Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is an interesting cat. He's currently wrapping up medical school and expects to have his degree before the 2018 NFL season. That would make him the first physician in NFL history, and he'd like to pair that with another distinction: He wants to have "M.D." added to his nameplate.
Duvernay-Tardif says he's already spoken to the league office about this and that he's been told "anything is possible." It opens up a wide range of possibilities -- imagine a player with "J.D." or even "Ph.D." at the end of his nameplate, for example. (OK, so maybe "Ph.D." doesn't seem so likely, but you probably never thought you'd see an NFL player with a medical degree either, right?) And why stick to academic degrees? Why not professional degrees, fraternal organization affiliations, military ranks and so on?
With Duvernay-Tardif bidding to become the first athlete to wear his degree on his back, this is a good time to look back at the history of the NOB (that's "name on back," kids). NOBs were introduced by the Chicago White Sox, who added players' names to their road jerseys in 1960. Despite some early glitches, the idea caught on quickly. When the upstart American Football League debuted that fall, six of its eight teams wore NOBs. One of those six, the Oakland Raiders, went a step further by having players wear their first and last names.
After that, it was off to the NOB races. Here's an extensive but by no means exhaustive timeline of notable moments in NOB history:
Early to mid-1960s
The Cincinnati Reds are wearing sleeveless vest jerseys, which don't leave much room across the shoulders for NOBs, so they opt to wear arched NOBs below their uniform numbers.
Notable Moments in NOBs: Reds wore arched NOBs below the numbers in early 1960s. pic.twitter.com/dsV9eUpO92— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 20, 2018
In another vest-related development, Kansas City Athletics owner Charles Finley has his vest-clad team wear short NOBs -- sometimes first names, sometimes nicknames (additional info here). Finley later moves the team to Oakland and continues encouraging his players to wear unconventional NOBs up through the early 1970s.
Notable Moments in NOB History: KC/Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley encouraged his players to wear first names or nicknames from 1963 through the early 1970s. pic.twitter.com/aC82SCNLy5— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 20, 2018
Linebacker-punter Ed "Wahoo" McDaniel wears a "Wahoo" NOB while playing for the Miami Dolphins.
Notable Moments in NOB History: Ed "Wahoo" McDaniel wears "Wahoo" for the Miami Dolphins in 1966. pic.twitter.com/zKMdW8ygf9— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 20, 2018
Elvin Hayes, affectionately known as "the Big E," lives up to his nickname by wearing a big "E" on his back during his rookie season with the NBA's San Diego Rockets. He later adds large quotation marks and then, when playing for the Baltimore Bullets in the early 1970s, wears his first name (with all lowercase lettering).
Notable Moments in NOB History: Future Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes, "the Big E," had a variety of interesting NOB styles during the first few years of his career, from 1968-73. pic.twitter.com/n2ch3dnttp— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 21, 2018
Cleveland slugger Ken "Hawk" Harrelson wears his nickname, rather than his surname, on his jersey.
Notable Moments in NOB History: Ken "Hawk" Harrelson wears his nickname in 1969 (including what appears to be an upside-down "M" instead of a "W"). pic.twitter.com/hR4YPT34E6— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 20, 2018
• The NFL and rival AFL merge, with NFL teams adding NOBs (which AFL teams have been wearing all along) for the first time. San Francisco 49ers running back Doug Cunningham tests the limits of the new format by wearing his nickname, "Goober," instead of his surname. Afterward, offensive coordinator Ed Hughes says, "He won't do it again. I gave him permission for that one game, but we don't want people to start wearing all kinds of nicknames."
Notable Moments in NOB History: 49ers running back Doug Cunningham wore "Goober" (his nickname) for one game in 1970. pic.twitter.com/LWweMI8vwt— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 21, 2018
• University of Maryland point guard Howard White wears an enormous "H" -- and similarly enormous quotation marks -- in lieu of a more conventional NOB.
Notable Moments in NOB History: Maryland point guard Howard White simply wore a giant "H" beginning in 1970. pic.twitter.com/hcWUA0OIrW— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 20, 2018
California Angels outfielder Tony Conigliaro wears "Tony C" on his jersey.
