Alliterative Genius

It’s one of those great, traditional, late-night questions, equal parts entertaining and pointless, tossed around after a bottle of red or two:

Who are the greatest alliterative sportspeople by letter?

And the answer goes something like this:

Andre Agassi – easily.

Bonnie Blair – Firstly, the drugs controversy surrounding Barry Bonds means that he is removed from the discussion before it even begins. And one feels for Boris Becker who isn’t even the best BB from his own sport as Bjorn Borg’s 11 Slams (from 27 attempts, with a record 89.8% winning record in Slam matches) beats Boris hands down. Arguably though, Borg sits only second or third on the list of BB’s. He joins Bob Beamon – whose long jump World Record lasted 23 years – as perhaps the unluckiest in the whole alphabet not to score a win. But Blair won 5 gold medals in Speed Skating, including 3 in the same event, across 4 Olympics. She didn’t just break World Records, she smashed them…and won Olympic events with record margins.

Clive Churchill – So Cassius Clay makes – how does one put it? – a rather good case for his inclusion here. However, changing his name from CC to MA after his first title fight means that most of his career happened in a non-alliterative sense. Meanwhile, Australia’s “Little Master” of rugby league is the only CC to have been credited with changing his sport. One of seven rugby league “immortals”, the Fullback of the Century, and the man whose name adorns the NRL Grand Final’s man-of-the-match award, Churchill was the first to play his traditionally defensive position with attacking flair and charisma.

Didier Drogba – Beating former top ranked golfer David Duval, Drogba’s continued success with Chelsea during their club’s greatest era gives him the nod. Coming from the Ivory Coast gives him extra points here too.

Ernie Els – Fights off stiff competition from alliteratively nicknamed legends Eddie the Eagle and Eric the Eel. The South African becomes the second leg in an African trifecta, as…

Frankie Fredericks – the World Champion sprinter and four-time Olympic silver medallist wasn’t just a brilliant athlete, he is also Namibia’s only Olympic medallist.

George Gervin – One of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time, Gervin should feel lucky here to have ousted a man who holds the record for having played the most rugby union test matches in Aussie half-back George Gregan and the man who shares in the highest-scoring-partnership over the course of a test cricket career in West Indian opening bastman Gordon Greenidge.

Harry Hopman – So do captain/coaches count? 16 Davis Cup wins say they absolutely should here. And besides, it’s about time we had a second Aussie on the list.

Ivan Ivanov – Bulgarian weightlifter who scored Gold in Barcelona. That being said, one struggles for II athletes about as much as Mr Ivanov’s parents did for an original first name for their son.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee – Sports Illustrated rated her the best female athlete of the 20th Century.

Karch Kiraly – The only person to have won Olympic gold medals in both indoor and beach volleyball.

Lisa Leslie – A shame, as we Aussies dislike her so, but she is a 4 time Olympic Gold Medalist and a 3-time WNBA MVP. If only Libby Lenton hadn’t married into the Trickett family, she might have had a chance.

Mickey Mantle – Right up there with the BB’s as the most competitive letter. Matthew Mitcham needs at least another couple of gold medals if he’s to be in the same league as Mal Meninga, Malcolm Marshall and squash superstar (if such a sport can have ‘super’stars…) Michelle Martin. But however much one may prefer to award this to a female Aussie squash player or a West Indian fast bowler (average 20.94, thanks very much), Mantle just takes this one.

Nate Newton – 6-time Pro-Bowl selection on the offensive line for Dallas. Although we’re all hoping that Nic Naitanui takes the lead sometime in the next 10 years.

Oleg Ogorodov – Uzbek tennis player, once ranked 101st in the World. If only Jesse’s parents had named him Owen Owens…

Paul Pierce – Whether or not he wins another Championship with the Celtics this season.

Quincy Quek – The youngest on the list at 23, the Singaporean golfer appropriately went to Q-school to qualify for this year’s Asian tour.

Richie Richardson – So Marshall and Greenidge missed out, but this West Indian great scores a spot.

