As the calendar year expires faster than a 10-point Steelers lead in the fourth quarter, we are compelled by linguistic tradition not only to unload a year's worth of scorn on the worst sports clichés of 2009, but to award the 26th annual Trite Trophy, live, right here, at the fabulous Post-Gazette Pavilion (East, 2nd floor, rear).
The Trite Trophy, in case you've successfully avoided it in the last quarter-century, and That's A Big Play by you, dishonors the absolute worst of sportspeak, the sorriest construction available to the widest audience of defenseless consumers in the past 12 months. The Trite Trophy, as well as its elaborate year-end presentation (a mild-mannered sports column posing as an overwrought and yet somehow legitimate etymological commentary) persists, and persists, and persists in the hope that by singling out ubiquitous nonsense like Put Points On The Scoreboard (where the hell else would you put 'em?), we can rid the language of hapless, feckless, tedious usage.
Oh yeah, I've got problems.
We'll start with a few clichés that might not be On The Short List, but are certainly In The Discussion.
In The Discussion, by the way, has emerged as not only a viable cliché, but as some ephemeral holding area for teams who probably aren't going to win anything, but can still be talked about without getting yourself mocked. The Steelers probably aren't going to the playoffs, but yes, they're In The Discussion, which could end by 4 p.m. today.
Right. End Of Discussion.
Take the twin sons of fumble, the ancient verb used to describe a ball carrier losing control of The Rock -- He Coughs It Up, born three minutes before He Put It On The Ground. He Coughs It Up is a former Trite Trophy winner, but while no one outside of teenaged boys would want to see someone actually cough up a football, I would like to see someone Get To The Next Level Of The Defense, stop, and just bend over and put it on the ground.
But before the discussion Gets Too Far Down the Road, I'd like to Take A Moment (where?) to acknowledge some clichés which, were they eligible to win the Trite Trophy, would own this column like Tiger Woods owns the checkout line.
At the end of the day, At The End Of The Day might have won the past 10 of these things, almost from the minute it replaced When It's All Said And Done somewhere around the turn of the century. Alas, this column has standards, and low as they are, the Trite remains off limits to clichés that either do not spring from or are not specific to sports. The same sad fate has attached itself to Moving Forward, a ridiculous construction that has metastasized in formal and semi-formal speech and can be removed approximately 100 percent of the time without changing the meaning of any sentence.
"We'd like to add depth to our bench, moving forward."
See? Just take those last two words off that sentence, and save everyone a few seconds.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington is a big "moving forward" guy, but I guess when you're running a franchise that's so often moving sideways or moving backward, you'd better emphasize the intended direction.
Moving Forward would win Trites if I allowed it, and so would Not So Much. For pity's sake, stop with the Not So Much, as in "George Washington was a great president, Richard Nixon (slight pause), Not So Much." But at the end of the day, At The End Of The Day is an Absolute Monster of a cliché, a Five-Tool Player that never fails to annoy. Moving Forward (slight pause) Not So Much.
Critics might note that the only two-time winner of the Trite, the still hideously robust It Is What It Is, enjoys universal use, which is true. But in the nonexistent research department here at Trite hindquarters (which barely exists itself), they're under the impression that It Is What It Is sprang from sports and thereby qualifies under that equally arbitrary guideline.
It Is What It Is, the Archie Griffin of the Trite Trophy, persists in its perfect uselessness despite the occasionally goofy attempt to alter its application, as when former New England Patriots defensive back Rodney Harrison, explaining the dirty play that occurred in pileups during his career, recently told a radio host, "It Is What It Was."
Many tremendously annoying clichés never make the coveted list of finalists despite their unquestioned stature, even if they have a Career Year (always preferable to a Year Career). Another pervasive performance came in 2009 for The Big Tight End, despite the fact that you've got to go all the way back past freshman football to find The Small Tight End. There's as much point in identifying the Big Tight End as saying The Big Tackle. Unless there's a Little Tackle that could be out there somewhere, shut up about it.
