The Most Awesome Tattoos in the NFL

January 30, 2012

Football players have to put up with a lot of pain whether it's overcoming sore muscles from a daily practice or getting clocked by a 400 linebacker in front of 80,000 screaming fans. Despite this life of pain, there are some players who actually use their downtime to let a stranger take a hot needle to their flesh...for fun. These are the best inked bodies in the National Football League.

Carolina Panthers' Jeremy Shockey

Photo: David Rojas/Contributor/FilmMagic

This former New Orleans Saint has a dangerous set of arms operated by a very deranged mind. All it takes is one look at how the head decided to decorate those arms to realize that. His arms are covered with American style designs including a giant bald eagle on one and the American flag, all of which took just under 24 hours to finish. Just about every inch of his shoulders to his biceps are covered in red, white and blue ink, making them the most patriotic appendages in professional sports.

Philadelphia Eagles' Jason Babin

Photo: Rob Carr/Staff/Getty Images Sport

This Jets defensive end doesn't give two hoots about making his body designs meaningful or making sure they provide him with some daily affirmation every time he looks in the mirror. Babin admits the tribal designs that runs across his arms and chest that he personally designed in college don't have any deep connection to his place in the universe or how he became such a powerful defensive force in the NFL. He just thinks they look cool.

St. Louis Rams' Chris Hovan

Photo: Al Messerschmidt/Contributor/Getty Images Sport

Something has to be said for simplicity, especially when it comes to tattoos. If you get the wrong guy and you want something really complex, your body can look like a Magic Eye puzzle with no solution. Hovan is the walking mantra of this ideal (until the day he tattoos that mantra on his face) by keeping his body art as simple as possible without destroying whatever coolness it retains, with the traditional barbwire design on his upper bicep and the single color American flag on his opposing arm.

Baltimore Ravens' Ray Rice

Photo: John Grieshop/Contributor/Getty Images Sport

Rice's tats also follow the "simplest is sweetest" mantra, although his choice of designs show a lot more cajones than most athletes' ink until Terrell Owens gets a picture of his cajones drawn on him. One arm simply has the word "gifted" and on the other the word "one". He says he doesn't consider himself the most gifted player in the league, just "gifted to play in the NFL". He also said he wasn't always at the top of his game when he started out and had to work hard to get to his place in life and appreciate where his life has taken him, even if it to Baltimore. 

New York Jets' Rex Ryan

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Players aren't the only one with ink on them. These days, the image of the suit and fedora sporting football coach has died a quick death and even some of the coaches have ink on their skin that didn't come their ink stained playbook. The Jets' head honcho got a mountain scene painted on his leg from his calf to his ankle. The coolest part is why he got it. He told ESPN that he admits it was the result of a mid-life crisis. Sure it might be a cheap way of cheating age, but at least it's honest.

Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson

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If you're going to get tattoos, you might as well commit to the principle and go all out with it. Johnson took that principle to heart as well as his chest, his arms, the rest of his torso and perhaps even his actual heart. His body is a temple to tattooing as it's covered from neck to waist with more ink than an office supply store. The most notable is a pair of wings just above his collarbone and the phrase "'Cause IM A Star" on his chest. He must have the same mental condition that Guy Pierce had in "Memento".

New England Patriots' Aaron Hernandez

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Athletes always like to give it up to God or fate or some invisible force for their performance. Hernandez's father, Dennis, always used to tell him as a boy, "If it is to be, it is up to me" and the phrase carried him through his college football career with the Florida Gators and eventually his appearance in the big show. Since then, he's gotten a body full of ink and most notably, that same phrase has been on his forearm all through his career.

Cincinnati Bengal's Rey Maualuga

Photo: John Grieshop/Contributor/Getty Images Sport

Too many guys and gals get cultural tattoos that couldn't have less to do with their actual lineage, just because they think they look cool. Hawaiian native Rey Maualuga has earned the right to wear his Samoan heritage on his sleeve along with his back, chest and most of his torso. He has some very elaborate Polynesian designs on his back and arms to remind him of where he came from and how he got where he was and just to drive the point home, his newest ink reads, "Never regret anything because at one point it was exactly what you wanted...".

Pittsburgh Steelers' Hines Ward

Photo: George Gojkovich/Contributor/Getty Images Sport

When you think of a hardened athlete or a massive linebacker getting their skin inked, you probably imagine them asking for something equally badass like a large bald eagle carrying away the disembodied head of their enemy over their opponent's firebombed home stadium. Ward gets a bunch of cool points for going the opposite route by getting a tattoo of Mighty Mouse pulling a Heisman Trophy pose on his upper arm because he just considers himself "a happy guy playing football".

Buffalo Bills' Shawne Merriman

Photo: Rick Stewart/Stringer/Getty Images Sport

Merriman may not have turned his entire body into a giant coloring book with his designs, but they've easily got the most personality of any NFL pro with a frequent inkers card in his wallet. On one arm, he has a whole host of religious symbols and designs and on the other is a cluster of Chinese symbols (that we're sure have some deep meaning if we stayed away in our college classes) and a hilarious ode to his nickname "Lights Out".

Danny Gallagher is a freelance writer, reporter, humorist and tongue tattoo ink taste tester. He can be found on the web at and on Twitter at