The Greatest Nicknames in Detroit Sports History

It was recently revealed that Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell has a knack for hanging nicknames on his players. Campbell usually attaches a moniker that has something to do with a habit for that player.

For example, Campbell calls Josh Reynolds, “Praying Mantis” and he’s dubbed Demetrius Taylor, “Sawed Off” for his physique.

That got me thinking: what are the best nicknames for Detroit sports athletes? That’s where I decided to publish this article, a look at the very best nicknames for Detroit sports legends.

Let me know what you think in the comments section.

Best Detroit Pistons Nicknames

Sometimes a player gets an obscure nickname from his teammates, like “Zeke” for Isiah Thomas. But the best nicknames are those that say something about the player themselves, something about their play on the court.

Two Detroit basketball legends stand out with their nicknames.

The first is Hall of Famer Bob Lanier, who sadly passed away earlier this year. Lanier was a dominating post player around the basket. He was an eight-time NBA All-Star, a member of the 1971 NBA All-Rookie team, the MVP of the 1974 NBA All-Star Game, and he scored nearly 19,000 points in his career, with more than 9,500 rebounds.

Lanier famously had size 22 feet, which you’d think may have earned him a “Bigfoot” nickname of some sort. But instead, Lanier, who starred for Detroit for nine seasons, was known as “Big Dobber.”

Why “Big Dobber?” Well, it was originally “Dobber” when he was about 11 years old (wearing size 11 shoes already). “Dobber” was apparently what one of his family members pronounced when they tried to say “Robert.” When Lanier kept growing, and growing, and growing…his nickname became “Big Dobber.”

The second great Pistons nickname is “The Microwave,” which was bestowed on Vinnie Johnson. The thick-necked, well-muscled guard was known for his feverish scoring bursts off the bench, hence he was often “heating up quickly,” just like a microwave.

Honorable mention to Chauncey Billups, known as “Mister Big Shot” for his habit of dropping key shots in his NBA career.

Why Didn’t Barry Sanders Have a Great Nickname?

Some people will insist that the great nicknames are a thing of the past. That modern ballplayers don’t get nicknames, that athletes don’t like to give nicknames, and that nicknames today are boring.

With all the “A-Rod” and “CP3” nicknames out there, we can’t disagree. Why are so many nicknames today so…basic?

But even more glaring that is the fact that many superstars of the last two or three decades have never had nicknames. What was Barry Bonds’ nickname? Does anyone know the nickname of baseball’s greatest player, Mike Trout? How about Steve Yzerman, to stick with Detroit? Sure, we called him “The Captain,” and some knew him as “Stevie Y,” but neither of those names inspired awe.

The most obvious example of this trend is Barry Sanders, the greatest running back in the history of the National Football League. Sanders was a human Pac-Man, chewing up yards and avoiding the bad guys with his scampers across the gridiron. Scamper is a great way to describe the mystifying way Barry eluded tacklers and rushed for all those yards, including more than 2,000 in one season.

But a nickname never emerged for arguably the NFL’s most entertaining offensive weapon. That’s a shame.

The Best Nicknames for Lions Players

Let’s get this out of the way first: “Megatron” is the best nickname any Detroit Lions player has ever had. It may be the best nickname in football history, period. Come on, seriously. What is more descriptive, more menacing, and more fun than “Megatron”? It fit former Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson perfectly.

Calvin Johnson was best known as “Megatron” in his Hall of Fame career with the Detroit Lions.

Alex Karras, who served as a hard-nosed but likable defensive lineman for the Detroit Lions from 1958 to 1970, was called “The Mad Duck.”

How do you get a nickname like “The Mad Duck?” It comes down to how much energy Karras had. In training camp in 1958 when Karras was preparing for his first NFL season, teammates noticed that Karras ran around the field like he was frantically scurrying about. Some teammates thought he looked like a crazy duck set loose on the field.

Another great Lions nickname is Dick “Night Train” Lane, who happens to be a Hall of Famer, like Megatron.

Detroit Tigers Greatest Nicknames

Baseball has always been a breeding ground for nicknames. In the 19th century players got names for their hometowns, like “The Harrisburg Hound.” In the early 20th century you’d see players with names that dealt with their class: educated ballplayers were called “Doc” but guys from the sticks were often known as “Rube.”

The best nicknames for Tigers players involve many of the greatest players in team history:

  • Ty Cobb, “The Georgia Peach” or just “Peach” to his teammates and players when he managed the Tigers
  • Charlie Gehringer, “The Mechanical Man”
  • “Hammerin’ Hank” Greenberg (also known as “The Hebrew Hammer”)
  • “Dizzy” Trout
  • “Prince Hal” Newhouser
  • Al Kaline was never called it much, but his nickname was “The Line.” He was later simply called “6” or “Mr. Tiger”
  • Lance Parrish was known as “Big Wheel”
  • His teammate, pitcher Dan Petry was called “Peaches”
  • Another member of the 1984 Tigers, pitcher Dave Rozema, is affectionately called “Rosy”
  • “Sweet Lou” Whitaker
  • Chet “Dusty Pants” Lemon
  • Darrell Evans was known as “Howdy Doody”
  • Yet another member of the ’84 Tigers was relief pitcher Aurelio Lopez, known as “Señor Smoke”
  • Relief pitcher Joel Zumaya was called “Zoom Zoom”
  • After he stunned baseball with a home run barrage in the early weeks of the 2006 season, Chris Shelton was dubbed “Red Pop,” a nod to his ginger hair

2 replies on “The Greatest Nicknames in Detroit Sports History

  • Stephen Spaulding

    Nice job , gotta include the worm Dennis Rodman & John “spider” Salley. But the best Pistons nickname ever goes to Marvin “Bad News” Barnes, who was once an incredible basketball talent!
    The most glaring Tigers oversight for me is not including Mark the Bird.
    As for the lions, Al “Bubba” Baker was a phenomenal pass rusher who could consistently control a game by his presence. Opposing teams often had to double and triple team him in hopes to neutralize him.
    Thank you for your work

  • Stephen Spaulding

    Here’s some more Tigers classics. Stormin Norman Cash. Gates Brown. The gravedigger Richie Hebner.
    Le Grande Orange Rusty Staub. I remember how Rusty would get on first base as a runner and stop the game to change from his batting gloves into his “running gloves “ which was hilarious cause that wasn’t his forte, but boy could he hit!

    Jason Rooftop” Thompson. Howard “ Hojo “ Johnson. He should’ve been a fixture at 3rd base in Detroit. Only NY Met to ever lead the league in RBI’s
    Chester “dusty butt” Lemon. Jim “Wales” Walewander. And though only in Detroit one season, Eatin Ed Farmer.
    Your article stirred up the way back machine.

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