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From Mooney to Mutton: How One Honest Mistake Became Our Favorite Nickname for an All-ACC Hero

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Many of you have asked where “John Mutton” came from. This is that story, and so much more.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

When Billy Donovan called Mike Brey to tell him about a high school player named “Johnny Mooney” in the 2016 recruiting class whom he should look at, John Mooney was not the All-ACC 1st Team stud we’re all very familiar with around these parts.

According to 247sports.com‘s composite rankings, Mooney was a 3-star “small forward” prospect ranked as the #146 recruit in the country, and he definitely flew under a number of schools’ radars due to the nearly two years he spent pledged to play for Donovan and the Florida Gators after committing during his sophomore season at Lake Brantley High School.

We all know what happened with that phone call to Brey, though. Billy Donovan had taken the Oklahoma City Thunder job, and when John Mooney’s dad asked him what he thought of ND as a fit for John, Donovan quickly gave Brey the scoop. John and his dad visited campus, and the rest was history as Mooney joined T.J. Gibbs and Nikola Djogo in an interesting, but not overwhelming, 3-man recruiting class.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia Tech at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Mooney’s first 1.5 seasons at Notre Dame were nothing much to write home about, as he averaged just 4 minutes per game as a freshman (1.2 ppg, 1.6 rpg) and wasn’t getting more than 5-10 minutes per game in the early going as a sophomore on a team that had plenty of other big men, such as Bonzie Colson, Martinas Geben, Austin Torres, and Elijah Burns.

No one was calling Mooney a bust that early in the career of a 3-star forward, but there also wasn’t exactly a ton of buzz about him, considering his classmate Gibbs was an instant contributor as a true freshman.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Mooney did show, however, a propensity for hitting some threes as a stretch four, and so despite his lack of significant PT, it wasn’t a surprise that he was called upon to help stretch the floor and launch some shots when Bonzie Colson broke his foot in late December of 2017. Mooney saw his minutes expand as he entered the regular rotation of players, averaging 20 minutes, 6 points, and 5 rebounds per game over the ensuing 5 games.

However, it wasn’t until January 20th, on the road against the Clemson Tigers, that everything changed for John Mooney.

John Mutton is Born

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Clemson Tigers assembled at Littlejohn Coliseum for what appeared to be a normal middle-of-the-regular-season ACC match-up.

The Irish were starting to feel the effects of losing an All-American in Colson (as well as starting senior PG Matt Farrell), having lost 3 straight entering the game. Clemson was ranked 20th in the country at the time, and so it was all but assumed that the under-manned Irish would quietly lose, gaining nothing significant from such a lopsided match-up.

Anyone who assumed that was, essentially, correct.

Clemson won 67-58, and ND would go on to lose 3 subsequent games after that to make it a 7-game losing streak following the rash of injuries they incurred (true freshman G D.J. Harvey also went down with a leg injury during that stretch).

However, one very minor important thing did come out of that evening that the ND basketball program, its fans, its opponents, and the college basketball world at-large are still seeing the effects of today. Of course, I’m talking about the inception of John Mooney’s amazing nickname that is basically only recognized here at One Foot Down and among our readers, followers, and listeners.

It all started with a tweet from Twitter user @Go_Irish_930, also known as John Barry, whose Twitter account now appears to be private and thus unable to be embedded in this article. John was in-person for that fateful game, and made sure to note this momentous moment for the entire Twittersphere.

Here’s a screenshot from my recap from that game, wherein I embedded the tweet and established that an honest, happy mistake by the PA announcer would become ND basketball canon going forward:

Indeed, following that tweet, mid-game, I knew we had struck gold in terms of a fantastic nickname for the young power forward.

Like many nicknames for my college friends that I forced to stick with dedicated, tedious, exhausting repetition, I began pounding home the John Mutton moniker on Twitter and in my writing.

And, amazingly, the support from the OFD community was immensely positive and for the most part, instantaneous.

As I asked in my tweet that day, just about everyone COULD agree on the establishment of “John Mutton” as John Mooney’s new nickname. Mutton Mania was sweeping the nation.*

*In this case, “nation” is defined as roughly 10 Twitter users...but still.

