2003 Trite Trophy: Blowing the cover on the trite experience
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Next, on a very special Trite Trophy Special Victims Unit, the author comes to grips with the fact that after 20 years of identifying and rewarding the best example of the worst of sportspeak, the annual cliche column has itself become dangerously trite.
Will the author finally realize, after two dissatisfying decades, that while unspeakably meaningless constructions like Take It To The House might never be expunged from the language, the purposeless life of the Trite Trophy itself could easily be vaporized with one silent poke of the Delete key?
Or will I just snap out of it and admit I have nothing better to do?
Yeah, probably that one.
The 20th Annual Trite Trophy Presentation thus begins right now, with the increasingly painful admission that 19 previous lengthy and derisive essays Haven't Done Diddly, much less Diddly Squat to rid the language of mindless sports cliches.
Are You Kiddin' Me?
As the exasperated milk maid said to the recalcitrant cow, "It's been udder futility."
Oh yeah, we'll go sub cow on ya.
Please excuse our self-consciousness From The Get Go, it's just that for 19 years we've been On A Mission, a mission to Make A Statement, which is that sports is enslaved by robotic languagephobes who never say "score" when Put Points On The Scoreboard will do. Where else would you put 'em? Under the goal post padding next to the cell phone?
Are You Kiddin' Me?
It's just that We're Not Doing The Things We Need To Do If We're Gonna Get Where We Want To Go. In fact, if the Trite were itself A Very Physical Football Team, the fellas would still be pretty much In The Shadow Of Their Own Goalpost. This tells us, of course, nothing. In order to be In The Shadow Of Their Own Goalpost, as so many football teams were so damned cleverly described again in 2003, they would have to be three exceedingly thin people, one of them horizontal, which would be a distinct disadvantage, one would presume, against, say, the New England Patriots.
Of course, it could be worse. They could be, as Dick Stockton said the other day, In The Shadow Of Their Own Goal Line. If you're small enough to be In The Shadow Of Your Own Goal Line, you've got problems, the kind of problems that are not going to be rectified even by Great Field Position.
How many times have you heard this broadcast exchange?
BOB: "Brent, I think the Niners had only 10 men on the field on that play."
BRENT: "Bob, I thought that as well except then I noted that Johnson was In The Shadow Of His Own Goalpost, where I couldn't see him."
Although on one Monday night game this year, John Madden got himself into the peculiar position of being On A Roll with the phrase On A Roll. He used it three times in one sentence and Al Michaels threw in a fourth superfluous use to help set a Monday Night Football record for Most Stuff On A Roll In The First Six Minutes: There has to be a better way to say that a team or player has established a certain momentum and besides, most everything On A Roll is just as good On A Nice Piece Of Rye Toast.
This is usually the spot in our show when we stop to award the Hapless Mixologist Medal, and unfortunately, this year is no exception. The medal dishonors one sports figure annually who starts one cliche but finishes with another in the great tradition of former Steelers great Rod Woodson, who once said, "We stepped up to the plate and answered the phone." No winner since has approached Woodson's genius, considering that there is no plate in football and, last I looked, no phone at the plate. Unless, you know, Joe Horn has hidden one underneath it.
ESPN's Dan Patrick Made A Run at this prize in the fall when he noted that the young prosecutor in the Kobe Bryant case is, at 34, a bit "green behind the ears." (As a faithful reader said, "Don't they have soap for that?") But In The Final Analysis, he couldn't overtake our 2003 Mixologist Medalist, ladies and gentleman Hines Ward of the Steelers. It was Ward who, when asked how Tampa Bay's defense would fare against Oakland in last January's Super Bowl, said, "They're going to have their hands cut out for them."
It was in that manner, I suppose, that the Raiders Drew First Blood, but the Buccaneers, although no one bothered to point it out, Drew Second Blood, Third Blood, Fourth Blood, Fifth Blood, Sixth Blood, and Seventh Blood to go ahead, 34-3, and Never Looked Back, whatever that means. When do you suppose is the appropriate time to look back, if ever?
Are You Kiddin' Me?
Whether it can be traced to Dan Dierdorf or Bob Golic or Groucho Marx, Are You Kiddin' Me was likely as prominent a cliche as any of our soon-to-be-announced finalists (oh, yeah, there's the gooseflesh). Meant to convey either serious respect or plain outrage with a player or an event, Are You Kiddin' Me very nearly made it to the finals of this annual travesty but failed to annoy me sufficiently. I don't like it, but I don't really hate it either. If it were a basketball player, it'd be A Tweener.
The Trite Committee (me) is compelled to acknowledge a spirited campaign on behalf of At The End Of The Day, a ubiquitous cliche that debuted during the 2000 presidential election and Never Looked Back. It is a favorite of ESPN morning lecturer Mike Greenberg and many others, but At The End Of The Day, At The End Of The Day is just too pervasive for the good of the Trite Trophy. It's everywhere too common, and too useful out of sports as in it. The same goes for On The Ground, another tremendously annoying and essentially meaningless device effected mostly beyond sports. "We now go to Noreen Campbell, on the ground in Baghdad." Well, of course. She's not a hovercraft. She's on the ground. We'll all on the ground, mostly.
