August 21, 2004
Sure, Michael Phelps appears to have everything a 19-year-old guy could want: fame, fortune and a chestful of Olympic gold medals that's the ultimate babe magnet, way better than hot wheels or walking your poodle past the bars at Happy Hour.
But there's still something missing in the kid's life.And that something is this: a cool nickname.
Let's face it, when you get to be as big as Phelps is - five gold medals and two bronze in Athens as my fat little fingers type this - you need a nickname.
Unfortunately, swimming is not exactly a sport known for cool nicknames.
OK, there's Ian Thorpe, the great Australian gold medalist, who has a terrific nickname: "The Thorpedo."
But after that, the quality of swimmer nicknames tends to drop off the cliff.
For instance, freestyle ace Pieter van den Hoogenband from the Netherlands is called "The Flying Dutchman."
I know, I know ... yawn. That nickname's been around forever.
Apparently if you have any Dutch ancestry at all and do anything even remotely fast - eat, run, skate, ski, carry a football, whatever - they call you "The Flying Dutchman."
Then again, another nickname for van den Hoogenband is "Hoogie." But that's not exactly a name that conveys a sense of majesty, is it?
And it's probably not going to intimidate the opposition, either.
Imagine the P.A. announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen, now warming up in lane 4 ... HOOGIE!"
C'mon. Is that going to send chills through anyone else in the race?
So far, Phelps has been tagged with some pretty lame nicknames - although mercifully none of them have really stuck.
According to a Sun sportswriter Paul McMullen, one of Phelps' fans tried calling him the "Baltimore Barracuda."
But I imagine that lasted for about six seconds.
After all, who wants to be named after a bad muscle car from the '70s?
McMullen also reported that the European press had taken to calling Phelps "The Phenom."
But I don't know ... that one's been around the block a few times, too.
Every young athlete with eye-popping talent gets dubbed "The Phenom." Plus it sounds like something out of one of those saccharine kid movies like Angels in the Outfield or one of those dopey Adam Sandler flicks like Waterboy.
For some reason, the online sports site Jockbio.com refers to Phelps as "Iron Mike," possibly referring to the tremendous stamina required to excel in all those races at the Athens Games.
That nickname is forever linked with "Iron Mike" Tyson, the sociopathic boxer who once bit off the top of an opponent's ear and tattooed his face so heavily that he looks like a human Rottweiler.
And if you try going with "Iron Man," well, that's pretty much owned by a certain former Oriole who will land in baseball's Hall of Fame any minute now.
So we need to come up with a good nickname for Michael Phelps.
Something that rolls off the tongue.
Something that evokes a physical or personality trait - that pteradactyl-like wingspan or the grit he's shown in Athens. Or something that hints at the awesome feats he's accomplished so far and the greatness that still lies in his future.
Think of some of the all-time great sports nicknames. "The Great" Gretzky. "Mean" Joe Greene. "Pistol Pete" Maravich. "Magic" Johnson. William "The Refrigerator" Perry.
We need something along those lines for Michael Phelps. The kid deserves no less.
At the moment, I confess to being totally blocked on ideas here.
First I tried fooling around with the theme of Phelps' multiple gold medals.
But all I came up with is "The Golden Boy." Which is totally lame on a couple of fronts.
No. 1, anyone over 40 probably associates it with Paul Hornung, the great halfback for the old Green Bay Packers. And No. 2, it's used for every rising star in every organization you've ever heard of.
Then I tried working with the theme of Rodgers Forge/Towson, where Phelps lives and went to high school. Rodgers Forge Flash? God, that's awful.
The Towson Torpedo was out because of Ian Thorpe, of course. So first I came up with the Towson Tsunami, which sounded like a bad Asian restaurant.
Then I toyed with the Towson Comet - and that sounded like a cleaning product.
I couldn't think of a play on Michael's last name, either. Because let's face it, Phelps does not exactly flow off the tongue like a lot of other names. Like, say, Cowherd.
Anyway, if anyone out there has any suggestions, send them to me via e-mail at email@example.com. Include your name so we can have some vicious fun at your expense.
If the suggestions are any good, I'll get another column without a lot of heavy lifting.
If they're not, well, poor Michael will continue to go through life without a first-class nickname.
Five gold medals, two bronze medals, Olympic records, millions in endorsement fees ... I'm sure he'll be crushed.
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