Ditto Flat Out.
Stop telling me that this guy can Flat Out Hit, or that guy can Flat Out Fly, or that guy can Flat Out Play center field. Until I see some construction like Yo-Yo Ma can Flat Out Bow, cease and desist on all Flat Out references as they Flat Out Irritate.
The same for Went Yard. He homered, or he hit a homer, is fine, even He Went Downtown (not preferred, as it is confused with the place where people Launch A 3), but please, he Went Yard? You know what Neil Armstrong did? He Went Moon.
We've Got To Get A Break In for our sponsors (none), but I don't want to leave Rodney Harrison Twisting In The Wind as the purported only person all year who said something comic enough to be included in this annual harangue. I'm not Throwing Him Under The Bus, nor am I Kicking Him To The Curb (the twin sons of Making Him A Scapegoat, or as a former Philadelphia Phillies manager once said, "Don't make me your scrapgoat"). Plenty of people forced to talk for a living said plenty of ludicrous things in 2009, which Goes With The Territory.
NFL analyst and former coach Herm (You Play To Win The Game) Edwards said of Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzales, "He's like Seven Eleven; he's never closed and he's always open." Uh-huh, that's what "never closed" means -- always open, and it's not to be confused with Steelers safety Ty Carter, who just never closes.
On a receiver, or for that matter, a ball-carrier. Get it? Is this thing on?
But while Edwards' contribution was merely redundant, Clark Kellogg's observation about then-Oklahoma stud Blake Griffin was practically metaphysical: "That's 250 pounds of muscle, which weighs more than 250 pounds of non-muscle."
Man, that's heavy.
Probably, 250 pounds of muscle weighs more than 250 pounds of non-anything.
As for mind-bending arithmetic, you couldn't beat Dan Dierdorf's "You can count the winning percentage of teams that lose the turnover battle on one hand." Still, for bent language no one will top Bruce Bernstein's description of solid NBA defense on ESPN as "creating great shot contestment."
This is generally the point in the big show where we award the annual mixologist medal, given the person who launches one cliché that lands in another, as when former Steeler Larry Foote once said of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, "It's a chess match out there and he's always ahead of the 8-ball."
There was a refreshing paucity of mixology in 2009, so much so that the Mixologist Medal falls to the otherwise uber-articulate Randy Baumann of the 'DVE Morning Show fame. It was Baumann, in a conversation with hockey analysts Phil Bourque (the old 2-niner, even though no one calls Marc-Andre Fleury the new 2-niner), who asked if the Penguins power play "has been the thorn in our heel."
Thorn In The Side is a cliché, maybe even Thorn In The Paw, and definitely Achilles Heel has been a cliché going all the way back to Homer, and certainly predating Marge, Bart and Lisa. But Thorn In Our Heel (slight pause) Not So Much. The power play in question, technically, actually has a decent chance of become A Hatchet In Our Temple.
Now before we introduce our finalists and our 2009 Trite winner (please keep your seats!), we need to recognize some clichés that really Got The Job Done this year; I mean They Took Care Of Business, and the many clichés who are Just Not Getting It Done, so many of whom are with us tonight:
Must Win had a great fall, and I think a lot of us came to realize that a Must Win game occurs not only in an Elimination Game or when you're involved in Major Bowl Implications, but when you're playing the Kansas City Chiefs, the Oakland Raiders and/or the Cleveland Browns, as those are game you Must Win if going to be In The Discussion Come Playoff Time.
Vertical, another great job. Teams trying to Stretch The Field Vertically or simply trying to Go Vertical were evident, even though lengthwise is the only possible outcome. If you throw it straight up, you'll only invite a Pick Six. Also, if you Go Vertical, you won't likely Get To The Edge, much less The Perimeter, try as you might to Get Someone In Space. A lot of teams trying to Go Vertical are, in fact, Trying To Do Too Much.
