The Top 10 Coolest Nicknames for Defenses in NFL History

By Dave Holcomb
January 24, 2014 6:25 pm
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The NFL office can do its best to take hitting out of the game, but when it comes down to it, there is still a high percentage of fans that love seeing defensive linemen sacking quarterbacks, linebackers wrestling down a running back and safeties nailing a receiver over the middle.

Some of the most exciting plays in football are still a sack fumble, pick-six or just a good, old-fashion tackle.

With those big plays on defense, comes some pretty cool nicknames. Here are the top 10 coolest defensive nicknames the NFL has ever seen.

*note: the ranking does not reflect how good the defense was, just how cool the nickname is.

10. The Sack Pack: Many fans might not remember this nickname, but it was given to the defensive line for the Baltimore Colts in the mid-1970's, which featured defensive tackles Joe Ehrmann and Mike Barnes and defensive ends Fred Cook and John Dutton. From 1975-1977, the Sack Pack helped lead the Colts to three straight division titles. The unit sacked the quarterback a record 59 times in 1975 and then 56 times in 1976. The following year, the Sack Pack got to the quarterback 47 times, but was slowed by injuries after that and never returned to the top form.

9. Orange Crush Defense: Derived from the orange jerseys they wore, the nickname became popular for the Denver Broncos during their first Super Bowl Campaign in 1977. The Broncos were one of the only teams running a 3-4 Defense at the time, and it became of one the best units in the league. Led by linebackers Randy Gradishar and Tom Jackson and defensive lineman Lyle Alzado, the Broncos were the best defense against the run that season and "crushed" receivers over the middle. Against the pass, however, the Broncos were second to last which the Dallas Cowboys took advantage of in Super Bowl XII.

8. Blizburg: Pittsburgh already had a popular nickname for its dominant 1970's defense, but when Bill Cowher took over for Chuck Noll in 1991, and Dick LeBeau became defensive coordinator, the team earned another one. In 1982, the Steelers switched from the traditional 4-3 defense to the 3-4 scheme, which encourages more disguises in blitzes. Rather than rushing the quarterback with the usual four defensive linemen, the Steelers brought outside linebackers, safeties and even corners to blitz the passer. The system continued and flouished even further when LeBeau took over in 1995. Thus, Pittsburgh became known as Blitzburg. No H necessary.

7. New York Sack Exchange: Given to the Jets defensive line in 1981 by a fan who held up a bedsheet that had the nickname written on it. The Jets PR team and the media quickly caught on and the nickname stuck. The New York Sack Exchange led the NFL with 66 sacks that season and helped the Jets reach the AFC Championship in 1982. The four defensive linemen were Mark Gastineau, Joe Klecko, Marty Lyons and Abdul Salaam. The Jets broke up the New York Sack Exchange when Salaam was traded after the 1983 season.

6. No Name Defense: Shhh. We aren't supposed to talk about the No Name Defense. The Miami Dolphins defense earned this nickname in the 1970's when the unit became one of the best defenses in the league despite not having any big name stars. Actually it was Dallas head coach Tom Landry who indirectly gave them the nickname when he could not remember any of their names after the Cowboys defeated the Dolphins in Super Bowl VI. Fans might have learned some of their names the following few years when the Dolphins completed the only undefeated season in NFL history in 1972 and then repeated as Super Bowl Champions in 1973. Despite being considered no names, Dick Anderson won defensive player of the year in 1973, Jake Scott won Super Bowl MVP in 1972 and linebacker Nick Buoniconti is in the Hall of Fame.

5. Legion of Boom: Although most would probably say the nickname is for the entire Seahawks defense, it was originally used to describe the Seattle secondary composed of Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Other reserve cornerbacks have also become part of the exclusive club mostly when Browner was out with a suspension in 2012 and 2013. The Legion of Boom has allowed the least amount of points in the NFL the last two seasons, and in 2013 in also allowed the fewest offensive yards and passing yards. Sherman has become one of, if not, the best cornerbacks in the game (just ask him, he will tell you). This season, Sherman led the league with eight interceptions despite quarterbacks only throwing his way 58 times.

