This just in ... The outstanding seasons by Patrick Willis and punter Andy Lee have resulted in trips to Honolulu. The 49ers also have four alternates: Guard Larry Allen, cornerback Nate Clements, running back Frank Gore and defensive tackle Bryant Young, who could be playing his final home game Sunday against Tampa.
While we’re talking about Willis, I thought I’d share with you the first cut in the P. Willy Nickname Challenge. I’ve pared the list to 10 and I’ve listed the pros and cons of each. Over the next week, I’ll mull over suggestions, seek counsel with the greatest minds I know (one word: Ratto), toss, turn and eventually trim the list to three. And then I’ll ask Willis himself which one he likes best. So here are the 10 in no particular order:
1. Will-da-beast – Pro: A clever combination. Willis indeed is a beast on the field.
Con: Wildebeests are essentially food for lions. They're like big rabbits. With horns. Willis is more of a predator.
2. P-52 – Pro: It’s hip and sounds like B-52, the famous bomber that helped win W.W. II. **Correction** My knowledge of military history stinks. The B-52 wasn't developed until the 1950s.
Con: It’s almost too hip. It reminds me of the nicknames that merely combine the first initial with the first syllable of the last name. A-Rod, T-Mac, J-Lo, etc., etc, yawn, yawn, etc.
3. Second Samurai – Pro: Alliterative and it points out the relationship between Willis and mentor/coach, “Samurai” Mike Singletary. Samurai also captures Willis’ quiet, disciplined demeanor.
Con: Will it still work if Singletary is coaching the Falcons?
4. Waterboy – Pro: Willis makes tackles all over the field just like the titular character in the Adam Sandler flick.
Con: Wasn’t the Sandler character st..st..st..stupid?
5. Bam Bam – Pro: It’s short, it’s descriptive and best of all, it was given to Willis by a famous peer, Cincinnati’s Chad Johnson, who noted that Willis wasn’t slowed by the club he was wearing earlier this year
Con: Willis ditched the club weeks ago. Also, will “Bam Bam” still work when he’s 33?
6. Baby Ray – Pro: A nice nickname if you believe that Willis is the second coming of another prolific linebacker, Baltimore’s Ray Lewis.
Con: Too phonetically similar to “Baby Ruth.” Also, Willis and Lewis have entirely different personalities.
7. Groundskeeper Willie – Pro: From “The Simpson’s” character. Willis indeed is responsible for sweeping up and cutting down ball carriers on the Candlestick grounds.
Con: Do we want the nickname to be derived from a cantankerous Scottish janitor? Perhaps “The Groundskeeper” is better.
8. Humble Hammer – Pro: Nicely combines Willis’ off-the-field sweetness with his on-the-field ferocity.
Con: Is it too similar to former 49ers’ linebacker Frank Nunley’s “Fudgehammer”?
9. Patty Whack – Pro: Another descriptive moniker that nicely captures the impact of Willis’ tackles.
Con: The havoc that Willis wreaks on the field is closer to a heavy metal anthem than a sing-song children’s tune.
10. Rolling Ball of Butcher Knives – Pro: It’s how Minnesota coach Brad Childress described Willis before Week 14. The definition for that term is essentially: Something you want to avoid. And if you’re an offensive player, that fits Willis to a T.
Con: It’s not exactly original and at seven syllables it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
-- Matt Barrows