Chicago’s South Side. The name is just as recognizable in Chicago as Singletary and Butkus.
18. The Miracle Mets
In 1969, only their eighth year of existence, the New York Mets improbably won the World Series after never having had a winning season prior. Also known as the Amazin’ Mets, the team was managed by Casey Stengal and led by Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Yogi Berra, all Hall of Famers. The season captured the imagination and tabloids of New York City, normally a right reserved exclusively for the Yankees.
17. The Bash Brothers
Winning three consecutive pennants and the 1989 World Series, the Oakland A’s were led by Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson, Dennis Eckersley – and immensely muscular sluggers Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. Known for hitting massive home runs, the team became extremely popular around the country. Even with those homers severely aided by “scientific enhancements,” the nickname still stands as one of the best of all time.
16. The Secret Service
In the early 2000s, Michael Vick mania was in full effect. The fastest, most-hyped, most widely-covered, rocket-armed Virginia Tech QB was the leader in the Heisman Trophy standings, and there wasn’t a football magazine in the country that didn’t feature his picture. While he never won the award or a National Title, his offensive line cleverly gave themselves a great nickname to commemorate the hysteria: “The Secret Service.” Because of course, “they protected the most important man in America.” Instantaneously, an all-time monicker was born.
15. Murderers’ Row
The 1927 Yankees were one of the best teams of all time – and may have had the most feared first six hitters in the history of baseball: Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jack Nelson and Tony Lazzeri. Winning 110 games and sweeping the Pirates in the World Series (and then sweeping the Cardinals the following year), the team easily cemented its place in history. Which is exactly where its fearsome nickname will forever remain.
14. The Bad Boys
The 1980s Detroit Pistons had a true identity. Led by Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, they were going to beat you up and make no apologies for it. Famous for their playoff wars with the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics, the Pistons won two titles and bullied Michael Jordan before his championship run. The team came to prominence in the late ’80s, just in time for Inner Circle’s famous “Bad Boys” anthem. The name perfectly fit.
13. New York Sack Exchange
After the 1981 NFL season, in which the Jets earned their first playoff appearance since 1969 behind 40.5 sacks from Mark Gastineau and Joe Klecko, the entire Jets defensive line was invited to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Thus, a great nickname was born. Rounded out by Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam, “The New York Sack Exchange” led the Jets to the playoffs again the next year, losing in the AFC Championship to Miami. With on-field success and a steady stream of New York tabloid intrigue throughout the ’80s (Gastineau dated a famous actress), this stellar defensive unit more than earned their clever and memorable nickname.
12. Fearsome Foursome
Called “the most dominant line in football history” by none other than Dick Butkus, the 1960s Los Angeles Rams defensive line may still be just that. Led by punishing Hall of Famers Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones, as well as hard-hitting Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy, “The Fearsome Foursome” transformed a sub-.500 Rams team into an NFL powerhouse. In 1967, the Rams reached the conference championship game and became the first NFL team to surpass one million spectators in a season, which they would do again the following year. The nickname, like the team, is legendary.
11. The Four Horsemen
In 1924, Notre Dame football was the biggest sports team in America. Coached by the legendary Knute Rockne, the team featured a fabled backfield that ran roughshod over opponents – and into the imaginations of fans across the country. Dubbed the Four Horsemen by famous writer Grantland Rice (and immortalized in a now-famous photo of the uniformed quartet on horseback), Harry Stuhldreher, Don Miller, Jim Crowley and Elmer Layden will forever be remembered in sports history. In the three years they were together, they only lost two games. Add a national championship and the fact that all four played ironman football, and a spot on this list is assured.
10. Phi Slamma Jamma
In the early 1980s, John Wooden’s UCLA played with a polished and methodical style, and every other basketball team followed suit. But in 1982, the University of Houston decided to change all that. Employing a frenetic, playground, above-the-rim style that centered around fastbreaks and dunks, the Cougars changed the way basketball was played. Thus, Phi Slamma Jamma was born. Known as “Texas’s Tallest Fraternity,” the “fraternity brothers” were wildly popular and all had nicknames of their own. Led by Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon and Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, the team also featured Benny “Bomber from Bernice” Anders, Larry “Mr. Mean” Micheaux, and Michael “Silent Assassin” Young. The team reached the Final Four three straight years, losing the 1982-83 Finals, and is credited with transforming basketball into what it is today.
9. Run TMC
Rap music was just starting to explode on the scene in the late 1980s, and its influence undeniably began pervading the national consciousness soon after. Around the same time, a high-scoring trio of stars found themselves on the Golden State Warriors. Coached by Don Nelson in his trademark run-and-gun style, Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin took the NBA by storm. Though they began as the “Big Three,” The San Francisco Examiner held a contest to “Name the Warriors Trio.” The name they selected was “Run TMC,” after the teammates’ first names, as a play on the popular rap group “Run DMC.” Though the trio only played together for two seasons, Richmond and Mullin are Hall of Famers, and the nickname has popularly stuck around ever since.