It took on a life of its own. “John Mutton” no longer belonged to just One Foot Down. He belonged to Irish fans all across the world.

John Mutton even got his own “Mutton Signal” of sorts (read: tweeted GIFs of sheep), courtesy of Twitter user @MikeMarkz, also known as “Irish.”

The Mutton Mania was strong with the OFD Twitter followers, and they insisted on pumping it up.

For 2+ years, the John Mutton name thrived beautifully online, and brought immense joy to literally dozens of people — not least of which was me, Pat Rick. I cracked myself up at times.

Just as importantly, though, the name also brought mass confusion to people on Twitter who knew nothing about this obscure nickname for a blossoming star. Not only was it a great nickname, but a fantastic troll-job of Twitter followers not as dialed-in to my inane hoops coverage as others.

This confusion was, of course, understandable.

If you were to look at the names on the team’s rosters over the past three years, we could have been talking about any number of other players:

ND Player Names and Their Similarity to “John Mutton”

First Name Last Name How Similar Is This Name to "John Mutton" and/or could this be the name we meant?
First Name Last Name How Similar Is This Name to "John Mutton" and/or could this be the name we meant?
John Mooney Very similar, I could see it
Bonzie Colson Not at all
Matt Farrell Not close
T.J. Gibbs Could never be mistaken for it
Martinas Geben Maybe if he were Geben Martin(as)
Rex Pflueger Never.
D.J. Harvey I doubt it very much
Nikola Djogo Absolutely not
Austin Torres In your dreams.
Elijah Burns Nope
Matt Gregory Highly unlikely
Liam Nelligan Somehow one of the closest?
Prentiss Hubb Nah
Nate Laszewski In what world?
Dane Goodwin Not quite
Juwan Durham No
Robby Carmody Negative
Chris Doherty Pffffftttt
Elijah Morgan This might be the closest otherwise, and it isn't close

Additionally, I’m sure plenty of our Twitter followers thought we were tweeting during ND basketball games about Ontario businessman and former Mayor of the Municipality of Clarington, John Mutton. Here is his Instagram, by the way — it appears he is also a former bodybuilding champion???

Others probably thought it was the 1997 Lord Mayor of Coventry, but to quote THAT John Mutton, to that assumption I would say, “It feels like they’re just sticking a finger in the air and guessing.”

Still others may have assumed we were talking about John Mutton, an actor best known for his one acting credit on IMDB. He played “Male Street Choir” in the 2008 film The Eternity Man, which has a 6.3/10 on IMDB and is just over an hour long, folks.

Small groups could also have thought we meant this long-dead John Mutton or this even longer-dead John Mutton, or perhaps this insurance broker in Melbourne who was for some reason deemed “2014’s Best Broker” by “esteemed judges.”

No matter whom they got our John Mutton confused with, I definitely understand the confusion and the need to question it. It wasn’t at all clear whom we were talking about.

To put that confusion to rest once and for all, though, I just want to go ahead and set the record straight: the ONLY John Mutton we recognize here at One Foot Down, for the rest of his senior season and until the end of time, is John “John Mutton” Mooney.

NCAA Basketball: Miami-Florida at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

What a Difference a Name Makes

Now that we’ve cleared up who John Mutton actually is and how he came to be, I want to discuss what that nickname did for Johnny Mooney and for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team.

First and foremost, it can’t possibly be a coincidence that John Mutton’s playing time SKYROCKETED in the games post-John Mutton-inception.

It’s quite clear, in my humble opinion, that head coach Mike Brey heard through the grapevine that John Mooney was now “John Mutton,” and knew this raw, animalistic, powerful nickname deserved more playing time.

Mutton’s minutes-per-game pre- and post-nickname back this up. Brey needed John Mutton on the court a heckuva lot more than he needed John Mooney.

John Mutton Minutes Per Game, Pre- and Post-Nickname

Pre-Mutton Post-Mutton Nickname-Over-No-Nickname Change
Pre-Mutton Post-Mutton Nickname-Over-No-Nickname Change
Minutes per Game 9.5 28.3 198%

Of course, with the increased PT and new badass persona, John Mutton flourished.