Notable Moments in NOB History: Tony Conigliaro of the Angels wore "Tony C" in 1971. pic.twitter.com/VBfpKdEadG— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 20, 2018
Early to mid-1970s
NBA sharpshooter "Pistol" Pete Maravich wears his nickname -- including quote marks -- while playing for the Atlanta Hawks and New Orleans Jazz. (He later wears "Maravich" while playing for the more tradition-minded Boston Celtics.)
Notable Moments in NOB History: "Pistol" Pete Maravich wore his nickname while playing for the Hawks and Jazz in the 1970s. pic.twitter.com/MiYCwo3nGI— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 20, 2018
Washington Bullets forward Nick Weatherspoon wears "Spoon" on his jersey.
Notable Moments in NOB History: Nick Weatherspoon wore "Spoon" while playing for the Bullets in the mid-1970s. pic.twitter.com/bdN64bWgHc— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 20, 2018
With several pairs of same-surnamed players on the roster, the NFL's San Diego Chargers take the unusual step of adding the players' first initials after their surnames, instead of before. The Cleveland Browns use this same format several years later.
Notable Moments in NOB History: The Chargers put same-surnamed players' first initials *after* the surname in 1975. Browns did same thing around 1980. pic.twitter.com/jcvq80uPRN— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 21, 2018
Atlanta Braves PR director Bob Hope (no, not that Bob Hope) comes up with the idea of having the team's players wear nicknames as a promotional stunt. It's all good fun until pitcher Andy Messersmith, who wears No. 17, wears "Channel" as his NOB, creating a de facto "Channel 17" ad for team owner Ted Turner's cable TV station, which prompts a crackdown by the National League office (additional info and lots of photos here).
Dick Allen of the Oakland A's wears "Wampum" and No. 60 -- a shoutout to his 1960 graduating class from Wampum High School in Pennsylvania.
Notable Moments in NOB History: In 1977, Dick Allen wears "Wampum" and No. 60 to commemorate his 1960 graduation from Wampum High School in Pennsylvania. pic.twitter.com/JGnmkT89Kq— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 20, 2018
Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard thinks the NHL's new rule mandating the use of NOBs will cut into his scorecard sales, so he "complies" by having his players wear blue-lettered NOBs that are illegible against the team's blue jerseys. The protest lasts two games and is then abandoned when Ballard is threatened with a fine (additional info here).
Notable Moments in NOB History: Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard, fearing loss of scorecard sales revenue, protests NHL rule requiring NOBs by having his team wear blue-lettered nameplates on blue jerseys for two games in 1978. Additional info: https://t.co/wi5iQyywGN pic.twitter.com/v4XWvlF7Cr— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 20, 2018
San Francisco Giants infielder Johnnie LeMaster responds to incessant booing by Candlestick Park fans by wearing a "Boo" NOB for one game.
Notable Moments in NOB History: Johnnie LeMaster responds to booing by wearing "Boo" for one game in 1979. pic.twitter.com/2k8CcEbvoW— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 20, 2018
Minor league shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. is called up to the Baltimore Orioles, where his father, Cal Ripken Sr., is the team's third-base coach. They do not add "Jr." or "Sr." to their NOBs.
Notable Moments in NOB History: When Cal Ripken Jr. was called up to the O's in 1981, his father was on the team's coaching staff. They did not add "Jr." or "Sr." to their jerseys. pic.twitter.com/fbfIuEBVAE— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 20, 2018
Ken Griffey Sr. signs with the Seattle Mariners, where his son, Ken Griffey Jr., is already on the roster. They become the first father-son teammates in MLB history but do not add "Jr." or "Sr." to their NOBs.
Notable Moments in NOB History: In 1990, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sr. became MLB's first father/son duo to be teammates. They did not add "Jr." or "Sr." to their jerseys. pic.twitter.com/Broh7Ad1xF— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 20, 2018
MLB introduces a series of garish "futuristic" uniforms, which feature vertically lettered NOBs. New York Mets pitcher Jason Isringhausen's surname is too long to fit on his jersey in the vertical format, so he wears "Izzy" instead.
