Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin
TAMPA, Florida (USA TODAY) -- Doug Martin is standing in a hallway of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' facility, having just taped a TV interview in which he begged the nation to give him a new nickname so he can shed the old one that just won't go away: "Muscle Hamster."
It's the moniker he got at Boise State and hated it from the beginning. He was hoping it wouldn't follow him to the NFL. But this week, following his franchise-record 251-yard rushing performance in a victory over the Oakland Raiders near his hometown of Stockton, Calif., Martin called it the "worst nickname ever."
Which is only going to make it stick even more.
BLOG: Martin's thoughts on nickname ideas from Twitter
Martin can run from defenders but not this nickname. So he's finally willing to share the story on how he came to be known as "Muscle Hamster."
"You really want to know?" he asks USA TODAY Sports.
"You really want to know?"
"All right, so I had a girlfriend, she was a gymnast. Small, but more cut than I was," he says. "My friend (and college teammate) Jarell Root called her a muscle hamster. So I stood up for her, like, 'Hey, man, she's not a muscle hamster!' And he said, 'You're a muscle hamster, too.' So they called us the muscle hamsters."
As Martin explains it, a friend mentioned the nickname in an article about Martin. After that, ESPN picked up on it and it spread "like wildfire."
What's worse, Martin and his gymnast girlfriend broke up.
"That's what I get for helping out," he says with a laugh.
Hey, if this is Martin's biggest problem right now, halfway into his sensational rookie season, things are going pretty well for the Bucs' first-round pick.
The 5-9, 215-pounder has 471 rushing yards and seven total touchdowns in his last three games, ran for touchdowns of 70, 67, 45 and 1 yards against the Raiders, is helping to energize this team under first-year coach Greg Schiano, is drawing comparisons to one of the best running backs ever (Emmitt Smith), and has won over his coaches and teammates with his maturity.
Best of all for Martin, the Bucs' veterans might even drop the nickname he loathes.
"As long as he keeps running like that, I won't call him that, then," offensive tackle Demar Dotson said. "Whatever he wants."
Call him 'gone'
"Muscle Hamster" is one of a few things Martin has been called.
He used to be Matthew. That's his middle name, but it served as his first name for a while because his father is also Doug. He was also "Bam Bam," a nickname his mother, Leslie, gave him because the energetic toddler was always smacking things around the house with a toy plastic bat.
Count Leslie as the first scout to notice her son's incredible athleticism.
"I used to wonder why there were fingerprints at the top of the door jams," she said by phone this week, still amazed with what she and about 90 friends and family members saw at the O.co Coliseum on Sunday. "These little kids are 4 and 5 years old, and I have fingerprints on my door jam. Finally, one time, I saw him jump high enough to put his fingers on the door jam."
That leaping ability led to plenty of success on the basketball court through junior high. By that time, Martin had begun to transition from Matthew to Doug. Once dubbed "Matt-Matt," he was now "Doug-Matt," who didn't play football until high school.
Martin didn't need the experience. He had enough natural ability and vision to run for 3,431 yards and 43 touchdowns in college.
"He's one foot and go," Boise State running backs coach Keith Bhonapha said of Martin's cuts.
The Raiders learned that the hard way.
After squeezing through a hole seemingly only big enough for a rodent with collapsible bones (sorry, Doug-Matt), he accelerated through the second level of the defense and scooted to the edge past safeties Matt Giordano and Tyvon Branch for his first touchdown, the 45-yarder.
"Some of those runs you're (thinking), 'Okay this is a gain of 10, 15,'" Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said of the plays Martin is turning into touchdowns. "I remember some earlier questions were asked at this very podium: 'Boy, is he ever going to be able to make a big play?'"
That was through the first four games when Martin didn't have any runs of 20 yards or longer.
"I think those questions have been answered," Sullivan said.
'The total package'
All of that running can make a guy tired, which is why Martin was tuckered out on the flight home from Oakland.
"Sat in his little seat, went to sleep, and you didn't know he was back there," Dotson said. "That's the kind of guy he is."
Martin was as unassuming a week earlier after picking up 214 total yards and two touchdowns in a nationally televised victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
"He's not an egomaniac. He wants to be part of something, and that's pretty cool," Schiano said. "He's got a chance to be the total package."
Schiano caught himself: "It's early. Let's not ordain him to be the next Gale Sayers here, but he's got all of the things that could add up to that."
San Diego Chargers coach Norv Turner, whose defense will try to contain Martin on Sunday, did make a comparison to a legend by noting Martin is "compact" and "hard to find" when he hides behind his offensive line.
"I don't like doing that to a guy," said Turner, the Dallas Cowboys' offensive coordinator from 1991-93, "but there's no question there are things he does that are Emmitt-like."
That hard-to-find factor was on display on Martin's 67-yard touchdown when he patiently waited as pulling guard Jamon Meredith made his block.
So in addition to a mature attitude, Martin has a mature running style.
"That's what makes him special," Schiano said. "You can teach backs a lot of things, but you can't tell them when to gear it down for a split second. I wish I could tell you that's coaching."
Keeping him happy
Martin has a wish of his own: To say goodbye to "Muscle Hamster".
"He legitimately doesn't like it," said Martin's agent, Brian Murphy.
The firm at which Murphy works, Athletes First, asked for nickname suggestions on Twitter. The one Martin likes best is "Dougernaut," but even he realizes that won't take off.
"Muscle Hamster" is here to stay, thanks to quarterback Josh Freeman, who brought that name into the Bucs' locker room.
"I wouldn't say that," Freeman said with a wry grin. "I would say that I have a number of close friends and family members who somehow dig up these awesome muscle hamster pictures. They send them to me, and I just so happen to show them to Doug. I call him Doug E. Fresh.
"I'll hear a good hamster joke, and I think it's funny, so I'll tell my friend. Maybe he doesn't appreciate it."
Freeman appreciates Martin. So here comes some good news for the rookie.
"Doug's amazing," Freeman said. "He's a tremendous player, and you want to keep the guy happy.
"So Doug E. Fresh it is."