Seldom has Tampa Bay fallen in love with a name so fast, and rarely has it wanted to give an athlete another option so fast. Doug Martin, a running ba ck who cannot wait to get to the end zone, has run straight into the open arms of Bucs fans.
Skid Marks Martin?
And on it goes. The radio-show calls are all filled with suggestions, and the email is stacking up, and everyone you know is name-dropping. Martin tells the world he doesn't care for the nickname he has — the Muscle Hamster — and suddenly, Tampa Bay is playing a new game show. Name That Zoom.
The Buccaneer Bullet?
The Pocket Rocket?
It has been some time since an athlete has made such a quick impact on Tampa Bay, maybe since the days of Cadillac Williams, who, as you know, brought his nickname with him. In a half-season, Martin has made such an impact that you cannot help but want to throw your arm around him and give him an affectionate little moniker.
Personally, I can't figure out why the Muscle Hamster bothers Martin so much. No, it isn't the Galloping Ghost, and no, it isn't Crazy Legs, and no, it isn't Sweetness.
It is, however, unique. If Martin wanted, it could also be lucrative. He could hire an artist to draw a nice caricature, he could sell a half-million T-shirts and caps and make a fortune. Remember how much Honey Badger gear was sold last year? And face it, a Muscle Hamster could take the lunch money away from a Honey Badger.
Still, Martin tends to make a face every time he hears someone ask about the Muscle Hamster. By nature, Martin is a quiet guy who smiles a lot, but when it comes to a nickname, you get the feeling he would rather be called something silly, like Sparkles or Donald Trump, than something about a hamster.
So call him Flash. Call him Runaway. Call him Dig-Doug. If you are the Bucs, call on him 30 times a game.
Meanwhile, the suggestions keep flowing across ESPN and NBC and local radio. Some are sincere. Some are silly. Some are a case of a fan trying too hard. Every pun referring to Doug and every reference anywhere close to Martin have been mentioned.
The Martin Chronicles.
Funny thing, nicknames. They were born of a long-ago period when fans were forced to only hear about the athletes they followed because the games weren't on television. You know, like Bucs games. They were a glimpse into the characters of dynamic athletes whose styles fascinated fans. You know, like Martin.
To this day, fans love nicknames. The best ones are lyrical: The Iron Horse. Shoeless Joe. Joe Cool. Magic. Tiger. Bear. The worst ones are punch lines: He Hate Me. The Big Donkey. The Big Fundamental. The Worm.
The easy observation is this: If the nickname doesn't fit, don't force it.
Look, Barry Sanders ran just fine without a nickname. Dick Butkus' given name was intimidating enough. No one had to think of a fancy way to describe Jerry Rice on his way to the end zone.
In other words, Doug Martin seems to be a fine name for Doug Martin.
The D-Train? That's too close to Mike Alstott's A-Train. Mighty Mouse? Interesting, because the names of cartoon characters have been borrowed before (Lance Alworth was Bambi, and Ralph Garr was the Road Runner). But is "mighty" that much different than "muscle," and is a mouse better than a hamster? Dartin' Martin? Pretty good, but it's more of an adjective than a name.
Around Tampa Bay, we have laughed at nicknames before. We've seen Batman and the Sandman and the Throwin' Samoan, Kenyatta the Piñata and Toast and Hardware, Acab Talib and Iggy Pop and the Crime Dog, Big Game James and Zorilla.
If there is one Martin likes, he can have it. Tampa Bay fans will simply leave it in the end zone for him to pick up.
Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at 98.7-FM the Fan.