Another fine performance as well by Signature Win, originally what teams who were On The Bubble for inclusion in the NCAA basketball tournament were so desperate to attain, but now just about any victory of even marginal significance is said to be a signature win. I tuned into the radio broadcast of Carolina's Sunday night victory against Minnesota last week, only to find that Panthers coach John Fox had just gotten his signature win.
That must be the NFL's Poor Penmanship Division South.
Survived A Scare, always In The Hunt when it comes to the Trite, had an Off Year, probably because teams around here were more often Scared To Death, with the Steelers blowing fourth-quarter leads in five of their seven losses and Pitt surrendering a 31-10 lead on the way to a 45-44 loss at home to Cincinnati. Good thing that wasn't a Trap Game.
Finally a Shout Out to Nose For The Football, Clock It (formerly Spike It), Clock Management, Milk The Clock (and when making macaroni and cheese from scratch, make sure you Clock The Milk), Upon Further Review (It's only reviewed once, isn't it? There's no further review.), Dribble Drive, He Brings A Lot To The Table (he's 340 pounds, looks like He Takes A Lot From The Table), Wildcat Package, That's Not Me (no, that was some other guy going 90 mph in a 35), Control Their Own Destiny, Great Hand-Eye Coordination (I guess soccer players have great foot-eye coordination), He Came In Untouched, Under The Radar, Buy Some Time, Hometown Discount, Man Up, Body Of Work, Empty Set, Difference-Maker, and the world's greatest living cliché, Red Zone, once a modest cliché, eventually a deodorant, now a burgeoning cable channel, and soon to be a major motion picture.
OK then, without further Jet Blue (we'll get sponsored around here yet), the finalists for the 2009 Trite Trophy, dishonoring the worst sports cliché of the year.
Our third runner-up: Shy Of The First Down.
First time as a finalist for ancient SOTFD, mostly because the broadcasters who'll say that a play has ended short of the first down are now fewer than the number of Pitt fans who have signed up for the Brake Job Classic. Again, there's no need to be shy of the first down marker. He's pretty oblivious, and actually, I hear, a very nice guy.
Our second runner-up: It Depends On The Spot.
Always has, always will. If the ball comes up Shy Of The First Down, you can be pretty sure it's not a first down. I'd love to hear an announcer say, just once, "The Spot Has Absolutely Nothing To Do With It!"
Our first runner-up: Take A Shot Down The Field.
This has somehow replaced Throw Long and/or Throw Deep and certainly obliterated The Long Bomb. Teams that are constantly throwing underneath the coverage have now annoyed broadcasters to the point where they almost say this explosively, "Bob, they've got to Take A Shot Down The Field." I thought that was just in hunting.
And now for the moment several dozen of you have long awaited, I mean aside from the end of this column, (no flash photography), the winner of the 26th annual Trite Trophy: Dial Up A Blitz.
A minor nuisance when this football season started, Dial Up A Blitz seemingly Came From Nowhere to take the Trite with its utter pointlessness and tireless placement by players, coaches, broadcasters, writers and fans alike. Somewhere, somehow, defensive coordinators lost the ability to just call a blitz, order a blitz, signal a blitz, send in a blitz or even just blitz. They suddenly were forced to Dial Up A Blitz.
It's a beauty of a cliche, and it meets our ageless criteria: it's meaningless, it's everywhere, and I really, really hate it. It's got multiple malignancies, such as the matter of when you do dial, whom do you call? Hello, Blitztown, Trevor speaking, is this for pick up or delivery? Second, who dials anything any more? I mean as of, like, 1990, my grandmother and the Yanomamo Tribe of deepest Venezuela were the only people that still had that technology.
I believe the Yanomamo are now texting frequently, if not tweeting, unless that's the troupials, the national bird of Venezuela. You know what they say about troupials? They can flat-out fly.
Gene Collier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1283.