NICKNAMES I HAVE KNOWN
While reading The Mayor's post last Friday, I was amused by his observations regarding nicknames. To wit:
(As an aside, it should be noted that this proves the point often made by my former "Dawg Show" co-host, Travis Rice, that all nicknames must be organic in origin and you can't give yourself a nickname. Our old friend Dean Nava picked up the nickname "Rico" when, during an evening on which I was doing a Dennis-Hopper-to-Dean-Stockwell-in-"Blue-Velvet" you-are-so-suave riff with Dean, I called him "Rico Nuave" and the first part of the name stuck. By contrast, when another friend of ours, Robert Hawk, read about Huey Long and began calling himself "Kingfish," Trav informed Hawk politely that he couldn't give himself a nickname. When Hawk would not relent, Trav proceeded to hang a new nickname---"Catfish"---on him and, for the next couple of weeks, no one called Hawk anything other than "Catfish." Finally, Hawk abandoned that whole "Kingfish" thing and learned to live with just being called "Hawk," which, when you think about it, is plenty cool enough already. By the same token, if you go around telling people to call you "The Mayor," they'll make fun of you and some of them might punch you. If a guy who named his weblog "The Corporate Headquarters of the San Antonio Gunslingers" calls you "The Mayor" all on his own, though, well, that carries weight.)
This got me to thinking more about nicknames. Why is it that some people attract nicknames and others do not? What makes some nicknames stick while others do not? I don't know the answers, but I think that some nicknames are just too damned good to ever stop using. Some are obvious, some are clever, some are curious and unique and some are just stupid. But the great nicknames stick so well that if it were not for the nickname, the person may fade into relative obscurity over time.
My first example, comes from my post on Tuesday night about a high school teammate of mine - Andrea "Pulpwood" Smith. The former Georgia Bulldog fullback, not the obscure band from Augusta. Andrea (this is how he spelled his name throughout high school) got his nickname from Walter Huckaby (nicknamed "Huck" obviously) who coached all of us in recreation league baseball, basketball and football. When Andrea showed up in Douglas from Broxton to play baseball as a 12 year old, he was already built like a tank with muscles on top of muscles. His mother had to produce a birth certificate to prove he was only 12. The fence on the field where we played in that league was 180 feet deep and had towering pines behind it and, naturally, a creek about 100 feet beyond. When Andrea started hitting bombs into the tree tops, everyone took notice. These were jaw-dropping 250-300 foot shots. It was not uncommon for Andrea to put balls into the creek. Anyway, "Huck" asked Andrea how he got so strong. Andrea's response, "Pulpwood." Birth of a legend! Evidently, he had helped his father working as a pulpwooder and was much more powerful than his peers. From that point on, he was "Pulpwood." Now, here is the real point, how many Dawgs fans (or Bama fans for that matter) would remember so fondly the name of a running back named Andrea Smith who had 665 yards and 4 touchdowns as a sophomore, before becoming academically ineligible? Sure he broke two 50 yard TDs against Alabama that were Hershelesque, but really, if he was not nicknamed "Pulpwood" would his name still be bandied about from year to year? When is the last time you and your buddies talked about Torin Kirtsey or Keith Montgomery? Like Pulpwood, each led the team in rushing during a single season. For certain, their are no indie bands named Torin K or Keith Mc.
Some will remember that Pulpwood has a brother, Anthony, that was a tremendous linebacker who went on to play for Valdosta State. His nickname derived from Pulpwood's and "Chainsaw" Smith became the player you worried about when you crossed the middle against Coffee. There is a player down at Bradwell Institute that got hit so hard on a kickoff return that he still has a headache. On this same team in 1981 that was 12-2, we had a defensive guard named Kevin "Swamp Rat" Durham. Swamp got shot in the leg with a .22 the night we lost to the Waycross team led by Todd Williams. Evidently, the shooter had lost a bet on the game and inflicted his ire upon Swamp. Two weeks later, Swamp was back on the field and played the rest of the year with a .22 round lodged in his femur.
Back to the great nicknames of Dawgs. One of the all-time best has to be Eddie "Meat Cleaver" Weaver. Meat Cleaver was a dominant force on the D-Line during the 1980 National Championship team and wound up playing in the USFL for the LA Express. I have never heard about the origin of his nickname. Maybe it just rhymes and "Dream" did not sound mean enough.
