The 25 Best Sports Nicknames of All-Time

#10 — “The Golden Bear” Jack Nicklaus

Origin: When Nicklaus was in his early 20s his future agent, IMG founder Mark McCormack, gave an interview in which he talked about the up-and-comers in the American golf scene. He was especially taken with Nicklaus, who he referred to as “large, strong, and blond.” The writer began referring to Nicklaus as “the Golden Bear,” and by the time Nicklaus knocked off Arnold Palmer in a playoff to win the 1962 U.S. Open, the name had stuck. A hell of a nickname. Not good enough to keep casual fans from referring to him as “Jack Nicholson,” but still, a pretty good nickname.

#9 — Minnesota Fats

Origin: This pool hustler’s nickname is only half accurate. Rudolf Wanderone, Jr. wasn’t from Minnesota; he was born and raised in New York City. He was, however, very fat, so that part of the name checks out. During the 1940s and 50s fellow players called him New York Fats in honor of his lardy posterior and his hometown. When the Paul Newman pool-shooting movieThe Hustlercame out in 1961, though, New York Fats decided to start referring to himself as Minnesota Fats, the name of the ace hustler portrayed by Jackie Gleason in the film. Way to go, you tubby nickname thief.

According to this CBS News obituary, Fats once tipped the scales at … 245 pounds. Hmm. By today’s standards, he would be named Minnesota Slim.

#8 — Pele

Origin: When Pele was a boy in Brazil, he and his buddies loved cheering for the local football club Vasco da Gama, which was led by a goalie named Bilé. Young Edison Arantes do Nascimento had a hell of a time trying to pronounce the goalkeeper’s name, and his friends would taunt him every time he got tongue tied. Eventually they started calling Edison “Pele” in an impression of his mangled pronunciation, and the nickname stuck. It was the cruelest thing anyone would do to Pele until the Academy snubbed him for a Best Actor Oscar for Victory.

#7 — Paul “Bear” Bryant

Origin: Back when men were men, you didn’t justgeta nickname. You had to earn it. Just ask legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant. He wasn’t called “Bear” because he was ferocious. Oh, no. He was called “Bear” because when he was just 13-years-old he wrestled an honest-to-God bear in a carnival promotion to earn $1. One. Dollar. The bear bit Bryant’s ear during the fight, but the boy got a lifelong nickname. Of course, after wrestling a bear he could also have nicknamed himself, Paul “Everyone Else is a Total Pussy Compared to Me” Bryant and nobody would have argued.

#6 — “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair

Origin: Flair began referring to himself as “The Nature Boy” in the late 1970s to help advance a burgeoning feud with longtime wrestling star “The Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers. As if stealing Rogers’ nickname wasn’t bad enough, Flair also swiped Rogers’ signature finishing move, the figure-four leg lock. Now that Flair’s a living legend, it’s easy to remember how much he swiped from Rogers. Give Flair full credit for his own innovations, though: it was solely Flair’s idea to wrestle the last 15 years of his career while sporting a luscious C-cup.

#5 — Niels “The Excellent Dude” de Ruiter

Origin: Dutch darts star de Ruiter got his “The Excellent Dude” nickname fromBill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. How can that not make you want to watch professional darts? (Well, if nothing else was on TV, it could be interesting.) But you can’t just give yourself a nickname like “The Excellent Dude.” You have to earn it by starting out as “The Adequate Lad,” advancing to “The Reasonably Skilled at Darts Fellow” to “The Above Average Chap” to “The Guy Whose Game is Approaching Excellence” and then, finally, becoming “The Excellent Dude.”

Worth mentioning: de Ruiter is also known for playing air guitar to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” as he enters his matches. Really. We’re not including a photo or video of him because it would likely exceed the site’s douchewidth.

#4 — Bryant “Big Country” Reeves

Origin: He was gigantic (7’0″, 275 pounds) and from the country. It should be self-explanatory. Reeves’ Oklahoma State teammate Byron Houston started calling Reeves “Big Country” after Reeves took his first-ever plane ride to New York. Luckily for Reeves the flying metal bird finally landed in New York, where he was able to go coon huntin’ in Central Park.
Reeves talk real nice:

#3 — Rod “He Hate Me” Smart

Origin: When running back/kick returner Rod Smart took the field for the Las Vegas Outlaws during the XFL‘s one season, he went by the name “He Hate Me,” a moniker that made several English teachers die of massive heart attacks brought on by subject-verb disagreement. Smart explained the nickname by saying, “Basically, my brother’s my opponent. After I win, he’s gonna hate me. It is what it is.”Indeed it was what it was. Smart’s explanation actually made more sense than 95% of what happened in the XFL, and he eventually made the jump to the NFL, where he earned the new nickname: “He Hate Leaving Me On Active Rosters.”

#2 — Deacon Jones

Origin: Not only did Jones create the term “sack,” he also created his own nickname. When David Jones was a young defensive end he was already known for dropping QBs and delivering monstrous head slaps. He had a problem, though. He didn’t think anyone would remember a player with a boring name like David Jones, so he started calling himself “Deacon Jones.” It worked; now we remember him as arguably the greatest defensive end of all-time. Although it’s also why church attendance continues to decline. People are terrified of getting the crap kicked out of them by a deacon.

#1 — Shoeless Joe Jackson

Origin: Jackson started toting this nickname around years before he ever helped throw the World Series. When Jackson was a teenager he tried to play a game while breaking in a new pair of cleats. The cleats started giving him a blister, so Jackson decided to finish the game barefoot. A heckler called him a “shoeless son of a gun” – which in those days was probably way worse than insulting somebody’s mama – and the name stuck. Today he would just be a guy who got dropped for breaking a shoe endorsement contract.
Thanks for reading. And enjoy your foot-based nightmare tonight: