SI Vault
Chuck Wielgus
October 12, 1987
Sports sobriquets are laced with puns—and daggers
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October 12, 1987

What's In A Nickname?

Sports sobriquets are laced with puns—and daggers

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Nicknames. Basketball has an alphabet soup of its own, in Terry (T) Tyler, Quintin (Q) Dailey, Xavier (X) McDaniel and Orlando (O) Woolridge, in addition to Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Valvano, a.k.a. Coach K and Coach V. And it's startling to find nearly 43% of the Seven Dwarfs, in Glenn (Doc) Rivers, Eric (Sleepy) Floyd and Harold (Happy) Hairston, in the professional ranks of a game that puts such a premium on height.

Track isn't overrun by nicknames, but from Bob (the Vaulting Vicar) Richards to Willie (the Bounding Barrister and the Leaping Lawyer) Banks, it has preferred alliterative references to the professions.

Boxing has given us Ed (the Human Freight Car) Dunkhorst, Harry (the Human Windmill) Greb, Joe (the Human Punching Bag) Grim, Harry (the Human Scissors) Harris and Henry (the Human Skyscraper) Johnson. And yet people say it's dehumanizing.

Ring names have actually served a useful purpose through boxing's history, evolving as a means for promoters and newsmen to gussy up the images of the lowlifes who frequently went into the sport. Vintage fistic nicknames often made reference to a fighter's roots and came off sounding like Hemingway titles. George Godfrey was the Black Shadow of Leiperville. Luis Firpo was the Wild Bull of the Pampas. Max Schmeling was the Black Uhlan (a name that refers to members of the Prussian light cavalry).

Consider some of the very worst boxing nicknames of all time:

•The Hard Rock from Down Under: Never, Tom Heeney, end a nickname with three prepositions.

•The Garrulous Gob: If, unlike Jack Sharkey, you don't speak redundant alliteration, that means "the Talkative Mouth."

•The Tall Tower of Gorgonzola: Poor Primo Camera was called this very infrequently, the best we can tell. He was more often called the Ambling Alp, which doesn't sound as though he threw much of a punch, although he did.


Full-Pack Meets the Human Rain-Delay. Oriole manager Earl Weaver called Don (Stan the Man Unusual) Stanhouse Full-Pack because that was how many cigarettes Weaver would end up going through during a typically strung-out Stanhouse relief appearance. In a 1982 standoff between Stanhouse and Mike (the Human Rain-Delay) Hargrove, it took an average of 30 seconds from the time the not exactly speedy Stanhouse was ready to pitch until Hargrove was ready to hit. Hargrove, who was with the Indians at the time, went through his ad infinitum-ized list of particulars outside the batter's box between pitches. Stanhouse, at least, had a reason for taking his time. "My stuff is so bad," he would say, "the longer I hold on to the ball, the better my chances."

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