Here are two names of Dawgs I never saw play, but I know their stories mainly because of their nicknames, Anthony "Zippy" Morocco and Vernon "Catfish" Smith. Catfish (pictured at right) reputedly got his nickname after biting the head off of an 8 inch catfish on a dare. Look at that face, how would you like to see this guy barreling down on you in the age of no helmets? Follow the link to read a brief impressive history of Catfish Smith. What a stud, old school.
Zippy was an outstanding receiver and punt returner in the 1950's and was UGA's first All-American basketball player. I assume Zippy got his name because he was very fast and, well, just zippy. That is an adjective that has fallen from favor kind of like "comely." Interestingly, there is a song titled "Zippy Morocco" by Vic Chestnutt.
"Wrongway" was a nickname given to Minnesota Viking and charter "Purple People Eater" member, Jim Marshall, when he picked up a fumble and rambled 66 yards, the wrong way, for a safety. Many will also rememeber "Wrongway" Feldman from the Gilligan's Island episode about the infamous pilot. However, few have heard of my old teammate Michael "Wrongway" Spivey, an offensive tackle on the Coffee Junior High football team, who picked up a fumble and got spun around by a Fitzgerald player and outran all of his own teammates into the CJHS end zone for a safety. Fewer still have heard of Leslie "Wrongway" Tanner, my wife, who ran the wrong way after her first, last and only reception during the annual Tanner Turkey Bowl flag football game held every Thanksgiving at my parents' house. Fortunately for Leslie, her miscue did not result in a safety because she threw the ball down as soon as an opposing player got within 10 feet of her. But she did look pretty in the process, so that counts for something. Ok, tell me you knew this was coming . . . Yes, there is apparently a song titled "Wrongway Marshall". I am now starting to think that all great nicknames end up as song or band titles.
Prison is a good place to pick up a nickname, or so it seems. Back in 1999, while in Phoenix, Arizona for a trade show, I was having a beer or ten at a hole in the wall called "Newman's Cocktails." This bar was located between the Convention Center and the lot where we parked our car. So, naturally, we had to stop in for a refreshment each afternoon on our way to the car. This bar was also located next door to a halfway house which resulted in a most erratic crew of boozers. One night, we met a man seeking legal advice about what his parole papers said. This man, about 40 years old, introduced himself as "2.5" and nothing else. I have heard of the name "7" from the Seinfeld episode in which Costanza recommended that their expecting friends name the baby "7" in honor of Mickey Mantle. I am familiar with the unoriginal habit of nicknaming any ballplayer wearing the number two as "Deuce." I also recall "Half Pint" from Little House on the Prairie. But "2.5" was puzzling and clearly called for a line of questioning. Turns out, according to this guy, that he was locked up for transporting $2.5 million worth of marijuana across the Mexican border. I don't know if I believe that part, but I saw his parole papers and his prison tattoes. One curious side note about "2.5" is that he told us he read the "Unwritten Book of the Bible" while he was in prison. Huh? How?
Once in Guadalajara, Mexico, my friend, William Rushing, and I were drinking beer with some workers from a factory with which we were doing business. Neither of us spoke much Spanish, but William tried awfully hard, having picked up a fair amount of Spanish while playing minor league baseball. Anyway, one of the Mexicans was called "Cuchillo" by his friends. This nickname, which translates as "Knife," was given to him in prison - where he went after cutting up another Mexican in a drunken brawl. He also had the prison tatts to back it up. During the evening, after much beer and tequila William continued trying to speak Spanish and repeatedly called this dude "Cochino" which lead to uproarious laughter from "Cuchillo's" amigoes. Upon investigation, we later learned that "Cochino" means "filthy" but is actually used to imply that a person is a filthy animal. So, unwittingly, William called a Mexican ex-con a filthy animal all night long. Fortunately, the Knife was not offended.
Despite the fact that these last two anecdotes involve drinking beer with ex-cons, this is not a habit of mine, but it does lead to generally interesting stories. The last prison nickname that comes to mind is "Be-otch", which is a nickname you would certainly not want. I am reminded of a Saturday Night Live skit with Will Farrell and Jamie Fox in a prison cell. "Yeah, you are still my be-otch. You will always be my be-otch." I hope you have seen it.
Go "Silver Britches"