Nicknames are an important part of sports and an important element to American culture. A good nickname can unify a fan base and make a players career more interesting. A bad one can be a harsh reflection of reality.
The Atlanta Falcons have only been a franchise for 51 years but in that time there have been several stellar nicknames. Let’s take a look at what I consider to be the top ten.
10. “Matty Ice”
The most recent nickname on this list is perhaps not the “coolest” sounding, pun intended, but it is well deserved. Matt Ryan is not the most prolific passer, and he can’t run a 4.3 forty, but Ryan is clutch. With a highly accurate arm and the guts to stand in the pocket and deliver the rock under pressure Ryan earns the nickname “Matty Ice.”
9. Chris “Chandelier”
Don’t get me wrong, Chris Chandler was a very good quarterback. In his 17 seasons as an NFL quarterback Chandler amassed 28,484 yards, 170 touchdowns and 146 interceptions. He had eight seasons with over 2,000 yards passing and seven seasons with more than 15 touchdowns. Chandler led the Falcons to a 14-2 record and the next year led us to the Super Bowl. Chandler’s problem was with concussions and the perennially poor Falcons offensive line play of the 1990s helped him earn the nickname Chris “Chandelier.”
8. Michael “The Burner” Turner
In his later years with the Falcons Michael Turner lost a good bit of what made the nickname “The Burner,” but a lot of folks forget that when he first came to Atlanta breaking long runs and running away from pursuit was is forte. Turner burst onto the Falcons scene in 2008 after being acquired from the Chargers with a huge day, 220 yards, and finished his first season with the Falcons with 1,699 yards rushing. He only played in Atlanta for five seasons but is one of the best running backs in franchise history.
7. Andre “Bad Moon” Rison
There was a time way back in the 1990s, before Left Eye burned his house down, when Andre Rison was the best receiver in Falcons history. Julio Jones ended that claim to fame but Rison was special for several years. “Bad Moon” made it to five Pro Bowls and led the league in touchdown catches in 1993 with 15. He made 743 catches with 10,205 yards and 84 touchdowns in his 12 year career. Chris Berman gave him the name Andre “Bad Moon” Rison, catchy enough to be a song title.
6. Craig “Iron Head” Heyward
“Iron Head” is a pretty good description of how the man played the game. A viscous, pounding running back that was hard to bring down, Heyward horrified defensive backs and ran over some very big men in his 11 year NFL career. Standing only 5-11, he carried his 265 plus pounds impressively. “Iron Head” played much of his football in New Orleans but Atlanta fans will remember the late Heyward as force on the field with a great nickname.
5. “The Dirty Birds”
I’m not sure where the name comes from. I’m guessing it stems from a popular 1990’s song “Dirty South” by local Atlanta rap group Goodie Mob. Then there’s the silly dance Jamal Anderson used to do when he scored a touchdown called the “Dirty Bird.” Wherever the moniker came from, the Falcons carried the nickname to Super Bowl XXIII. The name has stuck and “The Dirty Birds” is now one of the best contemporary nicknames for a football franchise.
4. Jessie “The Hammer” Tuggle
“The Hammer” was just that, a monster in the midfield and a physical enforcer during his 14 year career as a Falcon. Tuggle was elected to five Pro Bowls and holds the Falcon record for tackles in a season. A local product out of Griffin, Georgia, and Valdosta State University, Tuggle is one of the best linebackers in Falcons history and played his entire career as a Falcon. His devastating hits and unmatched leadership got “The Hammer” put into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.
3. Billy “White Shoes” Johnson
Who could forget the touchdown dances that Billy “White Shoes” Johnson broke out on the league? Not just a showboat, Johnson was a very good player and made a couple of the most memorable catches in franchise history. He made three Pro Bowls and was the MVP of the game in 1975. More impactful as a returner, he did lead the Falcons in catches and yards in 1985. However, the thing he was most known for was the super clean white shoes he wore at a time when everyone in the league wore black.
2. Deion “Prime Time” Sanders
Perhaps the greatest player in Falcons history, “Prime Time” electrified the field with his unbelievable speed and great hands. The first time he touched the ball as a pro he took a kick off to the house and from that moment on he was the most feared cornerback/kick returner in football.
There were games where opposing quarterbacks just didn’t throw the ball to his side of the field all day. He returned kicks, locked down receivers and was helicoptered to baseball stadiums to lead off for the Atlanta Braves after playing a NFL game. With an unbelievable Hall of Fame career, and some unbelievable suits, Sanders will always be “Prime Time.”
1. “The Grits Blitz”
One of the greatest team nicknames ever, right up there with “The Steel Curtain” and “The Purple People Eaters” the talented Atlanta Falcons defensive line from the 1970’s terrorized quarterbacks and brought the first great nickname to the Atlanta football franchise.
In 1977, they led the league in several categories including forced turnovers and fewest passing yards allowed. Orchestrated by future head coach Jerry Glanville and with names like Claude Humphrey and Rolland Lawrence, “The Grits Blitz” was something special and is our best all time nickname.