Weekly Five Spot: Sports Nicknames

Nick NickelCorrespondent IJanuary 8, 2007

Which isn't to say, of course, that all sobriquets are created equal, and so a word on this week's selection process: We know, Meat. We know that this is a wide-open topic, and we know that you've probably got more than a few favorites who didn't make the cut. So do we. While we won't pick nits on the relative aesthetic merits of "Tiger" and "Catfish," we will say that the nicknames celebrated here are notable first and foremost for their ubiquity: They aren't just clever handles (think "Earl the Pearl") or iconic titles ("The Georgia Peach"); they're full-time names, more or less, so that their bearers aren't known as anything else. Who's Edson Arantes de Nascimento, for example? Who knows. Who's Pele, on the other hand? If you don't know that one, Meat—
If you don't that one, you'd better ask somebody. Try starting with the fat dude they call George Herman who's hanging out over by the bar...
Number Five: Tiger Woods

Rarely has an alias proven so functionally fortuitous: Somehow, the image of "Eldrick" stalking his foes on the back nine seems to be lacking a certain nous-ne-savons-quoi. Tiger picked up the nickname from one of his pop's old war buddies, and suffice it to say that the thing stuck; the world doesn't know Woods as anything but Stripes, to the extent that his bona fide birth name is, at best, the stuff of arcane sports trivia quizzes. Which maybe isn't such a bad thing, because honestly now Meat: What are the odds of a dude named Eldrick sharing his mattress with a smoking-hot Swedish uberbabe? (And are they any better than those for a dude named Nickel?...because seriously we wouldn't, you know, be opposed to making the switch if we thought it'd help.)

Number Four: Rocky Marciano

He kicked Joe Louis' ass...and he did it under one of the most enduringly recognizable pseudonyms in sports history. Rocco Francis Marchegiao was a legend in his time, a stocky brawler from Brockton, Mass who to this day stands as the only undefeated-undisputed champ in heavyweight history. His 49-0 career record included wins over Jersey Joe Walcott, Archie Moore, and a 137-year-old Louis—and his legacy certainly wasn't lost on a young Sylvester Stallone, who in 1976 borrowed Marciano's handle for the title character in a low-budget boxing flick. Too bad Rock wasn't around to convince Sly that the sixth time is very rarely the charm...

Number Three: Pele

We don't know what it means, we don't know where it came from—we just know that it's got a ring to it, and that the dude's been making it work for the better part of fifty years. Pele scored 77 goals in 92 caps for the Brazilian national team, and succeeded in nothing less than capturing the imagination of the world en route to triumphs in the 1958 and 1970 World Cups. Today, the erstwhile Edson is one of the most recognized figures on the planet—and we'd be remiss if we failed to mention that he's parlayed his standing into that most noble of advertising opportunities: In 2002, the Black Pearl signed on as a Viagra pitchman, proving once and for all that there's no royalty check like a stiff royalty check. Whatever that means.

Number Two: Magic Johnson

And speaking of sexual virility—how 'bout a hand for big Earv. Fatal infectious disease jokes aside, it's safe to say that the shoe fits here: Johnson, in his day, was certified magician on the court, a too-good-to-be-true point man with the body of a power forward and the soul of a Globetrotter and enough court vision to simultaneously spot both (a) Michael Cooper streaking down the wing on a fast break and (b) the pestilential floozy camped out behind the visitors' bench. Of course, everyone's luck is bound to run out sooner or later, but anybody who doubts Earvin's aptitude for magic need only look at his near-normal T-cell count to know...well actually no—that's more a function of the gross disparity in healthcare services provided to the haves and have nots of the world than anything else. And it's gonna take a whole lot more than cheap legerdemain to make that guy disappear.

Number One: Babe Ruth

The Sultan of Swat, the Colossus of Clout, the—yes, okay, we've all seen The Sandlot. As much as we'd like to wax reverent and awestruck on the Yankees slugger here, we're pretty well convinced that nothing we could say would amount to anything more than empty embellishment...and so we'll leave the hyperbole to Michael "Squints" Palledorous, who knew a thing or two about untouchable idols. There's only one great Bambino, after all—just like there's only one Wendy Peffercorn...which somehow seems to be all that could ever matter, because really Meat let's be clear about this much: A babe is a babe is a babe, in the end—

Unless of course she's giving you mouth to mouth, in which case, well, better Wendy than big George, if you know what we're saying...