Sure, we could spend the morning talking about how the Miami Heat are melting down before our very eyes. Yes, we could discuss that Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens deserves to be the front-runner in almost every Cy Young conversation as of this morning. You bet we could kick around Joan Cronan being named interim UT athletic director or even the Vols trip to Indy to see the NCAA’s version of Judge Wapner.
But today is Friday, and on Friday’s we do the mailbag. This one — in honor of a singular great question, in honor of Riverbend’s 30 birthday (“It’s a festival. IT’S 30!”) and in honor of the 5-at-10’s looming trip to the Redneck Riveria — is different.
You folks know every week we give one answer to five questions. It’s a system that’s worked for us. Today, we’re taking one question that asked for five answers and breaking it into five parts with at least five answers.
From the “7-Up Stinks Studios,” here we go...
It’s the time of year when things are slow in sports… I’m talking Turtles marching through peanut butter slow…but my question is inspired by the retirement of Shaquille O’Neal and all of his nicknames..what or who do you think is the top 5 Best Sports Nicknames of all time???
Keep up the Fantast-o-listic good work!
OK, that seems like a great question, right? Now think about it for a minute. Now another minute. It’s an outstanding question that is genius in its geniusness. (Sidenote: Shaq had some great nicknames — our favorite was the Big Aristotle — but most of them were self-given, and that just won’t do. Alas.)
And we all know there’s one question a week, that the 5-at-10 spends entirely too much time on, well, this is the all-time cake-taker in that category. (In fact, there are co-workers and members of the 5-at-10 clan — Hi, honey — that are ready for this question to be put to bed.)
Anyhoo, we decided to sub-divide our answer and came up with some stipulations. Star power counts. So does cool points. And nickname origin. And in truth, most all of these are quick (almost all are shorter than three words). Enough dilly-dallying, and gang, as always feel free to respond, because no matter how much we put into this list we’re certain of three things: first, you’re going to agree with most of these; second, we know we’ve forgotten at least one great one that’s going to make us slap our head and say, “Of course. We’re stupid;” third, one of your personal favorites will be left off, and that’s OK, but please share it.
Anyhoo, enough delay.
All-time team nicknames (given to a group of teammates or a club)
1) The Four Horseman — No not the wrestlers, but the Notre Dame offensive skill players in 1924. Legendary sports writer Grantland Rice described them this way: “Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine. But those are aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.”
2) The Steel Curtain — Pittsburgh’s awesome defense of the 1970s
3) The Broad Street Bullies — The Philadelphia Flyers teams that would rather fight than look at you
4) Phi Slamma Jamma — The dunking fraternity that included Hakeem Olajuwan, Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, et al.
5) The Purple People Eaters — The Minnesota Vikings defense
Near misses: The Big Red Machine (Those great Cincinnati Reds teams of the 1970s) Greatest Show on Turf (St. Louis Rams of the late 1990s-early 2000s), Monsters of the Midway (Bears defense) and the Bronx Bombers (New York Yankees).
Best College nicknames
'Pistol' Pete, Pete Maravich, basketball player for LSU, in posed action in New Orleans LA., Nov. 1969. (AP Photo)
1) Pistol — Pete Maravich’s handle was accurate and awesome — and let’s remember dude average more than 50 points per game one year at LSU.
2) The Wizard of Westwood — UCLA coach John Wooden
3) The Fridge — William Perry, the former Clemson and Chicago Bears defensive tackle
4) The Rocket — While there are other “Rockets” and that counts against you in most cases, former Notre Dame speedster Raghib Ismail gets bonus points because his nickname was so good, that they nicknamed his brother Qadry “The Missile,” and then in turn they nicknamed their mother “The Launching Pad.” Well played.
5) Cadillac — Granted, this is a personal pick here, but Carnell Williams’ tag at Auburn was classic and simple, and in the end that really helps make a great nickname.
Near misses: The Round Mound of Rebound (AKA Charles Barkley), The Kansas Comet (Gayle Sayers), Sam “Bam” Cunningham; Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds, who got that name by cutting a car in half during his college career.
Best pro nicknames
Karl Malone (32) of the Utah Jazz looks to pass to a teammate after drawing two Seattle SuperSonics including Gary Payton, left, during their NBA playoff contest in Seattle on Sunday, May 2, 1993. (AP Photo/Gary Stewart)
1) The Mailman — Karl Malone’s nickname because “He always delivered.”
2) Broadway Joe — Joe Namath lived and breathed his nickname, even when he was in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
3) Chocolate Thunder — Darryl Dawkins — who some may say was Shaq 1.0 — earned this label by breaking backboards and dunking on everyone. Yes, Dawkins may not be the superstar that most of the others on this list are, but a great nickname is still a great nickname.