Sam Snead – How does one compare a golfer at his peak in the 40s and 50s to Stephen Silvagni, the AFL fullback of the century? Or with record-breaking NFL tight-end Shannon Sharpe? Such is the ridiculousness of this and so many similar lists – naming the greatest players by number for example. The only sure thing is that Summer Sanders is the best looking allitarative sports person in history.

Thurman Thomas – The man who started a Superbowl a little late because he couldn’t find his helmet. Fair running back, mind.

Ugueth Urbina – The only player in Major League history with the initials UU may now be sitting in a Venezualan jail for attempted murder, but in his former life he won a World Series with the Markins and was a two-time All-Star.

Vladimir Vasin – Diving gold medallist from Russia. Defeats former Wimbledon quarter-finalist Vladimir Voltchkov.

Wes Welker – Joins Drogba, Els, Pierce and Quek as one of five members of the list who are still active. New England’s wide receiver has led the NFL in receptions in two of the past three seasons, becoming the first player in history to receive 110 passes in three consecutive years.

Xie Xingfang – Recently retired, the two-time badminton World Champion won Silver at her home Olympics in Beijing.

Yang Yang (A) – China comes to the party again, with a second consecutive obscure letter – Yang Yang (A) was a more successful short track speed skater than her colleague Yang Yang (S). She was a two-time gold medallist.

Zinedine Zidane – as easily as Andre.

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47 Responses to Alliterative Genius

  1. Durham says:

    OK Edward, here are a few thoughts:

    B – Bonnie Blair was Bland, Borg and Becker Brilliant

    L – Anything to get rid of Leslie, how about Larissa Latinya, Olympic gymnast who holds the record for most medals by an individual – 18, 9 of them gold

    S – How about our own Shirley Strickland with 7 Olympic medals including 3 gold? And an honourable mention to Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew

    and in the more obscure initials honourable mentions to

    E – Eskild Ebbesen (4 rowing medals for Denmark including 3 gold, 6 world championship golds)

    H – Halvard Hannevold (6 biathlon medals, 3-2-1, over 4 games, 40 world cup podiums)

  2. edwardpolsen says:

    Wow…Had never heard of Latynina – a fascinating addition to my sporting knowledge. Shows that I’m clearly not up to scratch on my ’50s and ’60s gymnasts. And, as you say, anything to remove Leslie from the list.

    And Strickland is surely up there with, if not past, Snead…

  3. Scott says:

    To have omitted Shirley S was a massive oversight!

    Elderly cricket watchers remember even older cricket watchers raving about George Giffen:

    GIFFEN, GEORGE (1859-1927), cricketer, was born on 27 March 1859 at Adelaide, son of Richard Giffen, carpenter, and his wife Elizabeth, née Challand. Coached as a boy by the Goodens, he played for the Norwood Club. In his first game for South Australia against East Melbourne in 1877 he made top score in each innings and for more than a decade virtually carried the South Australian side on his own shoulders. Against Victoria in 1891 he scored 237 and took 12 wickets for 192. In 1892 he made 271 (a score not surpassed for South Australia until Bradman did so in 1935) and took 16 for 166. For ten years against Victoria he averaged 138 with the bat and 11 wickets a match.

    In Australia he made twelve centuries, including four over 200, and six times took eleven or more wickets in a match. In England he made another six centuries, coupling one of them with a hat-trick and another with 7 wickets for 11. In first-class cricket Giffen scored 12,501 runs at an average of 29 and took 1109 wickets at 21 runs each. He once took 17 wickets in a match and once 10 wickets in an innings; he also performed three hat-tricks. In his last match against Victoria in 1903 he made 81 and 97 not out and took 15 wickets for 185. He retired from first-class cricket in 1903 but in 1908 was induced to play once more for South Australia against the Fijians.