4. Purple People Eaters: Arguably one of the greatest defenses in NFL history, like Legion of Boom, The Purple People Eaters nickname refers only to the four defensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings in the late 1960's all the way through the 1970's. Behind this great defensive line, the Vikings made four Super Bowl appearances during that time. Alan Page and Carl Eller made a combined 15 Pro Bowls and are both in the Hall of Fame. Page was so dominate, he won the league MVP in 1971. Jim Marshall and Gary Larsen are the other two original members of the Purple People Eaters and each made two Pro Bowls. Unfortunately, the Vikings lost all four Super Bowl appearances from 1969-1976.

3. Doomsday Defense: Maybe things really were cooler in the 1970's. Here's another nickname from that decade for the Dallas Cowboys defense. The nickname actually originated in 1966 but has somewhat extended to Cowboys teams all the way through 1995. Defensive linemen Bob Lilly and Chuck Howley led Dallas in the 1960's and early 1970's. Howley is still the only player to win Super Bowl MVP as a part of the losing team. The Cowboys appeared in back to back Super Bowls in 1970 and 1971, winning Super Bowl VI. Then in 1976 with younger players, Doomsday II was led by Hall of Fame defensive lineman Randy White. The Cowboys also had colorful linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, defensive end Harvey Martin, safeties Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris. The Cowboys appeared in three more Super Bowls in 1975, 1977 and 1978, winning Super Bowl XII. White and Martin won shared that Super Bowl's MVP award and are still the only two players to win a co-MVP award for the game. In the 1990's under Jimmy Johnson, the Cowboys defense, although helped by four Hall of Famers on offense, became the first to win three Super Bowls in four years.

2. Steel Curtain: The nickname given to one of the greatest defensive lines of all-time and backbone to the Steelers 1970's dynasty. The original members of the group were Hall of Famer Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood (many Steelers fans would argue is a HOF snub), Ernie Holmes and Dwight White. Although many fans started calling the entire Steelers defense the Steel Curtain, which included three other Hall of Famers, linebackers Jack Ham and Jack Lambert and cornerback Mel Blount, the nickname was originally intended for only the four defensive lineman. Behind this great defense, the Steelers made eight playoff appearances, won six division titles and four Super Bowls in six years, a feat still not yet repeated. Ironically, the Steel Curtain was at its best in 1976, one of the year's Pittsburgh did not win the Super Bowl. After starting 1-4 and losing quarterback Terry Bradshaw, the Steelers defense allowed just 28 points in its final nine games and shut out opponents five times, an accomplishment not likely to be beaten.

1. Fearsome Foursome: this nickname was actually used by a few different teams including the New York Giants, Detroit Lions, and San Diego Chargers, but is mostly remembered for being associated with the St. Louis Rams during the 1960's and 1970's. Actually, Rosey Grier was a member of the Fearsome Foursome in New York and then again when he was traded to Los Angeles in 1963. He joined Lamar Lundy, Merlin Olsen, and Deacon Jones for what Hall of Famer Dick Butkis called the most dominate defensive line in the history of the NFL. The unit turned Los Angeles into a annual playoff team under head coach George Allen. New members came into the group when Grier retired in 1967 and Lundy left in 1970, but the line broke up what looked for good when Allen left to coach the Washington Redskins. The new Fearsome Foursome, however, was created in 1973 when Olsen teamed up with Jack Youngblood, Fred Dyer, and Larry Brooks. The Rams won a division tile seven years in a row from 1973-1979, a record still standing in the NFL today. Olsen and Youngblood are Hall of Famers while Brooks and Dyer made five and one Pro Bowl, respectively.

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By Dave Holcomb
Senior Writer
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Previous Comments (5)

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9 months ago
Admittedly biased, but it's the Purple People Eaters for me! #skol
9 months ago
Killer B's did no take the list? Thank you. Under Jim Mora, we had the Dome Patrol which was our best. But realistically I don't think it ever got out of New Orleans due to our lack of success.
9 months ago
Really interesting article. Other than The Greatest Show on Turf, have there been other memorable offensive names?
9 months ago

How about the Hogs? There are a lot if you stop to think about it. Monsters of the Midway, Electric Company, Earth Wind & FIre, Air Coryell
9 months ago
It's the Steel Curtain For Me, as a Pittsburgh native. So cool!

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