It’s all in a name. There’s been a lot of NFL players who’ve played in the league since the NFL’s first-ever game now more than a century ago.
That game took place “on October 3, 1920” according to NFL.com, when ” the Dayton Triangles…hosted the first-ever NFL game against the Columbus Panhandles at Triangle Park, winning 14-0.”
Alphonse Mahrt and Norbert Sacksteder were, according to the University of Dayton Magazine’s Michelle Tedford, some of the first players on the Triangles team. Tedford reported that “(t)hrough the 1920s, many Triangles players still held their day jobs, with the team in later years traveling weekends in a rented Pullman car hitched to the back of a train so they could be home for work Monday mornings.”
Since the Dayton Triangles and Columbus Panhandles and thousands of players later, who paved the way for today where players now fly private team planes, get first-class service and now it being their only day job, there’s now 32 teams.
In honor of that, why not compile a list of some of the best names the league has seen since then…because if you ask me, the league started off in good hands, in regards to names, with names like Alphonse Mahrt and Norbert Sacksteder. Great football names.
Shout out to NFL.com who compiled a list of “all-time hard-to-spell NFL names”, which was a good reference to figure out who’d make the list here.
This is a list of names that will sound very familiar and recognizable. It also features names you may have never heard before but can stop when scrolling through this article and be like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s a really cool name! Glad it made this list.’ Or something like, ‘Oh nice, this includes names that aren’t just cool for the masses or mainstream but it’s cool because it’s unique and respectful of this player’s cultural heritage and upbringing, adding diversity and promoting equality to this list”
Either way, just sit back, relax, sip that coffee while you have that replay of your favorite NFL team game on in the background while you wait for the NFL season and enjoy the:
32 Best NFL Names
Honorable Mention: Michael Oher
Before getting into the top 32, here’s an honorable mention because Michael Oher’s gotta’ be listed here somehow! Oher’s story is one for the ages. If you’ve ever seen ‘The Blind Side’ or at least heard about it, what Oher overcame to eventually make it to the NFL and the family that took him in to support and encourage him in his journey, it’s super inspiring.
Oher is giving back as he also started up a foundation, “raising money to help kids in poverty and in foster care homes have a better life for themselves. The Oher foundation goal is to provide youth, both disadvantaged and in need, with empowering opportunities that enrich their lives, and provide a mechanism for higher education and a healthy living.” If you’d like to help this cause out, you can donate at the GoFundMe for the foundation, whose goal is $50,000, here
32 – Patrick Mahomes
Alright, here we go. Starting off this list is Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes! If you’re a casual fan, when you hear this, you may think of that one State Farm commercial. Or, if you know the game, you know the Super Bowl MVP who came onto the scene and quickly became one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Ever. When you hear of Patrick Mahomes, it’s a name you associate with the Kansas City Chiefs and winning. It’s just a unique name and now he’s a father, passing along the unique surname of course to his little one. I’m sure little Mahomes will be just as great as her dad at whatever she ends up doing with her life!
31 – Matthew Stafford
First of all, Matthew’s a great name. First of all, it’s a name in the Bible. According to Behind the Name, it’s the “English form of Ματθαῖος (Matthaios), which was a Greek form of the Hebrew name מַתִּתְיָהוּ (Mattityahu) meaning ‘gift of Yahweh‘, from the roots מַתָּן (mattan) meaning ‘gift’ and יָה (yah) referring to the Hebrew God.”
When it comes to Matthew Stafford, the surname, Stafford, is cool and when you associate Stafford with the NFL, you think of a quarterback who can straight up sling it. A gamer. That dude who can carry your team within the last minutes of the fourth quarter to lead a comeback win. Stafford did it a lot with the Detroit Lions and I’m sure he’ll be doing the same thing with the LA Rams.
30 – Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson gets a nod here as being a standout quarterback, husband, and father. All he does is win. Never having a losing season as a quarterback and literally starting every game in the regular season with the Seattle Seahawks since they drafted him in 2012, the winning also includes a Super Bowl. Not only is winning a part of Wilson, it’s now in his blood as he named his son, ‘Win‘. When you name your son, ‘Win‘, you’re definitely winning in the name game and you gotta’ be on this list.
29 – Troy Polamalu
Troy Polamalu. The name flows together like his hair does on the field as he chased down quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers, tackling them with the flow of his game. The Pro Football Hall of Famer is a two-time Super Bowl champion, eight-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro, and was the 2010 AP Defensive Player of the Year.