    Giffen toured England in 1882, 1884, 1886, 1893 and 1896, declining the tours of 1888 and 1890. English conditions suited him a little less well than Australian but in 1886 he headed the side’s averages both with bat and ball; in two weeks he captured 46 wickets at an average of 6.5 runs, almost certainly a record. In Tests he was the first to make over 1000 runs and to take over 100 wickets. As Australia’s captain in 1894-95 he totalled 475 runs and 34 wickets. In 1898 his reminiscences, With bat and ball, were published in London. He worked in the Adelaide post office in 1882-1925, and died unmarried on 29 November 1927.

    At his best Giffen had remarkable defensive powers. He scored mainly in front of the wicket since the fast Adelaide wicket encouraged driving. He bowled slow-medium off-breaks and his subtle changes of pace obtained many wickets caught-and-bowled through a slower dropping ball. His toll might have been higher if South Australia had played New South Wales a decade earlier and if in Test matches he had not coincided with such formidable bowlers as Frederick Spofforth, Charles Turner and Henry Boyle. With strong faith in his own bowling which sometimes proved expensive, Giffen could be cantankerous as a captain, but he was Australia’s first great all-rounder.

    A stand in the Adelaide Oval is named after him and a portrait is in the pavilion.

  4. Mike says:

    Zidane was an obvious call, but I would have gone with former NHL journeyman (and 1993 NHL All-Star) Zarley Zalapski.

  5. Anna says:

    As a New Englander, I like the inclusion of Pierce and Welker (the former of whom will likely join William “Bill” Walton, another arguably alliterative athlete, in the NBA hall of fame).

  6. Michael says:

    Zinedine Zidane’s career is overshadowed by a headbutt. Shoulda picked ex NHL-er Zarley Zalapski.

  7. Josh says:

    How about scott stevens? While I do like Sam Snead, there’s no hockey on here!

  8. james says:

    I dont like your choice of Bonnie Blair for B. the absolute coolest B name ever is Boof Bonser even if he is a faggot who plays for the red sox. his names Boof for chrissakes!

  9. Edwin says:

    George Gervin (soft g, hard g) doesn’t alliterate, so it should automatically be disqualified for consideration. The only G name you mentioned that alliterates is Gordon Greenidge (hard g, hard g).

  10. Scott says:

    Have just remembered another of Australia’s earliest sporting heroes, Bill Beach, world professional sculling champion in the 1880s. Sydney stopped for his return from defending his title in England.

  11. dmantyla says:

    I understand that you’re going for strong accomplishments as well as a good alliteration, but what could be cooler than Fred Funk? Also, I would make a strong case for “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Red Ruffing (although Red was probably just a nickname), and, even though it’s not a true alliteration (or an alliteration of any ilk), Derek Jeter should be included on every list every time.

  12. Pierre says:

    If you’re going to include coaches then why not owners? In which case I would suggest Peter Pocklington, owner of the Edmonton Oilers ice hockey team, 5 Stanley Cups and the notoriety of having pulled off the shrewdest deal ever in professional ice hockey (signing Wayne Gretzky to a 21-year contract) and its most controversial (selling Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings).

  13. Carty says:

    Mate, now you need to do an alliteration + 1 list

    AB: Allan Border
    BC: Bradley Clyde

    Can’t wait to see who comes in at WX from the multitude of choices you have at hand.

    Leave it with you …

    Keep up the entertaining work!

  14. Steven says:

    JJ = Jimmie Johnson. 4 consecutive championships can’t be a bad thing.

  15. Mike says:

    Jaromir Jagr?
    Carl Crawford?
    Bobby Bonilla?
    Barry Bonds?
    Mark McGuire?
    Sammy Sosa?
    Jimmie Johnson?

  16. Russ says:

    You went with George Gervin over Gregan!!!! Bad call! I know Gervin was great at basketball, however Gregan was a game changer in his own right even if most Americans don’t know who is…..

  17. Doug Fisher says:

    Hey, where is MISTY MAY? How can you forget a gem like her?

  18. Fenn says:

    Serge Savard, one of the big three on defense for the powerhouse Montreal Canadiens in the 1970’s?

