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Original Issue

Love Handles

RUNNING BACK NICK GOINGS retired from the Panthers after 2008 and defensive end Kenwin Cummings joined the Jets as a rookie in '09, so when the teams played each other in Week 12 of that season, America just missed the collision of Cummings and Goings, because Goings was going as Cummings was coming.

It wasn't the first such pairing to narrowly elude our grasp. Linebackers Steve Ache and Jeff Paine were in the NFL in the same year but not on the same defense, and thus never inspired the Stallone & Van Damme buddy-cop movie Ache & Paine that we're still pining to see.

Over 95 years—from Sneeze Achiu to C.J. Ah You—the NFL has supplied us with superior names, and rather amply. (Amp Lee, for instance.) In the 1970s, Raiders linebacker Phil Villapiano played like he had apiano on his back. Jimmy Claussen was not the first quarterback in the NFL named for a brand of pickle, for he was preceded by Mark Vlasic, who played at the same time as Steve Dils. Buccaneers receiver Frank Pillow had soft hands, and he was covered—we can hope—by Falcons defensive back Scott Case.

But that was a quarter century ago, and since then player names have become one of the very best things about the NFL. Ask Kerwynn Williams, to paraphrase a paint commercial. We live in the High Renaissance of Zurlon Tipton, Bacarri Rambo and Michael Hoomanawanui. Brent Qvale makes me kvell. The NFL has never had so many euphonious handles, and indeed, at this present rate of escalation Euphonious Handles will catch passes for the Colts in 2016.

The names are more lyrical and somehow more joyous than they were 40 years ago, the subtle but significant difference between Ray Guy and Dre' Bly. That's not to suggest that today's are the most memorable names in league history. Even early guys, like Guy Early, had great names. With football names, the violent contact of tongue and palate has often mimicked the clashing of pads: Ditka, Csonka, Blanda, Blinka, Datko, Demko, Flacco, Klecko.

George Nock, Tom Wham, Dennis Lick and Richard Dent each brought a violent name to a violent game, as did the insuperable Alge Crumpler. Visco Grgich is the sound a running back makes at the bottom of the pile. (All hail Willie Pile, and while you're at it: Walt Heap.)

If the NFL aspires to a Biblical scale—and trust us, it does—the league is historically well-positioned, what with Ephesians Bartley and Proverb Jacobs. Derrel Gofourth—and multiply. And always follow the Gordon Rule.

But now we have the memorable Barkevious Mingo and Rokevious Watkins, who arrived just previous to Barkevious. If there should ever cease to be a National Football League, let us still maintain a National Foote-Ball League, in honor of Larry Foote and Alan Ball, who play linebacker and defensive back, respectively, in the NFL of 2015, where Texans guard Xavier Su'a-Filo showcases every vowel in his name, plus an X, an apostrophe and a hyphen, a typographical treasure unlikely to be eclipsed.

What could the future possibly hold? The league has seen countless Bubbas (and a single countable Bubby), several Billy Joes (and one Joe Billy) and men whose entire names—first and last—were Billy Joe and Larry Joe, full stop. There have been three Bobby Joes, one Joe Bob, one Bobby Jack, three Billy Rays, at least two Jimbos and two more Jim Bobs, but not—or rather, not yet—a Billy Bob, a Bob Ray or a Jim Joe.

It doesn't pay to take names too seriously. Or too literally. Lemanski Hall is not a dormitory, Fred Land is not a theme park and Ishmaa'ily Kitchen is not a five-star restaurant whose signature dish is eggs Omar Easy.

Likewise, we can't be certain that Jack Bighead was Les Shy than Fred Chicken, whatever their names suggest. What we do know is football is a simple game of cause and effect: Joel Hitt, so Maurice Hurt.

This is how the game is played. And this is the way the column ends: not with Ben Bangs but Guy Whimper.

Over 95 years the NFL has supplied us with superior names, and rather amply. (Amp Lee, for instance.)

What's the best name in football? Join the discussion on Twitter by using #SIPointAfter and following @SteveRushin