The 24th Annual Trite Trophy: Another year, another batch of inane sports phrases


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Herewith the 24th Annual (honest to God) Trite Trophy column dishonoring the worst cliche of the year in sports, and believe me, I can practically hear the visceral reaction even over the iPod I'm trying to ignore you with.

Are You Kiddin' Me?

No.

Are You Kiddin' Me?

You said that.

See, that's the annoying thing about Are You Kiddin' Me? It's not so much that it's getting said more and more and more by eyewitness broadcasters who can't believe their eyes despite what are really fairly common athletic outcomes, it's that they so often repeat the question, thus mentally whiffing at multiple opportunities to express supposed amazement in some other way, any other way.

Are You Kiddin' Me?

Again, no. We're actually doing it again Right Here Right Now, stringing together every sports cliche in the book and passing it off as legitimate linguistic commentary. For money. Albeit in a way that is exceedingly Cap Friendly. I'm aware that throughout the year, a lot of the alleged prose in this space flies Under the Radar, but less so today. We're Not Going to Sneak Up On Anybody as we set about selecting the worst of sportspeak for 2007. It's a Hostile Environment, but we've got to Block All That Out. We've Just Got to Focus.

For the next couple of minutes we're going to Fly to the Ball, Get a Hat On a Hat, be The Team Nobody Wants to Play, Get Our Swagger Back, Take Care of Business, get a Signature Win in a Statement Game, Play Well In Space, try not to Put It On the Ground, and possibly even Bring It with some Exotic Blitzes.

In fact, let's start right there. Where did Exotic Blitzes come from? Don't tell me they were part of the Expanded Blitz Package.

Are You Kiddin' Me?

When I hear Exotic Blitzes, I'm envisioning a grass-skirted Tahitian hottie with coconut shells framing her cleavage coming Right Up the Gut, and perhaps a talented East Asian snake hypnotist spilling a basket of cobras From the Backside.

Now that's Blitzing Off the Edge.

Occasionally, we'll even Bring the House, at least if we can ever fully decipher the whole housing crisis the sub-prime mess apparently has brought to football. When we didn't Bring the House, we used to just Take It to the House, but now we've got teams including the Steelers and your Penn State Nittany Lions, who Couldn't Get Home. Nitts' defensive coordinator Tom Bradley broke this out the night Ohio State lit his defense like a brush fire, mostly because Penn State could not get any pressure on Buckeye bomber Todd Boeckman.

"We did a lot of things, a lot of variations," Bradley said. "We just Couldn't Get Home."

Mike Tomlin whipped out the exact same phrase a few weeks later, and revealed exclusively to this column that Couldn't Get Home is a virus that's lurked for years in the plague-triggering cliche petri dish that is coachspeak but is only now making its way into the general population.

No Question, the conundrum remained that if you Couldn't Get Home, how could you be expected to Take It to the House? Famed Trite consultant Dan Gigler offers only this: "Remember, sometimes a house is not a home."

Are You Kiddin' Me?

The arrival of Tomlin to replace Bill Cowher this season has been A Watershed Event in the local history of triteonics. Tomlin's extensive vocabulary has lowered the barometric cliche pressure significantly hereabouts, and his effort to say the unusually descriptive thing rather than the reflexive thing has been a Breath Of Fresh Air.

Tomlin alone has been responsible for constructions such as "thoughtfully non-rhythmic," "vertical disrupter" "legitimate ball-toter" and "splash plays." That last one is supposed to denote a sizeable gain or perhaps a critical takeaway by the defense, but the season's most memorable splash play was Clearly the Brandon Fields punt that splashed to the toffee pudding surface of Heinz Field Nov. 26 and stuck there like a lawn dart.

Are You Kiddin' Me?

Come to think of it, was there even a splash?

Just so that We're All On the Same Page, Tomlin's not above an occasional It Is What It Is or Been There Done That, and he seems intent on birthing It's a Big Game Because It's the Next Game directly into the cliche glossary, but mostly, he's Really Stepped Up in this column's doomed decades-long effort to rid the sports language of lazy, reflexive constructions.

No kiddin'.