As great as Polamalu was on the field, though, he recognized what true greatness is as Pittsburgh Magazine’s Mike Prisuta reported in 2014 that “Shamarko Thomas (was) the heir apparent, or so it (appeared), to Polamalu’s strong safety position. As such, Thomas sent a text message to Polamalu last offseason, asking him how to be great.”
“[Polamalu] was like, ‘Greatness isn’t only about being a football player or winning championships or being the best in your sport,” Thomas said per Prisuta. “It’s about being a great father, about putting God first and just doing the right things in your life. That made me realize there’s more to life than just playing football, man. That’s how you become successful, when you put God first.”
Polamalu, according to Prisuta, “is of American Samoan heritage”.
28 – Oshiomogho Atogwe
Oh, Canada. Oshiomogho Atogwe reppin’ the country to the north on this list as he’s from Windsor. With such an epic name, he also also balled out, was inducted into the Windsor / Essex County Hall of Fame which states “Oshiomogho ‘O.J.’ Atogwe is one of the greatest football players to ever come out of the Windsor and Essex County region…Atogwe accepted a full-ride scholarship to Stanford University in 2000. There, he starred in football and track and field, earning All-Pac 12 football and team co-MVP honours in 2004 and 2005 and captaining the Cardinal football team in his senior year.”
During his NFL playing career, he had one season with eight interceptions. That, per the Windsor / Essex County Hall of Fame “(led) the National Football Conference (NFC)…in 2008”.
Not only does Oshiomogho Atogwe have a cool name, that nickname is cool, too. O.J.
27 – Ma’ake Kemoeatu
Ma’ake made a name for himself in the NFL. The offensive lineman is a Super Bowl champion. Yet amidst all the success on the field and having an epic name, it’s what happened off the field that truly makes him special.
According to NFL.com, “When Ma’ake Kemoeatu cut his NFL career short in 2012, his reason was unconventional — and deeply personal. The former Ravens defensive lineman had decided to donate a kidney to his brother, Chris. Chris, an ex-Steeler himself, was forced to quit football in 2012 after discovering he needed a transplant. The former guard had suffered from kidney problems from a young age. Once Ma’ake realized his own kidney was a good match, the 35-year-old left the Ravens in order to provide his brother with a new organ.”
“He couldn’t play anymore, and I didn’t want to be in a position where he couldn’t play but I’d keep playing,” Ma’ake said per NFL.com. “As soon as my brother’s health was at risk I wanted to stop everything.”
That right there is the determination and heart (and kidney) of a champion.
26 – Jim Brown
Jim Brown’s name is synonymous with NFL running back and guess what team. The Cleveland Browns! The running back’s surname and the team’s nickname went hand-in-hand. Brown, per The Smithsonian, “joined the Cleveland Browns in 1957, after a spectacular multi-sport college career. Later that year, he became the first person to win both Rookie of the Year and League MVP. In 1963, he became the first player to rush over one mile in a single season. Bruising his way through his nine-season professional career, Brown led the league in rushing eight seasons and never missed a game. When he left the NFL in 1966, Brown had more yards gained, more rushing touchdowns, and more total touchdowns than any NFL athlete in history.”
Brown still holds the record for career average in rushing yards a game with 104.3 per game and is the only player in NFL history to average more than 100 yards a game in his career. The AP per the CBC in 2018 stated Brown “championed civil rights during his playing career and became an activist in retirement”.
25 – Barry Sanders
One of the best running backs to ever play the game, Barry Sanders was elusive, quick, and humble. Drafted by the Detroit Lions, where he played his whole NFL career, he hit the ground running. Literally. Sanders’ 15,269 total rushing yards and 99 total rushing touchdowns are some of the best numbers in the history of the NFL (ranking 4th all-time in rushing yards and 10th all-time in rushing touchdowns).
With a name like Barry Sanders, highlights of him on YouTube come to mind, making defenders look silly out there while all the while remaining grounded, having humility, and playing the game the right way.
24 – Tedy Bruschi
You’ve heard his name on ESPN as a NFL analyst. Tedy Bruschi also has three Super Bowls to his name, a Pro Bowl, and a 2005 AP Comeback Player of the Year award, as well. According to The AsianJournal.com’s Cynthia De Castro per the Asian Journal Blog‘s, Bruschi “is the first NFL player to come back to the field after suffering a stroke…He also won the prestigious Ed Block Courage Award “.
A fun fact: “Tedy Lacap Bruschi (was) the only Filipino American to play in Super Bowl XLII” per De Castro. Per De Castro, “Bruschi’s mother is Juanita Lacap, a Filipina who married Anthony Bruschi Sr., an American of Italian descent.”.
