A Colorful Game: Names are in the Book

The News Tribune (Tacoma, Washington)
September 4, 2003

[Publisher’s Note: This newspaper article includes some athletes’ nicknames that may not be appropriate today.]

Chances are you’ve never heard of Walter Achieu, a Dayton Triangles wingback during pro football’s formative years. I wasn’t familiar with Achieu, either, until I glanced at the player register section of my Total Football Encyclopedia and saw that Achieu was known as Sneeze.

Sneeze Achieu. Is that beautiful, or what?

My football encyclopedia contains essential background information – date and place of birth, high school and college attended, pertinent statistics, and so forth – for the more than 17,000 men who’ve appeared in at least one regular-season game in the league now recognized as the NFL.

For the past few years, I’d considered perusing the big book page by page, but it wasn’t until I came across Sneeze Achieu the other day that I realized the effort might be worth a five-hour investment.

Thanks to Sneeze Achieu, I now know that the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame played a grand total of five pro-football games between them, that Joe Namath enjoyed only two seasons in which he threw more touchdowns than interceptions, and that the matriarch of the Nesser Family deserves a plaque in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In 1921, the roster of the Columbus Panhandles included the sibling sextet of Frank Nesser, Fred Nesser, John Nesser, Phil Nesser, Al Nesser and player-coach Ted Nesser, who signed up his son, Charley Nesser.

Thanks to Sneeze Achieu, names I recognized soon resurrected images of mud-caked facemasks and blood-stained jerseys: Jim Katkavage and Al Bansavage, Steve Stonebreaker and Ronnie Bull.

Names I’d forgotten about made me smile: Saints return specialist Jubilee Dunbar. Bears quarterback Willie Thrower. Browns receiver Fair Hooker.

But the real fun was combing the encyclopedia for the obscure, and discovering a defensive tackle named Will Wynn. (He toiled for a succession of lowly Eagles teams during the mid 1970s, proving that where there’s a Will, there’s not always a Way. Dinty Moore, Johnny Carson, Jimmy Carter, Jesse James, Jimmy Dean, Henry Ford, Michael Jackson, Ted Williams, Bill Murray and Harold Hill all registered entries, even though none was responsible for the household nature of his name.

On the other hand, the real Steve Harris, who plays a lawyer on the popular TV show “The Practice,” saw action during the 1987 strike season. (Harris appeared in the NFL’s version of a fall replacement series.) And the guy who portrayed Apollo Creed in the Rocky movies, Carl Weathers, got into a handful of games with the 1970 Raiders.

Speaking of Rocky, he wasn’t the original “Italian Stallion.” That distinction belonged to former Alabama running back Johnny Musso, who broke in with the Bears during Walter Payton’s rookie season.

Johnny soon came marching home.

I was surprised to see that Fatty Harris lived to age of 80, that Moses Regular played sparingly, and that Ken Barefoot wasn’t a kicker. But I wasn’t at all stunned to note that 135-pound tailback Jack Daniels didn’t go to college.

I found a David Pool and a Hampton Pool and some evidence of a gene pool: The sons of Baseball Hall of Famers Lou Brock (Lou Jr., a defensive back who played four games for three teams) and Yogi Berra (Tim Berra, Colts special teams player in 1974) are listed.

As Yogi himself once said: “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.”

There are fewer classic nicknames in a pro football encyclopedia than there are in baseball’s – there’s no Arlie “The Freshest Man on Earth” Latham or Bob “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson – but it’s hard not to appreciate Harry “Hippity” Hopp, John “Shipwreck” Kelly and “Two-Minute Tommy” Kramer and Bill “Earthquake” Enyart.

And Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? At least it rolls more smoothly than Art “Choo Choo” Macioszczyk.

Jack Bighead, an end for the Rams, had no nickname. Maybe he was too modest.

If you’re talking NFL nicknames, it’s hard to keep up with the Joneses. Let’s see, there’s Turkey Joe Jones, Too Tall Ed Jones, Lam Jones, Dub Jones, Tugboat Jones, and Special Delivery Jones.

My football encyclopedia begs as many questions as it answers. For instance, if all-around offensive back Otto “The Stud” Vokaty was such a big deal, why did he bounce around four different teams between 1931 and 1934? And why did 1930s fullback Bull Karcis deserve the moniker of “Five Yards,” when his career average was a mere 3.2?

No matter. Give it up for a guy who went the extra yard, and then some. And besides, a fullback known as “Five Yards” sounds a lot better than a fullback known as “Three Point Two Yards.”

Finally, a last word regarding Walter Achieu. A product of Honolulu’s St. Louis High School and the University of Hawaii, he was 86 years old when died in Eugene, Ore., on March 21, 1989.

Rest in peace, Sneeze. And God bless you.

Copyright 2003 The News Tribune, John McGrath: 253-597-8742, ext. 6154, john.mcgrath at mail.tribnet.com

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