There have been plenty of amazing stories and interesting characters within the world of American sports over the years. A lot of the all-time greats have inspired various memorable nicknames, some of which are fish-centric. These are the guys we’ll be focusing on in this article – American sports heroes who have won on and off the field with fishy nicknames sticking by their sides.
One of these guys is Jim “Catfish” Hunter. With the full name James Augustus Hunter, Catfish was born on April 8, 1946 in the small town of Hertford in North Carolina. His childhood was that of a rustic rural farm boy, though in addition to his love of the outdoors, he was also had a deep love of sports. He played both football and baseball in high school, playing both shortstop and pitcher in the latter sport. It was his remarkable level of pitching prowess that attracted major league baseball scouts to his small North Carolina town to check Hunter out.
The interest of most MLB scouts disappeared almost as quickly as it began when Catfish was involved in a hunting accident in which one of his toes was shot off. The (at the time) Kansas City Athletics still liked what they saw out of the young man and signed him and stayed with him through his rehabilitation process. He finally made his major league debut in the summer of 1965 and notching the first of his 224 career wins against the Boston Red Sox on July 27th of that year.
The “Catfish” nickname made its appearance during his rookie season. It was simply given to him by Athletics’ owner Charlie Finley (a bit of irony with the “Fin” part) because he felt a new pitcher who would be the face of the franchise needed a catchy nickname. He made up the phony backstory of the name being acquired by way of Hunter spending his youth catching catfish in rural North Carolina streams(1).
A bona fide star by the time he’d started his second season, Catfish Hunter was a perennial all-star team selection in Kansas City and continued to be one after the Athletics moved to Oakland in 1968. During the team’s last season in Kansas City, Hunter threw his first career perfect game, which at the time was only the ninth time the feat had been pulled off in the history of baseball. Being that the designated hitter rule wasn’t in place until 1973, Hunter also had four at-bats in the game, collecting three hits and the go-ahead RBI in the 7th inning.
Catfish Hunter and the Oakland Athletics would go on to win three consecutive World Series titles from 1972-1974. 1974 was to be Hunter’s last season with Oakland, but was also his most memorable. In addition to being a World Series champion, he also won the American League Cy Young award.
After the 1974 season, Hunter became a free agent and was signed by the New York Yankees, with whom he’d play until 1979. His 5-year, $3.55 million contract(2) made him the highest paid player in the majors, even though now that would be considered beyond paltry for an all-star caliber player. He didn’t get off to the hottest of starts in his first year with the Yankees, but quickly managed to turn things around. By the end of the 1975 season, he had pitched his way to 23 victories. To this day, he still remains the only American League pitcher to win 20+ games in 5 consecutive seasons. He continued to flourish with the Yankees, winning two World Series championships with them in the late 70s.
Sadly, tragedy ended Catfish Hunter’s career when he was diagnosed with diabetes in 1979 and was forced to retire. After this, he returned to the farming life of his youth until 1997 when he was stricken with the even more deadly disease of ALS. He would ultimately die from this disease on September 9, 1999. On the bright side, he did live to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987 with 224 career wins, 2,012 strikeouts, a career ERA of 3.26 and five world series rings to his credit.
Another American sports legend is Bill “The Big Tuna” Parcells. Born on August 21, 1941, in Englewood, New Jersey, Parcells spent most of his childhood years in the nearby suburb of Hasbrouck Heights. Just before starting high school, he would move along with the rest of his family to the town of Oradell. It was in Oradell where he became a standout high school player, but was frequently mistaken for another player on the team named Bill. Parcell’s actual name at birth was Duane, a name he destested. From this point on, he encouraged everybody to call him Bill.
In addition to football, Parcells also participated in basketball and basketball while in high school, lettering in each. He would go on to play college football at Colgate University before transferring and finishing his college football career at Wichita State University. After graduation, he was drafted by the Detroit Lions but released before playing in an official game.
Loving the game far too much to leave it, Parcells made the choice to move from being a football player to a football coach. He began at the college level, holding positions at Hastings University, Florida State, Army, Vanderbilt, and Texas Tech. It was during his time coaching the Army college football team that he met and became lifelong friends with legendary basketball coach Bob Knight(3).