23 – Lamar Jackson
Lamar Jackson. You’ve heard the name on SportsCenter with juke-step highlights on the field, scoring touchdowns by passing and rushing, leading his team to the playoffs. In just three NFL seasons so far, he’s already got a NFL MVP award to his name.
And Jackson’s letting his actions speak on the field, letting teams know what they missed out on after not hearing his name called 31 times by other NFL teams before he finally got drafted with the 32nd pick in the draft, the last pick in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens. That’s a name to be remembered, every NFL team as all he does is win. Lamar’s record as a quarterback so far? 30-7. I’m sorry, Ms. Jackson, he is for real!
22 – Junior Seau
A Hall of Famer, 12-time Pro Bowler, six-time All-Pro, and the 1994 Walter Payton Man of the Year. The linebacker was named one of 100 best NFL players of all time. When you’re named to a list like that, you’ve got a shot at being named to a like this, one of the best names in the league.
Seau’s name is being remembered and honored, including in an ESPN+ documentary, as IndieWire’s Steve Green states “(t)he football triumphs and off-the-field tragedies of Chargers great Junior Seau form the basis of this documentary”. Seau was, per Green, “(a) gregarious on-field performer with enough energy to befit the lightning bolts that ran up and down his jersey, all it takes is a quick collection of defensive plays to show how one man’s will could overpower all 21 other players on the field. And then, there’s the other side of that rise; a precipitous drop that ended with his tragic suicide…”
According to NPR’s Shannon Van Sant, “his death followed a long battle with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated hits to the head.”
“The NFL concussion litigation, and particularly Junior’s case, brought a lot of light to the problem in professional football and society about these concussive brain injuries that players are suffering from, and the impacts it has on them and their families,” Steve Strauss, ‘a lawyer for Seau’s family’ per NPR, said in 2018 after “the family of NFL Hall of Fame linebacker…Seau…settled their wrongful death lawsuit against the NFL’.
21 – Ndamukong Suh
Suuuuuuuuuuuh! If you were ever at Ford Field watching a Detroit Lions game and Ndamukong Suh made a big play on defense, the crowd would erupt with yelling Ndamukong’s surname. Dude’s got a cool name, is well-educated, and just won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tom Brady, Gronk, and co.
20 – Walter Payton
When you have a best names of the NFL list, you have to include the dude whose name is etched onto a Man of the Year trophy. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the top 20. You made it! And welcome to Walter Payton’s slot, whose name is talked about every year when an NFL player is awarded the Walter Payton Man of the Year trophy. According to Seahawks.com John Boyle, the award is “one of the most prestigious honors given to an NFL player, was established in 1970 and renamed for the Hall of Fame running back in 1999, and recognizes excellence both on and off the field. Each team nominates one player for the yearly award”.
19 – Gale Sayers
Gale Sayers is one of the legends in the game and needs to be on this list as his name is crucial to this league. There’s been movies titled “Brian’s Song”, which per iMDb is: “Based on the real-life relationship between teammates Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers and the bond established when Piccolo discovers that he is dying.” According to the Associated Press’ Andrew Seligman and Jim Litke per the CBC, “Sayers was Black and already a star; Piccolo was white and had worked his way up from the practice squad. Early on, they were competing for playing time and carries. But when the club dropped its policy of segregating players by race in hotel room assignments, they forged a bond.”
This was deeper than football, an incredible depiction of being a true teammate in the midst of a tragedy, being an inspiration to others in brotherhood beyond preconceived racial barriers.
18 – Michael Hoomanawanui
Michael Hoomanawanui is a Super Bowl champion and makes the top 20 best names in the NFL. If you’re wondering how to pronounce his last name, Michael himself has your back as the Patriots released a video of him showing you how to pronounce it. Classic. Michael’s “father, Isy, a former player at Illinois State, is a native Hawaiian from the east side of the islands in Waimanalo” per Illinois Sports Information’s Lauren Benson.
“My parents taught me basic life lessons, like family always comes first, and you should always respect your elders,” Hoomanawanui said according to Benson. “Basically, just that nothing is more important than family.”
17 – Jahvid Best
When you’re an athlete and want to excel in your sport, you try to be the best you can everyday and want to eventually be the best in your sport. With a surname like Best, it exemplifies what athletes strive for day in and day out, to be the best to help your team be the best in the league. Jahvid even has a foundation that’s called The Best Foundation, aiming to “Fostering a culture of excellence among youth through mobilizing resources to underserved communities” per the foundation’s Instagram bio. And that deserves one of the best names ever in the NFL.