  19. David Lieberfarb says:

    As a Yank and a fan of the Yankees — and a newspaper headline writer who loves alliteration — I was initally misled by the All-Alliteration Team’s picture of my boyhood hero. I assumed it was going to be a baseball team and was looking forward to flanking the Mick in the outfield with Minnie Minoso and Barry Bonds. I thank earlier correspondents for Red Ruffing and 3 more outfielders, Crawford, Sosa and Shoeless Joe, plus a couple of corner infielders, McGwire and Bonilla. If we reject Ruffing as a pitcher on the basis of a nickname, we’ll also have to ignore the great Dizzy Dean and perhaps settle for Bob Buhl. I’ll make Marty Marion my shortstop, and I’m open to suggestion at the other positions — catcher and second base — but if we can fill those positions, we can offer the team for sale to former Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner.

  20. Chuck says:

    David – you might do better to settle for Mike McCormick as the pitcher. Julian Javier at second and Dave Duncan as the catcher. The latter can double as the pitching coach under manager Bob Boone.

  21. Patrick says:

    Robin Roberts, a member of the Phillies Gashouse Gang and MLB Hall of Famer, pitched 28 consecutive complete games, won at least 20 games six seasons in a row, led the league in games started (6 seasons), complete games and innings pitched (5 seasons)

  22. Fred W says:

    With his performance in the current NBA playoffs, how could you miss Rajon Rondo?

  23. edwardpolsen says:

    Mike & Michael: A “journeyman” and 1-time NHL all-star over Zidane, one of the only two men to have been named the World Footballer of the Year 3 times?!? He may have committed the memorable headbutt, but don’t let that mean we forget his two goals against Brazil in the ’98 World Cup Final…nor all of his other incredible performances. Zalapski pales into insignificance in comparison.

  24. edwardpolsen says:

    Hey all – thanks for all of the suggestions…there are some great ones here!

    Russ: Yep, Gervin over Gregan was a tough call…and along with Blair was probably the most contentious of the lot… But unfortunately, I must admit that my call had nothing to do with the fact that the Yanks don’t know him. They don’t know Clive Churchill either, but I went with him over Cassius Clay (although the SI editors decided that Clay had more ‘pizzazz’ for their American audience when they re-printed my piece)…

    Doug: Misty May is a great one! Am horrifically embarrassed to have forgotten her… Still think Mantle takes it, but I should have at least given her a mention… And to think that I call myself an amateur sports writer… I hang my head in shame…

    David: Love the idea of your All-Alliterated MLB team… I’ve already had emails from Aussies asking about putting together a cricket-style list. Off the top of the head, I reckon the top of the order wouldn’t just be alliterative, it’d also be very G-based, with Gordon Greenidge and Graham Gooch opening the batting, and George Giffen coming in at first-drop. Colin Cowdrey, Richie Richardson, Malcolm Marshall, Colin Croft, Patrick Patterson… I’m struggling for a keeper?

    Fred: Yep, Rondo’s making a play to make the team… As is great-Aussie-hope Sam Stosur this weekend!

  25. Joaquin Da Silva says:

    Ugueth Urbina was not only UU, but UUU. His middle name is Urtaín.

  26. David Lieberfarb says:

    Thanks for the responses to fill out my MLB team. Shortly after I woke up this morning, it occurred to me that the missing links on my team could be filled by a father and son, catcher Bob Boone, who could be a player-manager, and recently retired second baseman Bret.

  27. Ziggy60 says:

    Robin Roberts?

  28. Chuck says:

    Double credit for Robin Roberts since there are two of them.

  29. dennis says:

    Me thinks you need to look up the definition of that word “alliteration” and then try it again, some are not even close.

  30. Shane says:

    How about Tim Tebow? Thurman Thomas is not an alliteration.

  31. Mark says:

    Hard to argue with the Mick, but no hockey players??!! Fellow bloggers, I give you the greatest leader in team sports…MARK MESSIER.

