Can't manage without 'Manage the Game'

The Trite Trophy: Silver Anniversary Edition

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Before we Kick It Off, ask your doctor if you're healthy enough for a 25th Trite Trophy column, our annual ritualized inflation of the giant gasbag of sports cliches, none of which, sadly enough, are Under The Radar, much less outside the limits of my own sixth sense, clichedar.

First, an introductory allegory.

Big Ben walks into the metaphysics store. Says he wants to Buy Some Time.

"What kind of time do you have?" Roethlisberger asks the sales associate.

"Dude," the man says, "It's like back when Faneca and Hartings and Simmons were protecting you; we've got All Kinds Of Time."

"All kinds?" Ben says.

"Take a look around," the man says. "How much of that $102 million were you thinking of spending?"

Ben browses for a bit, making his mental list.

"OK," says No. 7, approaching the counter, "I'll take some of that time in a bottle, a couple of those time passages, a box of Time Well Spent, and that gift-set of Time Immemorial."

"Excellent choices all, let me just scan those," the man says. "Mr. Roethlisberger, that'll be $4,499.95."

"Pretty steep."

"Hey, Time Is Money. Don't tell me you were looking for a Hometown Discount."

And then, of course, Ben lifted his right foot over his left shoulder and extracted his wallet, and took his left foot and peeled off nine $500 bills.

"What is he doing?!" said an astonished customer to the man behind the counter.

"Obviously," came the answer, "He's Buying Time With His Feet!"

Past winners of the Trite Trophy

2007 -- They're Very Physical.

2006 -- It is what it is.

2005 -- It is what it is.

2004 -- Shutdown corner.

2003 -- Cover 2

2002 -- Running downhill.

2001 -- Put points on the scoreboard.

2000 -- Walk-off homer.

1999 -- Somebody's gotta step up.

1998 -- Eight men in the box.

1997 -- Show me the money.

1996 -- Been there, done that.

1995 -- West coast offense.

1994 -- Red zone.

1993 -- It hasn't sunk in yet

1992 -- Mentality of a linebacker.

1991 -- You don't have to be a rocket scientist.

1990 -- Smashmouth football.

1989 -- He coughs it up.

1988 -- They went to the well once too often.

1987 -- Gutcheck.

1986 -- Crunch Time.

1985 -- Throwback.

1984 -- Playin' 'em one game at a time.

Hey, I didn't say it was Introductory Allegory of the Year, but it was the runner-up for AFC Special Teams Allegory of the Week.

Several quarterbacks including Big Ben are not only capable of buying time with their feet, apparently, but of some it is said He Makes Plays With His Feet, as though the hands never leave his little hand-warmer. This cliche is better left to soccer, where it is merely self-evident as opposed to annoying, but making plays with his feet remains a trick perhaps worthy of the great sports amusement park, the one with The Coaching Carousel and the Emotional Roller Coaster. Insurance costs there have forced the dismantling of the interactive display in which you are Thrown Under The Bus, and frankly, its replacement, the one where you are merely Kicked To The Curb is a colossal disappointment.

Anyhow, these final days of December are those that force the Trite Committee (me and some honorarians from cyberspace) to Get Our Swagger Back, to Man Up, to Get To The Edge, to Rise To The Occasion, to Get A Hat On A Hat, to Send The House, or Bring The House as the case may require, to Get Upfield, to Stretch The Field Vertically (I guess by throwing the football straight up), to Make Plays or Make Big Plays When We Have To (that's what makes them big, don't you know), to Blow Up the Play, to, all right, that's enough. Let's just be content To Add On (can you add off?), to register another attempt at low-lighting lazy language to our Body Of Work.

This 2008 football season was another Banner Year for Max Protect, the offensive ploy designed to afford the quarterback All The Time In The World. With the Steelers though, Not so Much, unless it was overheard as a plea to left tackle Max Starks -- Max! Protect! More often, the Steelers in front of Big Ben were in what I like to call min protect, with five wide receivers fronting an Empty Set, which is not only a cliche but a falsehood. As reliable Trite correspondent Glenn Meister points out, "if it's really an empty set, who is going to catch the snap?"

Not every single language irritant descends to the level of toxic clichedom, of course, some are just so frightfully inane that they fail to escape notice, even by those trying hard not to pay that much attention.

Dan Dierdorf, who should long ago have started an advice column called Dear Dandorf, recently told play-by-play partner Greg Gumbel, "Sometimes, you get big plays because your players are better than their players."

Dierdorf's one plausible source of big plays was practically Augustinian compared to Greg Maddux's answer to whether he'd thought about his inevitable induction into the baseball Hall of Fame.

"Well," Maddux said. "There's a lot of good players in there."

Similarly, not all cliches can avoid evaporating into something else in the same sentence, which is our way of introducing the annual Trite Trophy diversion known as the Mixologist Medal, given to the person who most deftly begins one cliche and finishes another, or some similar mixology. Our prototype is "There's No Blood Lost Between These Teams," Penguins colorman color man Bob Errey's immortal mix of Bad Blood and Love Lost, or are those Nora Roberts novels?

Tom Hammond's call on Sanya Richards' medal run in Beijing -- "Sanya Richards has done it for the United States with every ounce of her fiber!" -- certainly merits mention for blending Every Ounce of Her Being and Every Fiber Of Her Being but our actual runner-up is this depiction of something going badly for the Baltimore Ravens by radio analyst Rob Burnett: "That's The Proverbial Fly In The Punchbowl."

Our winner is Kirk Herbstreit's inspired advice to some misremembered offensive coordinator, specifically that he "Throw Havoc To The Wind." Kirk really Stepped Up there, because while Throw Caution To The Wind is a ready construction, the separation of Wreak and Havoc is a major linguistic accomplishment insomuch as the accepted definition of "havoc" has become "that which is wreaked."

