Shawne “Lights Out” Merriman is ready to tackle a new season with a new team on the East Coast, and it’s no surprise that, as a fan of body art, No. 56 has marked this fresh start with new ink to begin another chapter in his career.
by David Diehl Photography by Tyler Jason
In order to truly rock a proper nickname, professional athletes have to prove its worth. Throughout the years, many pro jocks have donned a moniker that celebrated the highlights and accolades of their career. They called Yankee Reggie Jackson “Mr. October” because his performance in the playoffs and World Series was legendary – and those events take place in October. Wayne Gretzky was tagged “The Great One” because he’s the greatest hockey player ever. Since he hit many game-winning and important shots at the end of games for the L.A. Lakers, Jerry West was labeled “Mr. Clutch.”
Since high school, Buffalo Bills linebacker Shawne Merriman has been called “Lights Out.” Why? His reputation for knocking opponents unconscious precedes him.
The story is infamous. A mere sophomore at Frederick Douglass High School in Washington D.C., a young Shawne Merriman laid out four guys on the opposing team in one game – three within the first half. It’s safe to say that “Lights Out” was aptly attached to warn other teams that Shawne was not safe to play against.
“It’s funny because it’s like one of those things, like with basketball in Rucker Park. If you get a name you have to earn it. That was the day I earned it. It stuck on every level, because you have to prove yourself to keep the name,” Merriman explains. “I remember arriving at the University of Maryland and when I joined the team the older guys were like, ‘We’re not calling you “Lights Out,” rookie.’ So during a game in my freshman year, I knocked a guy out. And then they were okay with calling me that again.”
After a three-year career as a hometown Terp at Maryland, Merriman was drafted 12th overall in the 2005 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers. He had an immediate impact with the team by executing six quarterback sacks within his first four games, later being named Defensive Rookie of the Year and making the Pro Bowl. In his half-decade as a Super Charger out West, Merriman tallied over 40 sacks and over 200 tackles. And he did it with style, coining his patented “Lights Out” sack celebration dance that no other NFL team or fan outside of San Diego ever wanted to see again.
“It was one of those things that you dream about and it finally arrives. You play the Boys & Girls Club, you play Little League and high school and then you play college, and the final step of doing all that is playing in the NFL. Once your name gets called at the draft, it makes everything you dreamed about, your whole life come true,” he reflects. “There were about five or six teams who needed my position at that time. And I just drove myself crazy thinking about where I could end up. I ended up in San Diego, and my time there was just outstanding. My first five years – well four, because I was hurt for one of those years – I was in a conference where not a lot of people had 40 sacks in three years. And I’m at 45 sacks. I’m getting back on that path.”