What’s in a Steelers’ nickname?
Steelers cornerback Trevor Deshea Townsend always has gone by his middle name instead of his first name.
Naturally, his teammates call him “Trevor.”
Nicknames, even ones that happen to be someone’s given name, long have been a part of sports. For the Steelers they help keep things just a little bit lighter in a sport that has become as much a business as it is a game.
Nicknames are in some way essential to team building since a locker room without them might as well be a corporate board room. If they are terms of endearment, nicknames are also a sign of acceptance since none of the Steelers rookies have been given any yet.
“Once they get on the squad and start defining themselves,” defensive end Brett Keisel said, “then we’ll see if they’re worthy of a name.”
Keisel is the “Diesel” and it stuck to him after Steelers sideline radio reporter Craig Wolfley started calling him that on the air because it rhymes with his last name.
And, hey, he does run pretty well.
A play on someone’s name may be the most common source of nicknames, and for the Steelers it explains “B Mac” (cornerback Bryant McFadden) and even “Woe-dee” (wide receiver Hines Ward), which is a derivative of “Wardy.”
Of course, the beauty of nicknames is that, like safety Troy Polamalu on a blitz, they can come from anywhere at any time.
Former Steelers offensive lineman Tunch Ilkin couldn’t help himself one day during the 1982 season when he saw rookie Keith Willis wearing argyle socks and a sweater vest.
“Oh my gosh,” Ilkin said, “what a preppy you look like!”
That is how from that day forward the quarterback-stalking defensive end who is fifth on the Steelers’ all-time sacks list also answered to the name “Skippy.”
“Snelly” is what linebacker Arnold Harrison’s teammates and even coaches call him, and there is story from his rookie season behind that sobriquet.
As part of initiation rites, Harrison had to sing a song in front of the team. He ended up crooning a hand-written ode to the dining hall, Snelling Hall, at the University of Georgia (his alma mater).
Guard Chris Kemoeatu also got a nickname as a rookie that has stayed with him, and it can be traced to what he did on the field.
The Steelers put him on the kickoff return team during training camp. To hear his teammates tell it, the players responsible for breaking up what is called the “wedge” on kick returns ended up giving Kemoeatu the nickname “Wedge.”
“Guys that were running down were trying to run over him, and he’d just run right through guys and those guys would be knocked out with a concussion,” backup quarterback Charlie Batch said. “The guys looked forward to watching kickoff returns when he was in there to see who he was going to knock out.”
Kemoeatu is also called “Juicy” and “Punch” because his teammates noticed that he bears a likeness to the wild-haired character that is on Hawaiian Punch bottles and cans.
Defensive end Aaron Smith knows well how one’s hair can lead to a nickname. He let his grow out one time, and it prompted defensive end Travis “Chubs” Kirschke to start calling him “Big Bird.”
“My hair was really fluffy and it gets curly and wavy,” Smith said. “I guess I’ve got that big butt too, like Big Bird.”
Defensive tackle Scott Paxson is “T Rex” because his large trunk and short arms resemble that of a dinosaur (and, no, not because he played for Joe Paterno, whose Penn State coaching career predates the reign of the prehistoric creatures).
Nose tackle Casey Hampton has a number of nicknames, the most popular being “Big Snack.”
If Hampton always seems to have snacks in his dorm room or even in his locker, linebacker Clint Kriewaldt had a poster of Buddy Lee, the blond haired, flannel-wearing fictional character that wears Lee Jeans, put in his locker by his teammates.
“It’s my little mini me,” said Kriewaldt, who still has the poster in his locker.
Kriewaldt actually is called “Billy” more than “Buddy Lee” these days by his teammates.
Linebacker James Farrior, more commonly known to his teammates as “Potsie” because he had a pot belly as a toddler, decided that “Billy” would be a good name for someone who is from Wisconsin.
Kriewaldt is so frequently called “Billy,” that one day last year, then-Steelers linebacker Joey Porter said to him, “so your real name is William?”
“I’m quite sure,” linebacker Larry Foote said, “the young guys don’t know his name is Clint.”
The young guys certainly know by now that linebacker James Harrison is “Silverback” because of his scary strength.
“You ever try to fight with a Silverback gorilla?” Harrison said when asked about his nickname.
“You don’t want to either.”
Linebacker Clark Haggans is “Triple H,” a nickname that is not associated with the WWE wrestler. The roots for Haggans’ moniker can be traced to Vin Diesel’s role as a fearless stuntman in the movie “Triple X” and is a nod to Haggans’ disregard to his body when he is on the field.
Polamalu, who also plays with a style that borders on reckless, is the “Tasmanian Devil” (among other things) because, like the cartoon character, he is something of whirling dervish.
His backup at strong safety, Tyrone Carter, is “Sawed Off,” presumably because the 5-9, 195-pounder is not the tallest guy in the world, and he aims to do just that to a receiver that tries to catch a pass within his vicinity.
Cornerback Ike Taylor answers to a number of names, including “Nola Boy” and “Dirty South.” Both are derived from his upbringing in New Orleans and the fact Louisiana is at least considered the Deep South.
Verron Haynes can go pretty deep when asked about the nicknames of his fellow running backs. Of course, the one Willie Parker gave him may be the best among the Steelers’ ball carriers.
It seems Haynes wanted to cut down on his shaving time, and he said that he put some Nair-like substance on his face to stunt the growth of facial hair.
It worked a little too well in one tiny spot on Haynes’ right cheek, and he can no longer grown any hair there.
That is why Haynes is now “Scarface.”
For an outsider, the Steelers’ nicknames can be dizzying to keep track of. The same even is true for the people that are giving and receiving them on a regular basis.
During pre-game introductions, Haggans will sometimes stop when one of his teammates’ names is announced because it has been so long since he’s heard that name.
“It gets to the point where sometimes you call people their nicknames all the time.” Haggans said, “you start to forget their real name.”
Even if their real name actually is their nickname.