Jon Gruden goes by the nickname “Chucky” thanks to his resemblance to the doll made famous in the horror movie series Child’s Play that has since prompted a number of spin-off movies. Gruden noted in a 2002 Sports Illustrated interview that the nickname goes back to his days as a Raiders coach in 1998, and he was given the name by former running back Harvey Williams.
As beautiful as Gruden is supposed to be, his sideline expressions are not pretty. In 1998, as Raiders running back
Harvey Williams stood wilting under a torrent of Gruden invective, he took in the coach’s arched eyebrow, the shining eyes and the lopsided grin that was anything but happy, and came up with a nickname that perfectly captured the fearsome sight: Chucky. As in the gleefully homicidal doll in the horror movie Child’s Play.
“Har-vey Will-iams,” Gruden says, using that aw-shucks cadence common to coaches and airline pilots, when the ’98 incident comes
up in conversation. Then he remembers why he’d been so mad. “He went the wrong way on an audible,” Gruden says. “Ninety-six is to
the right, 97 is to the left: We called a 96, he went 97. The guy went the other way. Of course there were only five major
television networks at the game, 70,000 fans there booing. Sorry for getting upset. Gee. Next thing I know, a newspaper has a
picture of Chucky next to a picture of me. Next thing I know, no one knows my name anymore.”
When Gruden returned to coach the Raiders after a long hiatus, Raiders fans dusted off their old Chucky dolls. Now, you can see them all over the Oakland Coliseum at Raiders home games as the fans cheer on their new (old) head coach. The coach’s resemblance to the doll especially comes alive when he gets angry. Gruden has bought into the nickname and even had a Chucky doll in his office when he filmed the popular ESPN series on quarterback prospects.
Former NFL receiver Jerry Rice alluded to the fact that Chucky is Gruden’s nickname when he gets angry.
“I hope these players are ready because they’re going to get Chucky,” Rice told ESPN. “They’re going to get him. How they deal with that is a different story, but Chucky? Chucky’s going to come out.”
Lincoln Kennedy was an offensive lineman under Gruden from 1998 to 2001. Kennedy noted that Gruden could contort his face to look like the Chucky doll.
“Like everyone else, he hated to lose,” Kennedy explained to ESPN. “That’s where the Chucky Face came in. He worked that because he realized there was a camera that was fixated solely on him, especially with the Raiders, and the whole Chucky persona was created.”
Gruden referenced his nickname during the preseason after a Marshawn Lynch touchdown was called back on a penalty.
“I was really ticked off, though, after [Lynch’s run] was called back”, Gruden said per USA Today. “That was a well-blocked play, and that’s impressive. That guy was rollin’, man. That was good to see…I just got to the stadium, I just called my fourth play. Chucky came out for a brief moment tonight.”