Collier: A quarter pole that is not a quarter pole

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Just back from vacation and hoping to sort some things out quickly, I've already been driven into the seasonal muck of rhetorical misunderstanding.

Thought I had a handle on it, specifically that the Steelers were coming up hard on the NFL Quarter Pole and, with a 1-2 record that is every bit as shaggy as it looks, had resolved this week to hunker down.

At least, that's what I've been reading and hearing, and, frankly, it's not helping me one little bit.

Most teams in the league, having played four games to this point, reached the so-called quarter pole over the weekend, with just about every national sports outlet issuing urgent NFL-at-the-quarter-pole analysis. From the biggest surprises to the bitterest disappointments, no event and no detectable trend went undocumented at the quarter pole, but the most significant NFL fact at this juncture of the season is nothing but a repeat offender:

Nobody knows what the quarter pole is.

Unless the people who are said to have reached the quarter pole are standing next to an individual who has somehow determined that he or she is exactly 25 percent Polish, then I'm afraid these common quarter pole references are 100 percent inaccurate.

It's a borrowed and abused horse-racing term, the quarter pole, describing an actual, physical, vertical post, sometimes painted red or purple at the top, signifying the spot on the racetrack at which two furlongs remain before the finish line, two furlongs being a quarter mile.

If there were a figurative quarter pole to the NFL season, it wouldn't be now; it would be somewhere in December. For the Steelers (reportedly coming off a bye week except byes are only in tournaments, so there's another abused term), the quarter pole would be passed on or about Dec. 9, but even that assumes an NFL season of exactly one metaphorical mile.

Ben Roethlisberger said just this week that this is still a marathon, so the quarter pole in that metaphor is going to be way out there close to the 26-mile mark. When we get there, I don't think anyone will even notice to be honest.

As for this hunkering down business, you have to give Steelers running back Isaac Redman credit (props if you must) for resisting the overwhelming urge to tell our own Ed Bouchette this week that somebody's gotta step up this week, lest the club put itself in a difficult situation in those all-consuming AFC North standings.

Somebody's gotta step up is a perfectly useless phrase, even to the extent of being a former Trite Trophy winner (1999), so instead Isaac went with, "There's no way we can come back [after a week off and go] 1-3. We're going to take it a lot more serious this week and hunker down."

There's certainly no way to prove that it's impossible to step up while hunkering down, but Redman's usage here is impressive because it calls on a second or third alternate definition of the verb to hunker, meaning to squat on one's heels, to hide, or to take shelter. Redman's meaning is the more subtle "to hold resolutely or stubbornly to a policy, opinion, etc. when confronted by criticism, opposition, or unfavorable circumstances."

While Redman is clearly a fan of, coach Mike Tomlin would describe within 24 hours of that observation an ominous series of unfavorable circumstances he called the Philadelphia Eagles.

It is plainly de rigueur for Tomlin to go all high gloss on the image of every Steelers opponent upon their approach, but in his oratory Tuesday he affixed the former Pitt standout Shady McCoy with an unprecedented description, calling the splendid Eagles running back "an E to E type runner, if you will."

Well I won't.

I can't.

A quick burst of correspondence with a bevy of noted Tomlinologists yielded no authoritative translation. Even among the scholars who understand that effective defenders are to Tomlin "vertical disruptors" and water breaks are "hydration opportunities," E to E was only being guessed at as meaning end zone to end zone.

Apparently McCoy is awfully good, but it's likely you knew that.

Still, for all the linguistic pratfalls in evidence nowhere near the quarter pole, at least no one was reduced to actually stammering like Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant after a dismal performance in Dallas' loss Monday night to the Chicago Bears.

Asked to assess it, Bryant reportedly said, "Very, very, very, very, very, very average."

Dez, average is average. No qualifiers.

Onward then to the next matter in vacation recovery: Finding out why they started the college basketball season Saturday in Morgantown.


Gene Collier:


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