Weekly Five Spot: Sports Names

Nick NickelCorrespondent IJanuary 15, 2007

IconAin't nothing like the real thing, Meat.

With all due deference to Marvin and Tammi, that's about the rub here: Catchy nicknames are nice...but they can't hardly hold a candle to the genuine article. A Rose by any other name, after all, still isn't anything but a Rose, and calling yourself Charlie Hustle when everyone knows that you're nothing more than a lowbrow two-bit con artist—

Well, maybe ol' Pete was onto something there.

Pointless word play aside, though, the fact remains that there's no substitute for a really righteous birth tag—and that a name, in the end, has no small bearing on individual identity. It might be true that you can't judge a book by its cover, but you very definitely do remember a man by his title...and there's nary a soul among us who doesn't ultimately derive his sense of self-worth—at least in part—from the label hung upon him. Which no doesn't normally pose much of problem—unless of course they call you Nickel, and they're already talking about eliminating the penny, and in this age of rising prices and hard-set currency it's just, well—

It's just hard not to feel a little bit cheap sometimes. Come on, right?: What can you really get for half a dime these days?...

Number Five: God Shammgod

Christ, that's a sweet handle. Diehard hoops fans might remember the six-foot point guard for his two-year stint at the University of Providence, or his cup of coffee with the Washington Wizards...but the rest of us remember him for his name, which ranks right up there with 'Jesus Shuttlesworth' on the list of all-time self-aggrandizing appellations. Though his NBA career never quite got off the ground, the Bronx native has stayed close to the game over the last decade, bouncing from one international league to the next in what amounts to a sort of worldwide missionary tour. He's currently lacing them up for the Shanxi Yujun of the Chinese Basketball Association...proving once and for all that communism is not, in fact, an entirely Godless ideology. (It's just too easy, isn't it?)

Number Four: Colt McCoy

He may be a newbie on the national radar, but we couldn't shut the Texas signal caller out of the Spot this week—not with a name like that. It's too good to be true, really, the sort of tag you'd expect from a Chip Hilton book, or a John Ford movie; if Colt McCoy didn't exist, you might even say, we'd probably have to invent him. (Sorry—Shammgod fallout there.) In any event, it also probably goes without saying that McCoy is nothing short of a punster's dream, and that the headline possibilities are just about endless. A few winners: "Colt's the Real McCoy"; "Longhorns Ride Colt to Victory"; and, our personal favorite, "I Wish the Super Hot Fry Girl at the Local Fast Food Restaurant Would Stop Playing McCoy with Me." Love and longing under the Golden Arches, Meat...welcome to McWorld.

Number Three: Bronislau Nagurski

Forget Bronko—Bronislau's parents had it right the first time. If there were ever a name that shaped a dude's destiny, you've got to figure that this was probably it: Bronislau Nagurski wasn't going to grow up to be a banker, or an accountant; he wasn't fated to push pencils, or crunch numbers, or ride out his days in the sterile comfort of an air-conditioned office park. On the contrary, Bronislau Nagurski was christened to be a buster of heads, and a bruiser of men—whatever he did was going to be physical, and we'd imagine we're not alone when we say better that he became a badass NFL fullback than, say, a tyrannical Eastern European strongman. Because, you know: Hooray for glasnost, and that whole racket...

Number Two: Muhammad Ali

There's so much in a name, isn't there Meat? When Cassius became Muhammad in 1964, he just about shocked the world: White America never knew quite what to make of a thunder-throwing Moslem who had the temerity to point out that no Vietcong ever called him nigger, as was well evidenced by the refusal of most mainstream journalists to call the champ anything other than Clay. There was also the unpleasantness of Ali's three-year exile from the ring after he refused his draft assignment in 1967...but the history department at the Spot is inclined to think that it could have been far worse, especially given the facts of life for dissident Islamic converts in John Ashcroft's America. Don't believe us? Just try catching a ride on the peace train with the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens.

Number One: Dick Butkus

Johnny Cash knew it as well as anybody: A name can make you one mean sonufabitch. We won't burn words debating the comparative psychological implications of "Sue" and "Dick"...but suffice it to say that the Bears great was probably on the wrong end of more than a few anatomical jibes in his early days—and that there's no crucible quite so formative as the Hobbesian jungle of a middle school playground. Which, believe us: When you spend most of your childhood getting taunted about inflation and bombarded by well-aimed quarters—

Well, it's like the Russians say, Meat—the hammer shatters glass but forges steel. Ol' Dick might have been a piece of iron, but some us, you know, are just touch more fragile...