It rose, like a storm, from The Bench: “HON-EY MUST-ARD! HON-EY MUST-ARD!” After California defensive tackle David Davis had dropped Grambling State running back Jestin Kelly for a loss, with less than a minute left in the first quarter of Saturday’s season opener, Davis had become a phenomenon. One play later, pressure by Davis and Puka Lopa forced a pick six into the hands of linebacker Devante Downs.
It almost brought a tear to the eye of California defensive tackle Marcus Manley.
"It was touching to my heart," Manley deadpans.
Manley, sitting on the sidelines, realized that his carefully-planned roll out had worked.
"The crowd chant was the most legendary thing I've ever seen," Manley says. "The chants: 'Go Defense!' 'Go Bears!' It was for one person. One person."
It's not quite the old Marshawn Lynch ditty "NOT A HU-MAN! NOT A HU-MAN!" but it does have its charms.
"I was juiced, and I heard it, but it didn't register," says Davis. "It didn't register until I came out, and then I said, 'Wait, they were really saying 'Honey Mustard!' I was just going crazy because it was a nice play, and didn't know what they were saying. It's pretty wild."
As the two chat about the stickiest, sweetest nickname in the business, head coach Sonny Dykes's wife, Kate, walks by and says she and the staff's wives have to make honey mustard cupcakes for a post-practice snack. The two crow in triumph. Then, she starts chanting.
“I actually did hear it, but I had no idea what they were talking about," says the Bears' head coach. "I did a little investigating Sunday, and I found out what it was all about. I’m not really up-to-date on my Twitter stuff as maybe I should be. At the time, I didn’t know what they were talking about.”
"Somebody asked me, and I said, ‘Hell, I don’t know what it means,’" chirps Cal defensive line coach Fred Tate. "I think Marcus Manley up with it, and it just kind of snowballed from there.”
The nickname has stuck, just like Davis’s favored condiment to his Wing Stop wings. But, the nickname didn’t really take hold during the pair’s once-every-three-weeks pilgrimage to the local wing-ery (formerly at the Wing Stop on San Pablo). It started one morning at breakfast.
“We’re eating breakfast, at training table, and he put honey mustard on his chicken apple, with his eggs,” Manley says. “He put honey mustard on that. It freaked everybody out.”
Hot links? Honey mustard provides a nice sweet addition to the spicy bite. Bratwurst? It adds some tang to the savory snack. Hot dogs? Why wouldn’t you? But chicken apple? Clearly, a culinary crime.
“That’s what bugged us,” Manley says. “We thought it was weird, so a group of us – me and a couple friends – I was already calling him Honey Mustard, and then, it spread, because everybody actually witnessed the honey mustard.”
"I put it on some wings, on some kielbasa, and those are the main ones," Davis chimes in, as he hears Manley crowing about the marketing campaign. "The chicken apple, that was a plot twist. I didn't know it was chicken apple. I'm going on the record, I didn't know it was chicken apple. I just thought it was some chicken sausage. It was early, I wasn't thinking."
While Davis pleads sleep deprivation, he's certainly not fighting the spread, as it were.
From the six or seven linebackers sitting at the table, like the very condiment itself, the nickname dribbled onto the white shirt of locker room memes, and slathered over the defensive sideline during practice.
"They saw it for themselves, and when they were mic'd up, we made it a point to egg on the Honey Mustard, just so that it would get picked up on the mics," Manley says.
Manley's hope was that one of the video techs would inquire after the origin of the name. Luckily for them, Davis was wearing a bright yellow undershirt that day. It was synergy, and, sure enough, it worked.
"Me and Marcus always roast each other," Davis says. "I think it started because I like to roast guys on the team -- Hardy [Nickerson] and all those guys -- and once they saw the honey mustard I was using, they started getting some ideas, and the next thing I know, I'm wearing a yellow, long-sleeved shirt, and they're all yelling, 'Honey Mustard!'"
It was a mildly cold day, Davis says, so he looked to see which long-sleeved shirts he had, and said to himself, "I haven't worn yellow all season." He threw it on, and the next thing he knew, the nickname had taken root. It was all part of the plan.
“It’s interesting. Coach Tate, after the first day, came in and goes, ‘Wow, David’s really moving well,’ the first day of fall camp, and said he has a better sense of purpose. He’s more healthy than he was. He was a little banged up last year. He’s stronger, more explosive. He was really pleased with him early in camp. Once we put the pads on, he came back and said, ‘Wow, he’s really playing physical.’ He had a little bit of a calf strain for about a week, missed some practice time, came back and has picked up where he left off. He is playing good football for us, right now. He’s playing with good leverage, he’s playing really physical, which is what you want to see a defensive tackle do. He’s a strong kid, and is using his strength and his leverage, and right now, he’s a pretty tough guy to block. This will be a big match-up for him. He’s going to go against some huge guys, and we’ll know a lot more about our entire defensive front on Saturday, late afternoon. It’ll be a challenge for us. It’s different, and something we haven’t seen a lot of.” -- Sonny Dykes
Once that video came out, Manley says, he went on his campaign.
Is Manley a marketing genius? "Pretty much," he grins.
"This was calculated," he says. "It was all calculated. I knew every single part, as it was happening."
And indeed, it became a Happening.
"As soon as the video hit, people were talking about it," Manley says. "We would go out, and just be walking around, and people would come up and be like, 'Honey Mustard!' Woah, that's pretty insane."
Of course, Manley's facial similarity to Davis has had several folks confuse the two -- the marketing genius and the face of the franchise, as it were -- and the two -- members of Fred Tate's first recruiting class -- have become nigh-inseparable. They're roommates at home, and on the road. They've spent way too much time together, but from that bed of familiarity, a glorious yellow flower has sprung.
Manley has worked with Adobe Photoshop in the past, and put his graphics background to work, creating as many ways to create brand awareness as he could, ahem, muster. He even has a logo.
He knows he can't sell any of the shirts he's designed, due to NCAA rules, and he's had to blur out a few logos, but that doesn't mean he's any less proud.
"Every single picture you see, except the second edit that came out, everything Honey Mustard that you've seen, I did," he says, proudly.
He did it all on his phone. He used an app called Fonto, one called Sketchbook Pro, one called Auto Desk and one called Pixlr. Using a graphic stylus his mother bought him, he cut out Davis's photos and added his own personal flourishes.
"People were like, 'That must have taken you hours,' but that took me like, 20 minutes," he says, proudly puffing out his chest.
Honey Mustard now has its own Twitter handle.
"It might be a random," Davis says. "I don't know."
Be that as it may, he's reveling in it.
"I will tell anybody: I love honey mustard," Davis says. "At first, it was like, wow, they really went all out. I was in shock. Dang. I thought it was going to be a day thing, but I've got no choice but to embrace it, now."
Because, as the pair says, it's not just a condiment; it's a lifestyle.