16 – Jim Plunkett
According to Pro Football “Hall of Fame and Hispanic historian Mario Longoria“, Plunkett was the first Hispanic American selected first overall in the NFL Draft”. When you are a part of history like that in breaking barriers, you belong in a list like this. The quarterback also was the 1980 NFL Super Bowl MVP and 1980 PFWA Comeback Player of the Year. That’s what you call making a name for yourself!
15 – Earl “Curly” Lambeau
Can’t help but to think of curly fries (Arby’s curly fries specifically) when hearing the name, Curly. It’s a unique, fun name and has to be on this list. It’s gotta’ be in the top 15. In all seriousness, Curly Lambeau has one of the most historic NFL fields named after him in Lambeau Field (per Packers.com). Lambeau “was the team’s first star and one of the most successful coaches in NFL history” according to Packers.com. Now, let’s take a Lambeau leap in honor of Curly!
14 – Ikponmwosa Igbinosun
Otherwise known as “Ike”, Ikponmwosa Igbinosun has an epic name. As the Pro Limit Athletes site states” Ike Igbinosun is the founder of Pro Limit Athletes – an athletic training company specializing in helping athletes reach their full potential. He Played in the NFL for 5 session with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, & Jacksonville Jaguars.”
13 – Reggie White
Reggie White, otherwise known as the “Minister of Defense” per Sports Spectrum’s Brett Honeycutt, was one of the best defensive linemen to ever play the game. Period. White was named to one of the NFL’s best 100 players, won a Super Bowl, was a 13-time Pro Bowler, eight-time All Pro, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. White had 198 career sacks. That’s second all-time in the history of the NFL. White also tied the record for most sacks in a Super Bowl with three per Statmuse.
White will most be remembered not only for his excellence on the field, but off the field, as well. And that type of impact leads to having your name truly being remembered.
Per the Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein via Legacy.com, White, “(a)n ordained minister from the time he was 17, White spoke often of his devotion to Christianity…around his teammates he preached teamwork and dedication as much as devotion to God and the players quickly learned that his sense of humor prevailed over all other things.”
Per Packers.com: “According to wide receiver Robert Brooks, who is now a minister himself, White had a lasting impact on his faith”.
“One thing I know about Reggie was that he was very consistent in his faith,” Brooks said per Packers.com. “He was very instrumental in me coming to Christ because he was one of the only Christians I knew who lived what he preached about. You know, he lived what he was talking about. You always see hypocrites in every area of life where they say one thing and do a different thing. He was one of the people I watched because I was looking for something to believe and someone to trust in.”
“I want people to say that Reggie and Sarah (Reggie’s wife) were a man and woman of God,” White said in a previous interview per Sports Spectrum. “That would mean more to me than anything.”
12 – Joe Montana
Joe Montana. When you think of this name, it just screams America! Literally as Joe’s surname is a state. Montana is the country’s fourth largest state by area (per State Symbols USA) and he could throw the ball a long-distance with the best of them. It led to four Super Bowls and two MVP’s.
11 – Charles Woodson
When you think of the NFL or college football, Charles Woodson’s name has to be up there in the conversation as a classic name that has excelled on all levels. Not only did he win a national championship with the University of Michigan, playing on both sides of the ball in college (and also as a returner on special teams), he won a Super Bowl in the NFL and was recently selected to in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
10 – Joe Gibbs
Ladies and gentlemen, you have now entered…top 10 territory! Welcome! It’s great to have you here. Joe Gibbs name is special. Not just in the NFL but a completely different sport, NASCAR, as well. Gibbs won three Super Bowls as an NFL coach, won AP Coach of the Year twice, and then went on to start “Joe Gibbs Racing in 1992 and has led the organization to five premier series championships” per the NASCAR Hall of Fame. A Hall of Fame-type name in both the NFL and NASCAR. That deserves top 10 in this list.
9 – Dick “Night Train” Lane
Named to one of the NFL’s best 100 players to ever play in the league, according to the Texas State Historical Association, “Lane acquired his famous nickname, ‘Night Train,’ during his rookie year with the Rams…(he) set the NFL record for the most interceptions in a single year during his rookie season of 1952. In the twelve-game schedule, Lane intercepted fourteen passes, a record that still stands, even though the league now features an extra four (now extra five) games each year.” Lane’s story involving his family is one that is heartbreaking yet what he overcame in his life to be one of the best NFL players ever is inspiring. It’s worth reading here.
8 – Tim Tebow
When your name involves some form of alliteration and you just so happen to be one of the best college football quarterbacks to ever play the game, winning two national championships and being a Heisman Trophy winner, then leading the Denver Broncos to a playoff win then playing professional baseball, you easily have one of the best NFL names. Born in the Philippines to missionaries, Tebow describes, per his foundation, that his “experiences there and the training from my parents who instilled in me the importance of God’s word, the salvation that we have in His Son Jesus, and the responsibility that we have to give back to others, gave me a desire to make a difference in people’s lives.”
