The name of the game was “Nickname.” It was the name game within the game, born 30 years ago during the most magical, maddening, heartbreaking and exhilarating month of the year: March.

Specifically, March of 1979, during the grandest of all our American sporting
events. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

It was conceived, as greatness invariably is, by sportswriters on the road. Guys with too much time on their hands, then-generous per diems and, in post-game hospitality rooms across the country, ample quantities of the sportswriter’s two favorite beers: Free, and Free Lite.

The Nickname concept was simple, and simply brilliant: Give sports nicknames to non-sports celebrities. And so today, on this greatest of days, the start of another NCAA Tournament, let us genuflect in honor of …

Elizabeth “Fatty” Taylor.

And Jonas “Dr. J” Salk.

Jack “The Shot” Ruby.

Pearl “The Earl” Bailey.

And, of course, Walt “No Neck” Whitman.

What began as beer-fueled fun on the road (imagine that) evolved into
near-obsession. Hacks would, uh, brainstorm after games and over Buds,
trying to one-up each other, and … voila! Ulysses S. “Mudcat” Grant.

Or Richard “Digger” Nixon.

Abby “Night Train” Lane. Ahhhhhhh …

Emile “The Cat” Zola.

And, of course, Ed “Too Tall” Koch.

One morning, one writer awoke in a Heineken-induced haze and found a note slipped under his hotel room door. Seems another scribe had a pre-dawn, early-morning flight to catch, but not before making another contribution: Tom “The Bomb” Hayden.

Or was it Marilyn “Cornbread” Maxwell?

This March, uh, madness (sorry) continued right on to Salt Lake City, right through the Final Four and one of the most historically significant NCAA title games: The Indiana State-Michigan State final.

Larry Joe Bird vs. one Earvin Jr. Which, naturally, begat …

Andrew “Magic” Johnson.

And don’t forget …

Neville “The Stilt” Chamberlain.

And Bernie “Boom Boom” Goetz.

So in honor of the 30th anniversary of Nickname, we here at the home office of, in an effort to be 21st-century reader-friendly, encourage you to submit sports nicknames for contemporary or posthumous non-sports celebrities.

As in …

Shirley “Cha Cha” Franklin.

Or Glenn “Sugar Ray” Richardson.

Marilyn “The Pearl” Monroe.

Or Etta “Queen” James.

Somewhere, Dean “The Dream” Rusk is smiling. Now excuse me, but Black Jack Wilkinson ([email protected]) has to give a last-minute tweak to my brackets. Can you say Western Kentucky over Illinois? I can.

Jack Wilkinson

Jack Wilkinson

Jack Wilkinson has written about sports professionally for 37 years, but his career began in his hometown of Lynbrook, N.Y., on Long Island. His elementary school paper, the Marion Street Chatterbox, is the coolest-named paper he's ever worked for. Thank you, Mrs. Roseanne Waldstein, the school librarian and Chatterbox advisor. Jack worked at Newsday while a senior at Hofstra University, and later for the Miami News, Chicago Daily News, New York Daily News and, after moving to Atlanta in 1983, the local rag. A three-time Georgia Sportswriter of the Year, he gleefully took a buyout in June, 2007. Jack's written six books. The latest, "Of Mikes and Men -- A Lifetime of Braves Baseball," is the recently-released autobiography of co-author Pete Van Wieren. Published by Triumph Books of Chicago, "Of Mikes and Men" is now available at Borders, Barnes & Noble, Manuel's Tavern and other fine book outlets everywhere.

One Comment
  1. Terri Evans

    I did say Western Kentucky over Illinois — even before it (barely in the end) happened. Now, the question is: “Can you say Western Kentucky over Gonzaga?” Can anyone even say Gonzaga? Or where it is?

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