8. The Greatest Show on Turf
From 1999-2001, the St. Louis Rams broke offensive records nearly every week. Employing a five-receiver, deep threat timing system, the Rams took the NFL by storm and couldn’t be stopped. Led by quarterback Kurt Warner, who had famously been bagging groceries before being picked up by the team, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt, the Rams bowled over defenses on their way to two Super Bowl appearances, one win, and three MVP awards. ESPN’s Chris Berman said to audiences in 2000, “Forget Ringling Brothers; the Rams are the Greatest Show on Earth!” Soon the word “Turf” was substituted, in reference to their home field playing surface and the speed at which they flew on it. There aren’t many nicknames that capture a team, or its style, any better.
7. Broad Street Bullies
Repeating as Stanley Cup Champions is hard enough. Doing so with a memorable style that perfectly fits a team’s city is nearly impossible. But that’s just what the Philadelphia Flyers did in the 1970s. An expansion team only a few years prior, the nickname was coined in a 1973 newspaper article titled, “Broad Street Bullies Muscle Atlanta,” and came with the famous line, “The image of the fightin’ Flyers spreading gradually around the NHL, and people are dreaming up wild nicknames. They’re the Mean Machine, the Bullies of Broad Street and Freddy’s Philistines.” Immediately, it connected with their tough, blue collar fans. Known for their intimidating style and constant willingness to fight, the Flyers wrote two championships, multiple MVP awards and an all-time nickname into the history books forever.
6. The Dream Team
Very few nicknames have been as apt as the “Dream Team.” Professional athletes had long been barred from appearing on the US Olympic basketball team, but when that ruling was finally lifted for the 1992 Barcelona games, America did it right. Putting together “the greatest team ever assembled,” the team had 11 Hall of Famers, including Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Traveling like rock stars all over Spain, the team changed international basketball forever, popularizing the game in all corners of the world. And on the court, they didn’t disappoint. Winning by an average margin of 40 points per game, the team stampeded its way to gold, forever cementing its place in history.
5. Big Red Machine
From 1970-1976, the Cincinnati Reds dominated the baseball world. Winning five National League West Division titles, four pennants and two World Series championships, the team averaged 98 wins a season and was a true dynasty. Led by baseball’s all-time hit leader in Pete Rose, the team also featured Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and manager Sparky Anderson. Collectively, they won six MVP awards, four home run titles, three batting crowns, 25 Gold Gloves, and 63 All-Star Game inclusions. A team like that deserves a great nickname, and the “Big Red Machine” was it.
4. Fab Five
To be a truly great nickname, you not only need success and memorability, but cultural significance as well. The “Fab Five” had it all. The 1991 Michigan basketball recruiting class of Jimmy King, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Ray Jackson and Juwan Howard took the world by storm from the first time they stepped on the court. Blowing past opponents while wearing baggy shorts and black socks, and blasting rap music, the team became instantly popular with young fans around the country. They reached the 1992 and 1993 NCAA Finals as freshman and sophomores, and though they didn’t win it all, the team is celebrated as one of the greatest and most influential in college basketball history.
3. Steel Curtain
The defensive lineman of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers were the backbone of their dynasty, bullying teams to four Super Bowl titles and a place in the annals of NFL history. In the final nine games of the 1976 season, the defense held teams to an unbelievable average of 3.1 points per game, winning by a margin of 22. The “Steel Curtain” consisted of “Mean Joe” Greene, LC Greenwood, Ernie Holmes, and Dwight White, and eight of the defense’s starting 11 players were elected to the Hall of Fame. It set the standard for an identity and style of play the Steelers would employ for decades to come.
2. Purple People Eaters
Reaching the Super Bowl four times from the late 1960s through the 1970s is no easy feat. Doing so with a true identity and one of the best football units of all time is incredibly rare. Based on a popular song from 1958, the “Purple People Eaters” hit hard and took no prisoners. Consisting of Hall of Famers Alan Page and Carl Eller, and rounded out by Jim Marshall and Gary Larsen, this Minnesota Vikings group is one of the most famous lines in the history of the NFL. Dominating offenses like no team had done before, the team’s motto was “Meet at the quarterback.” And that they did for a generation, mixing in countless memorable moments along the way.
The best nicknames not only capture a team, but an entire city. And if it is so perfect that it totally encapsulates a style of play – one that had never been seen before, to boot – then it becomes the stuff of legend. When Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss bought the team in 1979, he not only wanted to win, but the games also had to be entertaining. With the drafting of Magic Johnson and the hiring of Pat Riley, Buss accomplished just that. Employing a run-and-gun, free-flowing style of play that brought fans out of their seats, the “Showtime” Lakers became a national story. Winning four NBA championships in the 1980s, the team’s celebrity fanbase, purple-and-gold uniforms and star-studded roster screamed “Fun!” and perfectly captured the Hollywood life. No nickname has ever been more tailored to its team.
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