It’s no coincidence that Merriam-Webster defines “mutton” as “the flesh of a mature sheep used for food,” considering right before all Irish fans’ eyes John Mooney matured into John Mutton. That growth was the literal fuel for just about all of the successes the team enjoyed over the next two seasons, and thus his Mutton-ness was incredibly fitting.

His per-game averages ballooned with this newfound power, enabling an unreal transformation from an afterthought underclassman into one of the best big men in the entire country.

John Mutton Stats, Pre- and Post-Nickname

Pre-Mutton Post-Mutton Nickname-Over-No-Nickname Change
Pre-Mutton Post-Mutton Nickname-Over-No-Nickname Change
Points per Game 3.1 13.6 342%
Field Goals Made per Game 1.1 5.1 351%
Field Goals Attempted per Game 2.3 11.1 389%
Field Goal % 50.0% 46.0% -4pp
3-Pointers Made per Game 0.4 1.1 153%
3-Pointers Attempted per Game 1.1 3.0 183%
3-Point % 39.4% 35.3% -4pp
Total Rebounds per Game 2.7 10.4 287%
Defensive Rebounds per Game 2.1 7.5 261%
Offensive Rebounds per Game 0.6 2.9 375%
Assists per Game 0.4 1.3 273%
Steals per Game 0.3 0.9 239%
Blocks per Game 0.3 0.7 166%

His junior season was fantastic, and his senior season was DAZZLING on an otherwise mediocre Irish squad. Mutton averaged 16.5 points and 12.7 rebounds this season en route to that 1st-Team All-ACC honor he just picked up on Monday, and managed some pretty ridiculous double-double statistics while doing so:

  • He put up 25 double-doubles in 30 games (83.3% of his games), which is juuuuust shy of the best Division I percentages of the past 20 years (Blake Griffin and Kenny Adeleke at at 85.7%)
  • He was the only player in Division I who averaged 16+ points and 12+ rebounds per game
  • He is the only player since 1997-1998 to put up consecutive ACC seasons with 13+ double-doubles; he had 13 in 2018-2019 and set an ACC record with 16 this year
  • He joined Tim Duncan and Shelden Williams as the only ACC players to post consecutive seasons of 20+ total double-doubles in the past 25 years

Can some of John Mutton’s success be attributed to all his hard work and some good coaching over his four years at Notre Dame? Without question, I am sure that plays a small role.

But should even more credit be given to the gritty, savvy, put-the-team-on-his-back-for-two-years persona he donned once the John Mutton nickname was established? YOU BET IT SHOULD.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

John Mooney was a promising young big man who could knock down some threes.

“John Mutton” is a force to be reckoned with all over the court, and one of the best rebounders to ever come through the Notre Dame basketball program.

The Fate of Mutton

With John Mutton’s career coming to an end sometime over the next few weeks, it’s important that we utilize his unbelievable nickname as much as possible for the remainder of his career.

Mutton snuck up on us in that, like many ND greats before him, we didn’t really see his production and his big-time performances coming until they were happening, and thus it’s easy to take his greatness for granted.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

And, like many other great players, his best seasons were unfortunately obscured a bit amongst a mess of heart-breaking and frustrating losses. He never even got to #UnleashTheMutton in an NCAA Tournament game (barring a miracle run for the Irish this week in Greensboro). That’s sad to think about.

However, even as Mutton plays his final ACC Tourney games and then uses the last of his college eligibility in some unexciting NIT match-ups, the John Mutton spirit and magic will forever live on.

Whether it endures in the teammates he has led, taught, and now leaves behind for greener pastures, or his coach that gave such a wonderful nickname a chance to shine, or even simply within the hearts of us die-hard fans, the John Mutton nickname will always stand as a rallying cry that stands for hard work, broad shoulders, and an irritatingly weird hitch in that wonderfully weird jump shot of his.

I tweeted this back in February of 2018, and now two years later, it rings even more true.

John Mutton is alive and well, and we are all better for having heard, used, and maintained that hilarious, confusing, stupid, and beautiful nickname. Let’s send this legend off into the sunset in the most supportive and boisterous manner we know how.