We have always had a weakness for a certain kind of time-wasting exercise: “All-Whatever” sports trivia challenges. These puzzles, which are most popular among baseball nerds like us, require you to assemble the best possible lineup of players whose names fit a common category. For example, an All-Food team might have Chili Davis, Jim Rice, and Zack Wheat in the outfield, Pie Traynor and Mark “Big Mac” McGwire at the infield corners, Johnny Oates behind the plate, and Noodles Hahn on the mound. An All-Fish lineup could feature guys like Catfish Hunter, Kevin Bass, Ralph Garr, Gil Hodges, and Tim Salmon; candidates for the All-Presidents ballclub would include players like Ian Kennedy, Otis Nixon, Gary Carter, and Reggie Jackson.
We’re total suckers for this sort of thing. So when, on a recent Sunday, our Apple news feed displayed an NFL player’s name that reminded us of a mobility aid, we could not resist. Next thing we knew, we’d misspent a good chunk of time in search of gridiron names that sound vaguely limb loss-ish. And we’re so proud of our results in this foolish endeavor that we decided to inflict them on you.
To keep things tidy, we limited ourselves to glamour players only, the ones who rack up the yardage and put the points on the scoreboard. Following the common format of fantasy football, we set out to list a couple of receivers, a pair of running backs, a tight end, a quarterback, and a kicker. In some cases, we listed more than the requisite number of players. But the QB position proved surprisingly difficult to fill; in the end, we couldn’t find anyone better than the third-stringer whose name showed up in our news feed and sparked this undertaking in the first place.
If you think we left out a worthy performer, send us an email. Let’s get right to it:
Brian Blades. A 2nd-round draft pick from the University of Miami, Blades had four seasons of 1,000+ receiving yards and two years of 80+ catches. Over an 11-year career (spent entirely with the Seattle Seahawks), he racked up 581 catches and 7,620 yards, both of which rank just outside the top 100 all time. Despite his consistent production, Blades only made one Pro Bowl appearance. Brian Blades’ career stats.
Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch. This Hall-of-Famer acquired his nickname from a Chicago sportswriter in 1942 and reportedly preferred it to his given name, reportedly telling one journalist: “Anything’s better than Elroy.” The LA Ram was Southern California’s first professional sports superstar, and one of the only dominant receivers in an era that heavily favored running over passing. Hirsch’s 1951 record for receiving yards in a season (1,495) stood for nearly a quarter of a century. Elroy Hirsch’s career stats.
Elbert “Golden Wheels” Dubenion. This long-forgotten player was one of the first big stars of the old American Football League. Playing for the Buffalo Bills in the 1960s, he caught passes from future congressman Jack Kemp and earned his nickname for his blinding speed. In his best campaign (1964), Dubenion averaged an astonishing 27.1 yards per reception, the highest single-season total of all time (minimum 40 catches). Elbert Dubenion’s career stats.
Otis Armstrong. For one year (1974), Armstrong was the most explosive weapon in the NFL, leading the league in rushing, total yards from scrimmage, and yards per touch. The following year he got hurt, and although Armstrong came back in 1976 to make another Pro Bowl and notch another 1,000-yard season, he was never quite the same. By 1977, the year his Denver Broncos made their first Super Bowl, he’d been relegated to part-time duty. So it goes for running backs in this league. Otis Armstrong’s career stats.
Stump Mitchell. An undersized thumper (5’9″) from a small college (The Citadel), Mitchell made a sizeable impact with the Cardinals. He led the league in return yardage as a rookie in 1981, posted a league-best 5.5 yards per carry in 1985, and added a 1,000-yard campaign and two seasons of 10+ touchdowns. Over a nine-year career, Mitchell logged nearly 12,000 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, and returns), placing him just outside the top 100 gainers in NFL history. Stump Mitchell’s career stats.
Roland Hooks. His main claim to fame? He took OJ Simpson’s job in Buffalo’s starting backfield after the future murderer suffered a season-ending injury midway through the 1977 season. Hooks filled in admirably, logging 497 yards in half a season, and lasted another six years in the league. Not a bad career for a 10th-round draft pick. Roland Hooks’ career stats.
Doak Walker. Perhaps the greatest Detroit Lion ever, he led the team to two NFL titles in the early 1950s and made the Pro Bowl five times in a six-year career. In addition to piling up yards on the ground and as a receiver out of the backfield, Walker was the Lions’ placekicker and punter; he also started at defensive back his entire career. Oh yeah, he also won the 1948 Heisman Trophy at SMU and finished third in the voting two other years. Doak Walker’s career stats.
Antonio Gates. Coaches and pundits had mixed opinions of Gates because he was an inferior blocker. But as a fantasy player, we’ll take him. Gates ranks third in career receptions among tight ends (and 17th among all positions), first in career TD catches by a tight end (and seventh among all positions), 14th in career touchdowns, and 30th in receiving yards. Gates also was named to eight Pro Bowls in a 16-year career. Antonio Gates’ career stats.
Lou “The Toe” Groza. You don’t see many 240-pound kickers anymore (although there’s one at the University of Missouri this year). But Groza’s physical stature was commensurate with his impact on the record books. At the time he retired in 1967, he was the NFL’s all-time leading scorer by a margin of more than 500 points; half a century later, Groza’s career total of 1,607 points still ranks 22nd on the all-time list. He got his nickname either in reference to his famous square-toed cleats, or to his clutch playoff exploits: a game-winning field goal with 20 seconds left in the 1950 NFL title game, and a record-setting 52-yarder in the following year’s championship match. Lou Groza’s career stats.
P.J. Walker. This is the player who popped up in our news feed a couple weeks back after leading the Cleveland Browns to an improbable win over San Francisco. He must not be too bad of a player, since he engineered a second consecutive win last Sunday (on the road, no less). But with a career completion rate of 56 percent, a TD-to-INT ratio of 5-14, and a miserable 4.4 yards per pass attempt, Walker is not who we want at the key position on our fantasy team. And anyway, we’ve already got somebody named Walker on the team; you’re not supposed to use the same name twice in this sort of a test. But try as we might, we cannot come up with a better option. We considered using Hall of Famer Otto Graham, a teammate of Lou Groza’s, but the connection to limb loss (ie, Ottobock) is way too much of a stretch. The Broncos’ current QB, Russell Wilson, is supposedly nicknamed “Robot,” but a) that’s also a dubious limb-loss association, b) we’ve never heard anybody actually refer to Wilson as Robot, and c) he’s posted wretched results since arriving here in the Mile High City. A third option we rejected was 1990 Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer, who was briefly dubbed “Chicken Legs” in the NFL by his favorite receiver, Irving Fryar. The thing is, nobody other than Fryar actually called Detmer by that name, which bears a flimsy relation to limb loss at best . . . and Detmer didn’t exactly light the league on fire as a passer. Next year’s draft will include a fringe QB prospect named Brennan Armstrong, who starred at Virginia before transferring to NC State. He’s having a poor senior season and is considered a late-round draft prospect at best, but we are desperate. C’mon Brennan, we need ya. PJ Walker’s career stats.