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Why, oh why

There's always someone who seems to have the answers to the peskiest sports questions, those that pop up season after season inspiring much debate. And sometimes the answers are not what you would have expected.

By TOM JONES
Published September 17, 2006


During the course of a day, the Times sports department fields a variety of calls from readers who just have to know the answer to a burning question. We get it all, from what is the date of this season's Super Bowl Feb. 4 to who was the first African-American quarterback (Willie Thrower, 1953) to why aren't the Yankees on television tonight (we have no idea).

But some questions have been knocked around for years with the answer elusive for even many diehard sports fans.

So we bring you some of sports' most trivial questions. More important, we bring you the answers.

So now maybe some of you can sleep soundly tonight, having finally discovered the answers to lifelong questions. But if there's still a question or two you need answered, send them to tjones@sptimes.com.

Just don't ask us why all the Yankees games aren't on television.

WHAT IS A NITTANY LION?

The mountain that overlooks the Penn State campus is Mount Nittany, which is believed to come from the American Indian phrase "neet-a-nee," which means "single mountain" and/or "protective barrier against the elements." The mascot was a spur-of-the-moment creation of Penn State student H.D. "Joe" Mason. While visiting Princeton in 1904, Mason was asked what Penn State's mascot was and he made up the name "Nittany Lion," bragging it was surely tougher than a Princeton Tiger.

WHAT IS A HOOSIER?

Quite frankly, there is no consensus. Some say in Colonial times it stood for a white farmer who did not own slaves. Others claim it simply means a poor farmer. We think it means a person who is good at basketball, but bad at football.

WHY DOES THE MARINERS' ICHIRO SUZUKI HAVE HIS FIRST NAME ON THE BACK OF HIS UNIFORM?

Suzuki is the second-most popular name in Japan and is as common as Johnson or Smith is here. When Ichiro broke into Japanese pro ball in 1994, his manager wanted him to be set apart from all the other Suzukis so he had his first name stitched on his uniform. Ichiro wasn't crazy about it at first, but then grew to like it. When he came to Seattle, he kept the tradition because, like Cher and Madonna, that's how he is known. According to the Mariners' public relations department, Major League Baseball did not have a problem with it, so the tradition continues.

WHY DO GOLFERS YELL "FORE" WHEN THEY HIT AN ERRANT SHOT?

Fore comes from the Scottish. It is short for "before" or "afore." In Scottish it means "look out ahead" and is believed to come from the military, where artillery men used the word to warn troops in forward positions.

WHAT DOES THE "A" ON A HOCKEY SWEATER STAND FOR?

If you said "assistant captain," you're wrong. It's alternate captain. What's the difference? None, really. But a true fan knows it's alternate and not assistant. It's a hockey thing.

HOW MANY STITCHES ON A BASEBALL?

108, not the same as the number of beads on a Catholic rosary, as Annie Savoy claims in Bull Durham.

WHY DO THE STEELERS HAVE THEIR EMBLEM ON ONLY ONE SIDE OF THEIR HELMETS?

In 1962, the Steelers wanted to try out the emblem (taken directly from the old U.S. Steel logo), but weren't sure if they would like it. So equipment manager Jack Hart was instructed to put it only on one side. That season, the Steelers went 9-5, the winningest team in franchise history to that point. Wanting to keep the good karma, the emblem was left on the just the one side.

WHERE DID THE NAME SUPER BOWL COME FROM?

Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt came up with it when watching his daughter play with that crazy bouncing ball called the Super Ball. By the way, Hunt didn't think of the title until the game was 3 years old. It wasn't until Super Bowl IV, won by Hunt's team, that the words "Super Bowl" appeared on tickets.

WHY DO RED WINGS FANS THROW OCTOPUS ON THE ICE DURING THE PLAYOFFS?

Before 1967, the NHL had only six teams, the Red Wings being one of them. In those days, a team had to win two best-of-seven series to win the Stanley Cup. That's eight victories. An octopus has eight tentacles. Get it?

WHY IS A BLOOP SINGLE IN BASEBALL CALLED A TEXAS-LEAGUER?

There are several theories and two popular ones. One is that a player made his debut in that league and reeled off seven straight bloop singles. The other suggests the Gulf Stream winds used to blow popups around the field.

WHY DOES THE INDY 500 WINNER DRINK MILK?

When Louis Meyer won the 1936 Indy 500, he was photographed drinking buttermilk, his favorite beverage. An executive at the Milk Foundation saw the photograph and made sure that the winner each year received a bottle of milk at the finish line.