Now Right After the Break (oh wait, still no sponsors?) we'll be paying brief tribute to some people who've tried but failed pretty goofily in this mission, even if you didn't know that we here at luxuriously disappointed Trite Hindquarters, situated in something less than A State Of the Art Facility high above the Boulevard of the Receding Hairlines were, indeed, On a Mission.

Ball Security was again a big issue in 2007, mostly in the linguistic sense, where it nearly displaced Put It On the Ground as a more en vogue version of the archaic though former Trite winner He Coughs It Up or even the quaint verb "to fumble." Earlier this fall, my buddy Joe Bendel referred on the air to Ben Roethlisberger's "ball-security hand," which used to be his throwing hand, or more clinically, his right hand. I called Joe on it (though you'll note I didn't Call Him Out), and he pleaded verbal exhaustion. To buttress his defense, it must be pointed out that at the 'DVE Christmas party this month at Diesel, Ben was low-fiving the crowd from the stage when I noticed that he was doing it exclusively with his left hand.

"Of course," was the first thing I thought. "He's not going to go ball-security hand in that situation."

Are You Kiddin' Me?

Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon will really Help Us In the Transition Game right here as we prepare to award the Mixologist Medal, given almost as annually as the uncoveted Trite Trophy to the sports figure who deftly starts one cliche only to finish another, or, just as often, simply mangles the original. It was Dixon, praising the academic and social skills of Reliable Two Guard Ronald Ramon, who uttered the memorable semi-mix, "He brings a lot to the table off the floor."

Eww.

I knew You Could Eat Off the Floor at the Pete, but don't bring anything to the table off the floor, and particularly not Off the Dribble.

The fight for the Mix Medal was pretty much a Seesaw Affair and perhaps even an all-out Seesaw Battle that looked as though it was Locked Up by ESPN's Stephen Bardo, who apparently described some competitive ensemble as "a real Hekyll and Jekyll team." This attempt at the world's 10 billionth Jekyll and Hyde reference from the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story was well-intentioned, But He Hooked It. Still, thanks for the delightful invocation of the two madcap blackbirds of '60s cartoon infamy.

Without further restraint, the 2007 Mixologist Medal goes to rookie analyst Tiki Barber, who mentioned that the New England Patriots are surely "head and heels above the competition." Congrats Tiki for mixing Head Over Heels and Head And Shoulders Above the rest.

Before we get to our finalists for the 2007 Trite and recognize some of the great cliches in our live audience and some past winners, there will be just a few acknowledgments for some extremely irritating observations from the year just ending.

I've really heard enough of He Doesn't Run Like He Used To, mostly because it's always so painfully obvious after the fact. No one ever says of a sprinter, "He runs exactly the way he used to." Another reason I like sprinters: They never say, "It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint."

Oh no, it's a damn sprint all right.

Similarly, I wasn't a bit enamored with Randy Cross's observation that Roethlisberger, in completing a critical pass to Hines Ward, Threw Him The Proverbial Laser. What? Tell me, in what Biblical context (Proverbs?) or volume of quaint ancient adages does the word "laser" appear?

Attempted cliche usage is always Fraught With Peril and can sometimes Wreak Havoc with common sense, as if there is something other than havoc that's ever been wreaked, but for raw tragic-comic 100 percent cliche-free irritation, Notre Dame analyst Allen Pinkett again Takes the Cake, or at least Puts the Icing On the Cake, for his last-second analysis of the returner as the Irish lined up to receive the opening kickoff of a doomed season back on Sept. 1. Quickly describing freshman Armando Allen, Pinkett offered the following.

"He reminds me a lot of me. He's extremely fast, extremely shifty, extremely smart."

How broadcast partner Don Criqui kept from adding, "Yeah, and he's humble too!" was simply Off the Hook.

Traditionally as we approach the identification of our finalists and the winner of the Trite (thanks to the pros at Deftly Simulated Drama, Inc.) attention must be paid to a number of emerging constructions that emit all the ominous signs of deplorable clichedom, if you will, but haven't yet arrived.