  32. Shalla says:

    First, interesting idea. 🙂

    Second… Sorry, but this is a list of great athletes whose first and last names begin with the same letter–not necessarily a list of alliterative athletes. In order to be alliterative, the neighboring words (or names, in this case) would have to start with the same initial consonant sound. Assonance would be the term for the vowel-sound equivalent (which would at least save you the pain of I and U). So Clive Churchill wouldn’t count, as the beginning sounds as CL and CH, which are different. Same with George Gervin and Thurman Thomas, as others mentioned, which just kills me. I’d put Thurman Thomas on an NFL greats list over Wes Welker any day.

    And, um, it’s Joyner-Kersee. You misspelled her last named.

    That said, wow, aside from Jagr and Messier, ice hockey really doesn’t have much in the way of alliterative names, does it?

  33. edwardpolsen says:

    Hey Shalla,

    I know, I know… I’ve used the word “Alliterative” in a dodgy way… But hey, it was all in fun, and I offer appropriate apologies to all of those out there who are offended by my title’s inappropriate use of the English language.

    As for Joyner-Kersee, I am equal parts horrified and mortified by this mistake! Am going to rectify it immediately, and ensure the folk at SI do too… Thanks for pointing it out – and apologies to the great woman herself if she had stumbled across such an inaccuracy during the past couple of days…

  34. mike gradone says:

    Jackie Jensen – AL MVP in ’58, Rose Bowl halfback at Cal

  35. GG says:

    This is fine for a list of athletes with the same first and last initials. But alliteration? George Gervin and Thurman Thomas, both great. But their names aren’t alliterative.
    Not a huge problem–but a tad beneath SI’s strong standard. Would be fun if you go back and finish the job.

  36. Chuck says:

    If nicknames are permitted, Rocket Richard should go on the list somewhere.

  37. Shalla says:

    No worries. Doing it in good fun is fine. The neurotic bits of my brain just needed to make sure we were all clear on the terminology. (Apparently those neurotic bits were not actually awake during my first post, where it appears that my knowledge of grammar consisted of “A nickname we call Dad’s Mum.” Me good type verbs. Ugh.)

    I once made up a roster for an entire NFL team based solely on my favorite names who were active in the NFL at the time. To give you an idea, that put Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala as one of my running backs. My husband had a good laugh and countered with a team made completely of names like Johnson, Williams, Jones, Brown, etc., with each name being assigned to a position. (Johnson to wide receiver, for example.) It was impressive. And even though we’ve amicably split, to this day we still send each other emails after the NFL draft with our “Best of the Draft” names and comments.

  38. John S says:

    Cassius Clay was pretty good but original Met Choo Choo Coleman has him beat by a C

  39. Jeff says:

    You picked a cricketer over Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts? 😉

  40. Ray says:

    Alliteration is the use of a consonant ‘sound’, not the same beginning letter.

    So, Thurman Thomas is not alliterative, as are one or two of the others. George Gervin comes to mind.

  41. Brian Conway says:

    University of Wisconsin basketball player Duany Duany?

  42. PAJoe says:

    How about the great heavyweight Jack Johnson?

  43. Pete says:

    I know you are hyping up soccer with the World Cup, but Drogba over Don Drysdale? 3 time WS champ and baseball Hall of Famer with 200+ wins and close to 2500 Ks.

  44. Pete says:

    I know you are hyping up soccer with the World Cup, but Drogba over Don Drysdale? 3 time WS champ and baseball Hall of Famer with 200+ wins and close to 2500 Ks.

    Plus, Drogba has continued to be a huge disappoint when playing for Ivory Coast during the African Cup of Nations and not making it out of their group in the 2006 World Cup.

  45. Dave says:

    Don Drysdale???? HOF!!!!

  46. M Abbass says:

    Buddy Biancalana

  47. Shalla says:

    Yeah, but Drogba may play in the World Cup with a broken arm. I bet Drysdale never competed with a broken arm! 😛

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