He finally broke into the NFL as a coach in 1975, serving as a defensive coordinator with the New York Giants. He soon resigned and moved to Colorado, but found himself very unhappy in a life that didn’t involve football. The following season, he was rehired by the Giants and stayed on as a defense coordinator before moving up to head coach in 1983.
His first season as head coach was a disaster. He frequently clashed with future Hall of Fame quarterback Phil Simms and only managed to eke out three wins. By 1984, coach and quarterback and reconciled and the Giants had a rebound season and made the playoffs. In 1987, he coached the Giants to a Super Bowl victory against the Denver Broncos and then did it again in 1991 against the Buffalo Bills. After this, he briefly retired from coaching but returned to the game in 1993 as head coach of the New England Patriots.
It was during his tenure with the Patriots that he received the name “The Big Tuna”. This was a name that was made up by some of the team’s linemen who based it on his large size and less than ideal physique. The Patriots had suffered through some miserable seasons in the years preceding the arrival of Parcells, but by 1995 he had them back in the playoffs. They even made it to the Super Bowl in 1996, where they were defeated by the Green Bay Packers. A growing rift between Parcells and Patriots owner Robert Kraft led to his resignation after the 1996 season.
From 1997-1999, the Big Tuna coached the New York Jets, where he compiled a record of 29 wins and 11 losses, along with one playoff appearance in 1998. This was followed by a second retirement which came to an end in 2003 when he assumed head coaching duties for the Dallas Cowboys. His time in Dallas would be fairly unremarkable, with the team only qualifying for the playoffs in 2006 and losing in the first round to the Seattle Seahawks.
The end of the 2006 season marked the end of the Tuna’s coaching career, but not his retirement from the NFL. In 2007, he became Executive Vice President of the Miami Dolphins. He played an active role in recruiting and drafting players before stepping down in 2010.
In his illustrious career, Parcells had a record of 183 wins, 138 losses, and one tie. He is also the only coach in NFL history to bring four different teams to the playoffs and three different teams to the Super Bowl(4).
Crossing into basketball, we’ll now wrap things up with some words on our final fish-nicknamed athlete of the day. If you haven’t made the obvious guess, we’re referring to Derek “Fish”/”D-Fish” Fisher.
Before beginning his 19-season NBA career and subsequent career as an NBA coach, Derek Lamar Fisher was born on August 9, 1974 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Unlike the other athletes mentioned in this article, Fisher wasn’t a multi-sport athlete and discovered his true passion for basketball at an early age. After lettering in basketball for four years in high school, he attended the University of Arkansas at Little Rock where he spent four years as the basketball team’s point guard. He ended his college career as his alma mater’s all-time leader in points scored, steals, and assists(5).
After graduating from college, Fisher was drafted in the first round of the 1996 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. In the 1996-97 team, he was one of two rookies on the team, alongside Kobe Bryant. He would play point guard for the Lakers until 2004, alternating between a starting and reserve role. Injuries slowed him down a bit, but he managed to start all 82 of the regular season games for the Lakers in the 2002-03 season.
While the 2003-04 season was the last in Fisher’s initial service with the Lakers, it also provided what is likely the most memorable moment and most stellar play of his career. It transpired during a playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs in which the Lakers trailed by one point with just 0.4 seconds of time remaining in the game. Fisher managed to catch a tricky inbound pass and quickly take and make a turnaround jumpshot just before the final buzzer rang, winning the game. Lakers fans still refer to this moment as “The Shot.”
After leaving Los Angeles, Fisher would play with the Golden State Warriors and then the Utah Jazz before making his return to LA, where he would play from 2007-2012. His final seasons in the NBA would see him playing for the Dallas Mavericks and the Oklahoma City Thunder. By the end of his career, he had tallied 10,713 points, 2,658 rebounds and 3,804 assists(6). He was also a five-time NBA finals champion, winning all of his championships as a member of the Lakers.
As soon as his playing career had concluded, Fisher was hired to be the new head coach for the New York Knicks, signing a five-year contract. He achieved his first win as a head coach on October 30, 2014 against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
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