4) The Bus — Jerome Bettis, the over-sized former NFL All-Pro running back. This nickname was so good, that Bettis’ lead blocker, fullback Tim Lester, was known as the Bus Driver.
5) Mr. October — Reggie Jackson earned this title by being great in the postseason. Great nickname — that’s launched a few great insults, too. (Isn’t A-Rod Mr. July?).
Near misses: The Juice would have probably made it had he not, uh, run afoul of the law. The Great One — Wayne Gretzky’s nickname was great (obviously), but it was too close to Ali’s and just like Jackie Gleason’s. Hammerin’ Hank Aaron was close; so was the Splendid Splinter and the Wizard of Oz. And Ickey Woods and Deacon Jones. And Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Mean Joe Greene. And about a dozen of those old New York Yankees — The Iron Horse, Yogi, The Mick, Whitey, The Yankee Clipper. Let’s just move along before we pull our hair out.
Wrestler Ric ``Nature Boy'' Flair, in this June 1999 photo, says he wants to follow the lead of fellow wrestler Jesse ``The Body'' Ventura, now Minnesota's governor, and run for governor of North Carolina. (AP Photo/The Charlotte Observer, Jeff Siner)
Best fighters (real and not-so-real)
1) The Nature Boy Ric Flair
2) The Italian Stallion Rocky Balboa
3) “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali
4) Iron Mike Tyson
5) Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini
Near misses: This was a tough category. We loved the nickname Sugar but it was taken by two great champions, thusly devaluing the nickname. Same with The Hitman — Tommy Hearns and Bret Hart. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was close; as was James “Bonecrusher" Smith. Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran was close in English and even closer in Spanish — “Manos de la Piedra.”
The All-time top 10
Florida State's Deion Sanders listens on the phone as he waits for the announcement April 23, 1989 of his selection in the upcoming NFL draft at the Winnetka, Illinois home of his agent. Sanders was selected by the Atlanta Falcons. (AP Photo)
10) Shoeless Joe Jackson — Sometimes, the starting point of the nickname is enough. Jackson was trying to break in a new pair of cleats in the minors and the shoes gave him blisters. He finished the game barefooted and the heckling fans who called him “A shoeless son of a gun,” launched a great nickname. And a true original.
9) Dr. J — He was called The Doctor by a high school friend and here’s how Julius Erving described the transformation of his nickname with an interview with the website www.achievement.org, "Mine eventually got changed to Dr. J, instead of just the Doctor, once I started playing professional basketball. The team physician was called Doc, and the trainer was called Chop. But the physician became Dr. M, and I become Dr. J, compliments of a guy I was rooming with in my first year, a guy named Willie Soldier. Dr. J was kind of catchy, and I liked that. I said, if I'm going to go through a name change, that's not a bad move. It just sort of stuck since then, and it's still here."
8) Prime Time — Deion Sanders could have two on the list (but we frowned upon rhyming nicknames with real names such as Jake the Snake, Neon Deion — although that one is awesome — Wilt the Stilt, Earl the Pearl, etc.). Sanders got "Prime Time" from a childhood friend during youth basketball games because Sanders always seemed to always play better during night games — “Prime Time,” indeed.
7) Golden Bear — Jack Nicklaus got this name because of his blonde hair and his stocky build. It was also the nickname of the sports teams at his high school in Upper Arlington, Ohio. And the logo on the golf shirts is awesome.
6) Bear Bryant — He got his nickname by wrestling a bear as a 13-year-old. At a carnival. For a DOLLAR. That’s one bad Bear.
5) Air Jordan — The nickname that spawned a billion sneakers.
4) Tiger — Given to him at a very young age by his father.
3) Walter Peyton — He earned the name “Sweetness” in college at Jackson State. The origin is unknown, and the stories range from his gracious personality to his array of football moves to the irony of how physical his approach to the game was.
2) Earvin Johnson — After a 15-year-old Johnson had 36 points, 16 rebounds and 16 assists in a high school basketball game, a Michigan sportswriter dubbed his performance ?Magic.? The name stuck.
1) Babe Ruth — After being signed as a 15-year-old by Baltimore Orioles owner Jack Dunn, young George Herman Ruth was dubbed “Jack’s new babe,” which was shortened into the most singularly renowned nickname of all-time. How great is The Babe? Well, one of his other nicknames was the Great Bambino, so in truth, his nickname had a nickname.
That’s all we got. We’re spent. We need a vacation.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...