The colorful history of the uniform name game

Soon to be doctor Laurent Duvernay-Tardif could be the latest, and possibly greatest, chapter in the long story of names on the back of jerseys. AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

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.


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.


Linebacker-punter Ed "Wahoo" McDaniel wears a "Wahoo" NOB while playing for the Miami Dolphins.


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).


Cleveland slugger Ken "Hawk" Harrelson wears his nickname, rather than his surname, on his jersey.


• 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."

• University of Maryland point guard Howard White wears an enormous "H" -- and similarly enormous quotation marks -- in lieu of a more conventional NOB.


California Angels outfielder Tony Conigliaro wears "Tony C" on his jersey.

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.)


Washington Bullets forward Nick Weatherspoon wears "Spoon" on his jersey.


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.


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.


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).


San Francisco Giants infielder Johnnie LeMaster responds to incessant booing by Candlestick Park fans by wearing a "Boo" NOB for one game.


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.


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.


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.


• 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.)

• 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).


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.


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.


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.


The NBA's Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat suit up for a Nickname Jersey Night promotion.


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.

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.