7 – Patrick Chung
The defensive back’s got three Super Bowls to his name. Patrick Chung also has a cool name with a rich cultural heritage as he was “(b)orn in Jamaica and is of Chinese Jamaican descent” per sportsmuseum.org. The Patriots note that Chung’s “mother is Jamaican and his father is half Jamaican and half Chinese.” That is awesome.
6 – Hines Ward
Hines Ward. When your name involves one syllable each and involves a ketchup brand that just so happens to be the namesake of the field you played on for your career and your job was to literally catch passes? Sixth-best NFL name right there.
5 – Jerry Rice
Surnames involving food are always epic last names. Jerry Rice’s is no exception. Rice is a great food item to complement any dish and Jerry Rice was one of the best wide receivers in the game to complement any quarterback in an offensive system. Jerry has the record for most career receiving yards ever in the NFL.
4 – Ignacio Saturnino “Lou” Molinet
Yeah, that’s a cool name. Say it four times fast. According to Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Mario Longoria (Hispanic historian), Ignacio “Lou” Molinet played in the NFL in 1927. Molinet, a native of Chaparra, Cuba, played nine games for the Frankford Yellowjackets that season.” Longoria also mentioned that Molinet was: “Halfback, (went to) Cornell University”. Shout out to Longoria for doing that research and including this name on the “Pro Football’s Hispanic Heritage” page on the Hall of Fame’s website. Upon doing research, saw this name and had to include it on this list. Not just anywhere but as the fourth-best name in NFL history! That’s an Ivy League, breaking barriers type name right there!
3 – Calvin “Megatron” Johnson
Because of the sheer epic-ness of having a nickname after a Transformer. Robots in disguise. An incredible way to describe Johnson’s ability as a wide receiver. The humility he showed off the field turned into a dude who caught footballs in the air guarded by three defenders for a touchdown and running routes like an Olympian sprinter, all the while towering over his defenders. Johnson holds the record for most receiving yards in a single NFL season ever with 1,964 and was recently selected to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
2 – Prince Amukamara
Just say that name out loud. Prince Amukamara. It’s just a flat-out cool name. And Amukamara just so happens to be a Super Bowl champion. Which leads us to the best name in the NFL…
1 – Vince Lombardi
There’s nothing more classic in the NFL right now than the prized Super Bowl trophy. What’s that trophy called again? Oh yeah, the Vince Lombardi trophy! You can’t not have the guy the trophy was named after, the trophy teams vie for, put their blood, sweat, and tears into year in and year out trying to obtain, as the best name in the NFL. The Super Bowl’s trophy is named after Lombardi for a good reason.
Lombardi, per Packers.com, states “…during his nine seasons in Green Bay (coaching)…(h)e won five NFL championships, including Super Bowls I and II, and compiled a remarkable 89-29-4 regular-season record.”
Here are some of his famous quotes (per a Google search):
“Football is like life – it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority…Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence…It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”
- 1 32 Best NFL Names
- 2 Honorable Mention: Michael Oher
- 3 32 – Patrick Mahomes
- 4 31 – Matthew Stafford
- 5 30 – Russell Wilson
- 6 29 – Troy Polamalu
- 7 28 – Oshiomogho Atogwe
- 8 27 – Ma’ake Kemoeatu
- 9 26 – Jim Brown
- 10 25 – Barry Sanders
- 11 24 – Tedy Bruschi
- 12 23 – Lamar Jackson
- 13 22 – Junior Seau
- 14 21 – Ndamukong Suh
- 15 20 – Walter Payton
- 16 19 – Gale Sayers
- 17 18 – Michael Hoomanawanui
- 18 17 – Jahvid Best
- 19 16 – Jim Plunkett
- 20 15 – Earl “Curly” Lambeau
- 21 14 – Ikponmwosa Igbinosun
- 22 13 – Reggie White
- 23 12 – Joe Montana
- 24 11 – Charles Woodson
- 25 10 – Joe Gibbs
- 26 9 – Dick “Night Train” Lane
- 27 8 – Tim Tebow
- 28 7 – Patrick Chung
- 29 6 – Hines Ward
- 30 5 – Jerry Rice
- 31 4 – Ignacio Saturnino “Lou” Molinet
- 32 3 – Calvin “Megatron” Johnson
- 33 2 – Prince Amukamara
- 34 1 – Vince Lombardi
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