An entire genus of such specimens has begun to emerge in baseball, where the pitching staff has disintegrated into an array of slotted cliches: The Front Of the Rotation, The Back Of the Rotation, The Front End Of the Bullpen and The Back End Of the Bullpen. Starters, long relievers and short relievers, even Closers and Hammers, are now threatened by the endless proliferation of mindless inanity, or is that redundant? Beware as well, in football, the way spiking the ball has become Clocking the Ball. Still again, raw coachspeak morphing into common slang. Further, He Didn't Put Enough Air Under the Ball and He Put Too Much Air Under the Ball have somehow supplanted the common judgment formerly known as "bad pass."

Now a Big Shout Out to some celebrity cliches with us here tonight in the fabulous Benedum Center (yeah): Bracket Busters, Skill Set, Short Field, The Real Deal, Pick 6 (if the interceptor is run out of bounds and his team settles for a field goal, is that a Pick 3?), Not So Much, The Game Is Slowing Down For Him, Gap Sound, Gap Discipline, Gap Stable (is this about shopping?), Moving the Chains and its conjoined twin Moving the Sticks (I'll just move the ball and the let the sticks and chains Fall Where They May thank you; sticks and chains may burn my brains but yards will never hurt me), Saw Something He Didn't Like (yeah, a defense), Gonna Be A Dogfight (pre-Michael Vick), They've Gotta Lock Him Up (meaning sign him to a long-term contract, unless it's post-Michael Vick, then it's literal), Up In the Zone, (Cincinnati Reds broadcaster Jeff Brantley: "Here's the pitch to Wilson and it's up in the zone for ball." What zone? The strike zone? Then it would be a strike, wouldn't it?), They've Got To Put Up a Crooked Number, Tampa 2, Making Plays, Difference Maker, Playing Lights-Out, Changing the Culture Of The Clubhouse, Trap Game, Poor Command, Sick, Filthy, A Nose For the Football, A Buck Fifty (Never $2.10), Taking Liberties, and I Plan To Coach Here For a Very Long Time/The Rest Of My Career/As Long As They'll Have Me.

And, of course, ladies and gentleman, we're honored by the presence of past winners Smashmouth Football, Gut Check, Crunch Time, West Coast Offense, among others, and the greatest living cliche, Red Zone, which started as a cliche and eventually became an official NFL statistic, not to mention a deodorant.

The finalists for the 2007 Trite Trophy (the three requirements: excessive use, essentially meaninglessness, and I have to really, really hate it):

Our third runner-up:

Thrown Under the Bus.

It's become something of a bridesmaid for the Trite, but still gets abused on a daily basis by players and coaches cast as scapegoats in all manner of sports dramas. Why are they throwing him under the bus? I don't know. I wish they'd just blame him.

Our second runner-up:

Run the Table.

Had a monstrous year because of the Patriots' run at an undefeated season, doable only as a mirrored function of their ability to run the table, sometimes referred to as WIN OUT. Happily enough, New England, in emerging as the team most likely to run the table, also managed to table the run.

Our first runner-up:

It Is What It Is.

Oh yeah, I hear that palpable sigh of relief in our audience recognizing that a Threepeat has been averted. It Is What It Is, a hyper-abused construction of astounding meaninglessness, was last year anointed the only two-time winner in Trite history. It Is What It Is remains a near primal force on the sports verbiscape, an almost constant reminder that when you can't think of anything to say, you can always go IIWII.

And now (as I remind you that anyone going on stage here at the Benedum will be prosecuted the to the fullest extent of the law), the moment dozens have been waiting for, the 24th Trite Trophy goes to ...

They're Very Physical.

What?

Are You Kiddin' Me? What about Are You Kiddin' Me??

No, They're Very Physical, the veteran cliche used and abused by so many coaches and players, writers, broadcasters, fans and pets over so many years finally gets its moment. Perhaps the most vapid description of any upcoming opponent ever devised, and readily adaptable twaddle for every kind of analyst pretending to know anything about any team in America, They're Very Physical has lived to serve.

They're Very Physical is everywhere and in every way completely useless.

They're Very Physical.

Well good, because this ain't Jeopardy.

Swim teams are very physical, ditto equestrian competitors, dancers, cellists, message therapists, all very physical. Even Freddy Krueger, invading dreams, very mental, very emotional, very metaphysical, very eclectic, very demonic, but most of his damage, most of his techniques, well, They're Very Physical.

Hey, You've Been Great.


Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1283.


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