With that we've moved within maybe an hour of the announcement of the 2008 Trite Trophy dishonoring the year's most insidious cliche, and its shameful court of vexing runners-up (how about the tension?), but first, How About Some Love for a few also-rans that proved highly annoying.

Can I GET A STOP, please, to this construct where the analyst says "Borrowing A Page From [Somebody's] Book?"

In just about every case, the borrower is taking something from a book that never has been written. It's never Borrowing A Page From Dostoevsky's Book.

There's no evidence even that Dostoevsky had A High Basketball IQ, although many of your college hoopers seem to own one.

Baseball was besieged in 2008 by variations of the strike zone, by the importance of pitching Down In The Zone, and of Pounding The Zone, and of the grave dangers of having Left it Up In The Zone, meaning Out Over The Plate, and of the quixotic benefits of being Wild In The Zone, which used to be Effectively Wild, which was not to say he Lacked Command.

Hockey added nothing terribly grating this year, save for the newfound understanding that We've Got To Move Our Feet. This too would seem self-evident, except that hockey is, technically, the one game where you don't have to move your feet.

Football, always the most combustible cliche oven on the sportscape, Continued To Struggle with original ways to describe where people were going and how they were getting there. Apparently, they were going into The Teeth Of That Defense and again into The Soft Underbelly OF The Defense (again, never the hard overbelly and never the foreboding large intestine). Problems persisted with the signposts, as many runners came up Shy Of The First Down (there's still no reason to be shy out there), while many runners managed to get A First Down And More.

Further, there remains something about football that makes its announcers afraid you'll forget what sport you're watching. That's A Good Football Team With Great Football Players Who Know How To Protect The Football And Play The Kind Of Defensive Football You Need To Win Football Games.

No one ever says, That's A Good Baseball Team, especially around here.

We're getting close to the point where we need to Take Care Of Business, but before that, a Shout Out to the many competitors and former Trite Trophy winners in our live audience here at the Post-Gazette Pavillion, which almost never is A Hostile Environment: Crunch Time, Gut Check, Smashmouth Football, A Work In Progress, A Difference Maker, A Game Changer, The Game Is Slowing Down For Him, Lost His Footing, Lost His Feet, Bowl Eligible, He's A Workhorse, Injury Plagued, Injury Riddled, Decimated By Injuries, Impact Player, High Powered Offense, Jailbreak, Moral Victory, Pin Their Ears Back, Running Downhill, Impose Their Will, Control Their Own Destiny, Put It On The Ground, You Have To Account For Him, Big Time Quarterback, Must Win Game, Skill Set, We Love What He Brings To The Table, Two-way Player, The Clock Is Now Their Friend.

Don't forget to pick up your gift bags.

Now the following cliches were In The Discussion for the 2008 Trite, but Came Up Short, Failed To Wrap Up, Threw a Pick Six or in some other way were determined to be Just Not Getting It Done this year. The three ageless criteria are, as always, paramount. To win the Trite, a cliche has to be essentially meaningless, exhaustively overused, and I have to really really hate it.

All right without further achoo, here they are.

Our third runner-up:

He Put This Team On His Back.

No he didn't. He likely played the way he's supposed to play for $100 million. Really, it's the least he could do. And why wouldn't he? He has a back you could hang a painting on.

Our second runner-up:

In Space.

Really, but more completely, They've Got To Get Him In Space. First spoken about Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (later a stay at home man for the Nashville Predators) in April 1961, this nonsense is football coachspeak for what used to be called the open field. Though players are often said to Move Well In Space, even that is fairly self evident because it is much harder to Move Well With Three 300 Pounders And Two Homicidal Defensive Backs Attached To Your Adam's Apple.

Our first runner-up:

It Is What It Is.

No, it won't go away. The only two-time winner in the 25-year history of the Trite, IIWII was the victim last year of A Stunning Upset At The Hands Of the supremely annoying and ubiquitous They're Very Physical. The relentless It Is What It Is churn has abated, but almost imperceptively, as Mike Tomlin dealt it without conscience Tuesday and Ike Taylor, previewing the Steelers' game against Baltimore two weeks ago, said "It Will Be What It Is."

Regardless of tense, I'm beggin' ya people, what does this mean?

Herewith the winner of the Trite Trophy, Silver Anniversary edition:

Manage The Game.

Whether the result of serious injuries to top line quarterbacks such as Tom Brady or to a striking dearth of talent at the top of NFL quarterback depth charts, Manage The Game got abused this fall like few cliches in the Trite era. Woe to the quarterback who is asked to Manage The Game, which is coach and/or mediaspeak for "Look, we know you're not that good; try not to screw it up!" You'll notice Brady and Peyton Manning and Big Ben and Brett Favre are never asked to Manage The Game. They are asked to beat you about the face and head until dead. Tennessee's Kerry Collins's charge was to Manage The Game every week, and did he ever. Still, his career record as a starter is 80-84.

But here's the lunacy in Manage The Game (literally, don't throw any interceptions, take stupid sacks, or Put It On The Ground). Collins knows full well, as did Trent Dilfer when he managed the 2000 Baltimore Ravens all the way to the Lombardi Trophy, as Brad Johnson did the same for the 2002 Buccaneers, the unspoken meaning of Manage The Game is "win in spite of yourself."

But never forget this, if you happen to throw for 350 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, and your team loses by a field goal, make no mistake, buddy, you have mismanaged the game.

Hey you've been great. Enjoy your 2009 Pirates.

Gene Collier can be reached at or 412-263-1283.


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