A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from February 16, 2013
Sam, Mike, Will (strongside, middle and weakside linebacker nicknames)

Sam (strongside linebacker), Mike (middle linebacker) and Will (weakside linebacker) are football position nicknames in the 4-3 defense. Tom Landry (1924-2000), the New York Giants defensive coordinator from 1954 to 1959. used the women’s names of Sarah (strongside linebacker), Meg (middle linebacker) and Wanda) (weakside linebacker) since about 1957. The women’s names of Sarah-Meg-Wanda have the advantage over Sam-Mike-Will in that there is no confusion with the male players’ real names.

“Sam” has been cited in print since at least 1965. “Mike” has been cited in print since at least 1969. ‘Walt” has been cited since 1965 and “Willie” since 1969.


Wikipedia: Linebacker
Middle linebacker
The middle or inside linebacker (MLB), sometimes called “Mike,” is often referred to as the “quarterback of the defense.”
(...)
Strongside linebacker
The strongside linebacker (SLB) is often nicknamed “Sam” for purposes of calling a blitz.
(...)
Weakside linebacker
The weakside linebacker (WLB), or the “Will”, must be the fastest of the three, because he is often the one called into pass coverage. He is also usually chasing the play from the backside, so the ability to maneuver through traffic is a necessity for the Will.

17 May 1960, Thomasville (GA) Times-Enterprise, Sammy Glassman sports column, pg. 6, col. 1:
Tom Landry, one of pro football’s greatest defensive strategists, like to add a touch of color during a lecture to his players. He tosses around names like “Sarah,” “Wanda” and “Meg.” It’s just his way of talking about linebackers. “Meg” is middle guard. “Sarah” is for strong side and “Wanda” for weak side.

Google Books
Defensive Football
By Sam Huff with Don Smith
New York, NY: Ronald Press
1963
Pg. 102:
The Giants have a unique system of giving their linebackers girls names. The weakside linebacker always is called by the code name of “Wanda” ("W" for weakside), the middle man is “Meg,” and the strongside linebacker is “Sarah.”

Google Books
Scholastic Coach
Volume 35
1965
Pg. 28:
As shown in the diagram we shall follow the common pro practice of using ‘“short" names to identify our perimeter personnel: “Wanda” (W) for the weakside linebacker, ‘“Sandra" (S) for the strongside linebacker, and “Mabel” (M) for the middle linebacker. It must be noted that “Mabel” changes gender and becomes “Sam” (SM) when moving to the strong side and “Walt” (WM) when flowing to the weak side.

1 September 1966, Morning Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), “Random Shots” from Bud Montet, pg. 2-F, col. 1:
Who are Meg, Sharon, and Wanda.

Tittle says they’re very “in” names for the middle linebacker, the strong-side linebacker, and the weakside linebacker. 

5 October 1969, Sunday Herald Traveler (Boston, MA), “Football Jargon Set Straight” by Jack Clary, pg. 68, col. 5:
The “mike,” “meg,” and “middle plugger” are different terms for one man—the middle linebacker. In college football, “mike” is the prevalent term; the AFL uses “plugger” to refer to all linebackers; while many of the NFL teams term their line backers Meg (for middle) Wanda (for the weak side) and Sarah (for the strong side).

THE GIANTS were the originators of the meg-wanda-sarah trio just as they were of the terms blitz, red-dog and storm.

Google Books
Summer Manual
American Football Coaches Association
Hanover, NH: The Association
1969
Pg. 21:
The SAM linebacker and the MlKE linebacker will play inside-outside techniques on the tight end and the strong running back. WlLLlE linebacker will have the weak running back all the way.

Google Books
Summer Manual
American Football Coaches Association
Hanover, NH: The Association
1973
Pg. 34:
Our linebackers are called Sam (strongside), Mike (middle) and Willie (weakside).

Google Books
Saturday’s Children
By Giles Tippette
New York, NY: MacMillan
1973
Pg. 70:
A WILLIE linebacker is a weakside linebacker.

Sports Illustrated
September 13, 1976
Pete Rozelle’s Dictionary
Dan Jenkins
(...)
MEG, MAC, MARY: The middle linebacker.
(...)
SARAH or SAM: Strongside linebacker.
(...)
WANDA: Weakside linebacker.

Boston (MA) Globe
How Sam, Mike, and Will became football positions
The logic of the game’s strange new nicknames

By Ben Zimmer | SEPTEMBER 09, 2012
(...)
Where did this welter of names come from? The earliest examples I’ve found are decidedly less manly than today’s Sam, Mike, and Will. It was Tom Landry who pioneered the 4-3 defense as defensive coordinator for the New York Giants in the late 1950s, before going on to coach the Dallas Cowboys. For the strong-side, middle, and weak-side linebackers, Landry used women’s names: Sarah, Meg, and Wanda.

Giants linebacker Harland Svare explained Landry’s system to The New York Times in November 1957. “Sometimes we want the weak-side linebacker to crash so we call Blitz Wanda,” Svare said. “If it’s the strong-side linebacker’s job we call Blitz Sarah. You understand. W is for weak side, and S is for strong side.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CitySports/Games • Saturday, February 16, 2013 • Permalink