Notable Moments in NOB History: MLB's 1999 "futuristic" uniforms featured vertical NOBs, but Mets P Jason Isringhausen's name wouldn't fit in that format, so he just wore "Izzy." pic.twitter.com/zxwpKyitwg— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 20, 2018
• The XFL plays its first and only season. Players are permitted to wear nicknames, the most notable of which is worn by Las Vegas Outlaws running back Rod Smart, whose "He Hate Me" NOB becomes the league's defining visual symbol. (Smart later plays for the NFL's Carolina Panthers and simply wears "Smart" on his jersey.)
Notable Moments in NOB History: Rod Smart, 2001. Nuff said. pic.twitter.com/zYCxySpxHz— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 20, 2018
• Japanese baseball star Ichiro Suzuki joins MLB's Seattle Mariners. Suzuki, who has worn his first name on his jersey during his career in Japan (he started doing it when he was on a Japanese minor league team with several other Suzukis, all of whom simply wore their first names to avoid confusion), requests and receives permission from MLB to keep wearing his first name, which he will end up doing throughout his MLB career (except while playing for the New York Yankees, who don't use NOBs, from 2012 through 2014).
Notable Moments in NOB History: Ichiro Suzuki jumps to MLB in 2001, requests and receives permission to wear his first name, as he'd done in Japan. pic.twitter.com/q7iHWnx5yq— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 20, 2018
Prior to a game against the Atlanta Falcons, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson covers up his "C. Johnson" nameplate with an "Ocho Cinco" Velcro patch -- the Spanish translation of his uniform number, 85. Although Johnson removes the patch before the game, the NFL hits him with a $5,000 fine for the pregame stunt. He later legally changes his name to Chad Ochocinco and is able to wear the Spanish term -- this time styled as one word, not two -- without fear of reprisal.
Notable Moments in NOB History: Chad Johnson wear Velcro cover-up "Ocho Cinco" nameplate during pregame warm-ups in 2006 (left). Later legally changes his name to Chad Ochocinco and wears the name for real - this time as one word, not two (right). pic.twitter.com/jUuGMseDyS— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 20, 2018
Atlanta Braves catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia makes his MLB debut, with his 14-letter surname setting a record for the longest NOB in big league history. He goes on to play for six additional teams, each of which struggles with the task of fitting his name on his jersey.
Notable Moments in NOB History: Beginning with the Braves in 2007, many teams have faced the challenge of fitting Jarrod Saltalamacchia's 14-letter surname on his jersey. pic.twitter.com/FHqlmyZsgX— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 21, 2018
The NFL passes a rule allowing generational suffixes to appear on NOBs for the first time. Washington rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III immediately takes advantage, becoming the first player for a major pro league to include a Roman numeral on his NOB (additional info here). Meanwhile, his teammate Roy Helu Jr. is among the first to add "Jr." to his NOB. Both practices soon become commonplace.
Notable Moments in NOB History: Washington running back Roy Helu Jr. was among the first wave of pro athletes to wear "Jr.," in 2012. pic.twitter.com/QyVGN6sOll— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 21, 2018
The NBA's Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat suit up for a Nickname Jersey Night promotion.
Notable Moments in NOB History: The Nets and Heat faced off for "Nickname Jersey Night" on Jan. 10, 2014. pic.twitter.com/LF1M8fss0C— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 21, 2018
MLB introduces Players Weekend, a promotion in which players are encouraged to wear nicknames on their jerseys. The New York Yankees play along, marking the first time in team history that the Bronx Bombers have worn NOBs.
Notable Moments in NOB History: With MLB players encouraged to wear nicknames for 2017's Players Weekend promotion, the Yankees wore NOBs for first time in team history. pic.twitter.com/MqMcvCByNX— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 20, 2018
Phew -- that's a lot of NOB-itude! Will we be adding Duvernay-Tardif's "M.D." to this list later this year? Stay tuned.
Paul Lukas is glad Jarrod Saltalamacchia never wasted that glorious last name by playing for the Yankees. If you like this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, check out his Uni Watch merchandise or just ask him a question? Contact him here.