Every now and then, the idea crops up again: Priuses are for wimps. Their owners are effete, unmanly, geeky ... and the list goes on.

Well, tell that to Jeff Ulbrich. If you follow football, you may know the name: He's the 6-foot, 240-pound, 9-year NFL veteran who's a linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers. Just for good measure, he's a martial artist too. And, yep ... he drives a Prius. He even posed for pictures with the car.

Ulbrich traded in a leased Cadillac for his gray 2008 Toyota Prius, urged on by his daughter Samantha's ecological consciousness. But now he's practically become a hypermiler, watching the power-split diagram and mileage readings to eke out every last tenth of a mile-per-gallon. He admits his truck-driving teammates razz him, but he doesn't care. For Ulrich, it's all about the mileage.

Dashing another stereotype, Prius drivers aren't always that well behaved either. Daniel Cox, 30, was arrested last week after he repeatedly rammed a Chevrolet pickup truck with his Prius after the two almost collided on an Interstate off-ramp in Colorado Springs. He also shoved the pickup's 61-year-old driver, causing the charge to be upgraded to felony assault due to the victim's age.

The article on that attack generated quite a lot of reaction, with more than 100 user comments--many of them repeating the stereotypes of Prius drivers and even sneering at them for wanting to use less gasoline. That in turn spawned its own set of commentary, including this wide-ranging (and highly political) blog post.

In due course, hybrid-electric technology may spread far and wide in vehicles, to the point where it's hardly remarkable. Until then, for better or for worse, the Prius has become the definitive, quintessential hybrid. Everyone's views on a whole host of issues--gas mileage, conservation, oil policy, energy independence, national security, manliness, Japanese cars, you name it--can be focused on its aerodynamic little shape.

For our closing thought, we turn to Brad Berman of HybridCars.com, who notes of Ulbrich: "He's certainly not the only Prius driver who can beat the living crap out of most Hummer owners."

Ooooh! Them's fightin' words, son ...