It's not a term that you'll find in the OED.
The origins of pickle boat are nautical. In sailing usage, the pickle boat is the last boat to finish in a race. The term is said to have come from a practice of the fishing fleets, when the last boat of a flotilla to return to port was the boat that stayed at sea while the crew “pickled” the catch with brine.
The use of the term in the context of Northwestern football began with the arrival of Randy Walker in Evanston in 1999.
While addressing the news media at the Big Ten summer meetings, the new head football coach said, “I've gone from being the dean of Mid-American Conference coaches to feeling like Johnny off the pickle boat. It's a little intimidating.”
Just before the season began, Walker used the term again – but this time reassuring the faithful of his expertise.
“I'm no Johnny off the pickle boat…I grew up in the shadow of Ohio State, and I don't think you could have lived in Ohio and not have been a Buckeye fan growing up. I read every book that Woody Hayes ever wrote: 'Hotline to Victory' and 'You Win With People' . . . I have read 'em all.”
While a debate ensued on various internet message boards as to the meaning of the term, it soon became a metaphor for the Randy Walker coached Wildcat football team.
Walker brought the pickle boat out again at the Big Ten summer meetings just before the start of the 2000 season. (Remember, behind the “aw, shucks” façade was a coach on his way to a shared conference title.)
“Last year, I was new and I felt like Johnny-off-the-pickle-boat, but this year I drove in all by myself. I only got a couple of handfuls of angry gestures. I'm now able to find my way home from practice every day, so I'm starting to get comfortable.”
At the end of the 2000 season, the Wildcats were snubbed in turn by the Cirtus and Outback bowls. Nonetheless, Walker waxed euphoric over the invitation to the Alamo bowl at a press conference on November 20.
“Picture coach Walker down the River Walk, coming down on a pickle boat, waving to the crowd. That'd be awesome.”
“Quite frankly, I was pulling and hoping for the Alamo Bowl,” Walker said. “I thought that would be a great fit for us. Not that Tampa isn't great or Citrus isn't great. They're all great.”
“I'm tickled that the Alamo Bowl and San Antonio want us. I think it's going to be great for our fans, great for our kids. Heck, our seniors have been to the Citrus Bowl. They don't want to go back there. The heck with 'em. We want to go somewhere else and have fun.”
GoUPurple was the first to be inspired by the dill weed byproduct and produced the inaugural image during the extensive pregame hype.
GoUPurple's Pickleboat as a battleship
Other images followed.
A Pickleboat Gallery
GoUPurple's Pickleboat arrives in Las Vegas for the 2001 Opener
2001 pregame hype for Ohio State
The aftermath: back to the battleship
2002: Muted Expectations
2002 Win at Navy: Battelship Redux
GoUPurple's Classic 2002 Opening Disaster
2002 Penn State game fun
2002 Indiana game "Titanic" hype
In their wildest dreams, Wildcat fans look for a return to Pasadena for the Rose bowl. Some have gone further and have suggested that this would require the entry of a pickle boat float in the Tournament of Roses Parade.
Now wouldn't that be awesome?