Clearly, "clearly" has become the most overused adverb in sports, but in much of English as well. Just as clearly, "clearly" is nearly always superfluous. It either comes when its use is clearly uncalled for (Clearly, Michael Jackson has problems) or where nothing is terribly clear at all (Clearly, Howard Dean's position on the war resolution wasn't terribly different from John Kerry's).
Are You Kiddin' Me?
Tired of describing the various injuries of athletes, writers and broadcasters simply converted body parts into cliches in 2003. He's Got A Knee was the shorthand for what used to come out as "Jones sustained a knee injury." He's Doubtful With An Ankle somehow got widespread usage, even though he'd be a heckuva lot more doubtful without one. Curiously, when Steelers linebacker Joey Porter was shot in the buttocks in the preseason, no one said or wrote, He's Got An Ass.
He's A Real Student Of The Game had A Career Year in 2003, with just about every kind of student being recognized whether he deserved it or not. Someone should have been handing out grades. He's Kind Of A D-Minus Student Of The Game.
Dozens of athletes got themselves described as A Cancer In The Locker Room, which is unfair in that they never had their status regularly quantified. No one ever wrote, "Smith, up until now A Great Guy To Have In The Locker Room, has been downgraded. He's not a full-blown Cancer In The Locker Room, but calling him A Mild Case Of Colitis In The Locker Room would not be incorrect. Tasteless, but not incorrect."
Now before we introduce out finalists (do not rush the stage), one final special recognition to Steelers coach Bill Cowher. While the Steelers were preparing to play at Oakland on Monday Night, Cowher complained that their next game would be on the road as well, in Cleveland, which came perilously close to Playing Them Two Games At A Time. The Steelers lost at Oakland, naturally, having Clearly violated the spirit of Playing Them One Game At A Time, which is the Jay Berwanger of the Trite Trophy, taking it home in the great deadline panic of 1984, which is the event that hatched this whole device where we string together every cliche in book and pass it off as legitimate social commentary.
I should also like to acknowledge in our live audience here in the fabulous Trite Theatre low atop the fabled Boulevard of the Receding Hairlines, our many hideous cliches that through no fault of their own will not take the stage with our finalists (hold your applause): Unanswered Points, Game Time Decision, Get A Stop, Getting Excellent Penetration (not another Kobe reference), He's A Special Player, He Throws A Nice Ball (but he plays a mean poker hand), Lost Their Swagger, Got Their Swagger Back, Reasonably Maintained Their Swagger, Blitz Package, A Class Act, They Just Wanted It More, Found A Soft Spot In The Zone (formerly the soft underbelly of the defense, now forced back to linebackerville by the more sophisticated pass offenses), Get In The Tournament, The Old Flea Flicker (there are no new ones), The Big Tight End (there are no small ones), Footspeed (more critical still than elbow speed), In The Catbird Seat (the catbird is an actual animal, but how his vantage point is favorable is anyone's guess), Crunchtime, Smashmouth Football, Somebody's Gotta Step Up, and the greatest living cliche, the one and only Red Zone.
Anyway, without further Kung Fu, our 2003 Trite Trophy finalists:
Our third runner-up, Eight Men In The Box. That's right, our 1998 winner still going so strong that it made it back to the finals this year.
Eight Men In The Box was again all over the place in 2003 trying to describe with faux coachspeak eloquence the situation in which defenses augment some traditional 3-4 alignment to add an eighth man positioned to discourage or stop the run. The Box is apparently an imaginary rectangle around these eight, or sometimes nine. We used to just say teams were Stacked Against The Run, but that apparently wasn't bad enough.
Eight Men In The Box, and sometimes Nine In The Box, both sound like 100 level courses at clown college.
Our second runner-up, In All Of Baseball.
Oh yeah, who wasn't told, at least 50 times in 2003, that someone of relatively recent obscurity hadn't emerged as, say, perhaps the premier left-handed set-up man In All Of Baseball? Formerly used to deliver a supreme compliment, the proliferation of In All Of Baseball to commentators just mad to use it virtually obliterated the fact that regardless of its application, the "all of" isn't necessary. "In baseball" will do. Just once, wouldn't you like to have heard someone described at the best player In Some Of Baseball. Randall Simon, for example, was probably the best left-handed hitter In Some Of Baseball, "some of" meaning the part of baseball that starts at one edge of his locker and ends at the other.
Our second runner-up, they are (or he is) Just Not Getting It Done.
As perhaps the greatest oversimplifying device of 2003, Just Not Getting It Done came within minutes of winning the Trite, but in a final cruel irony, was judged to be Just Not Getting It Done. Often coupled with At The End Of The Day, Just Not Getting It Done was used to describe everything that Came Up Short to any degree, from an 0-13 Army football team to the commission investigating the terrorism attacks, whose members will likely have to ask for an extension of their May deadline because they're Just Not Getting It Done.
Often devoid of specifics and even basic knowledge, Just Not Getting It Done somehow allowed commentators to sound authoritative when Nothing Could Be Further From The Truth.
But now the moment that proves we've wasted another year in the grim walled city of vapid sportspeak, the 2003 Trite Trophy goes to ... (don't make me get the stun guns) ... Cover 2.
Keep your seats now. Cover 2, formerly known as A Two-Deep Zone, was cited, when we lost count, 8 billion times this fall as the reason teams were Just Not Getting It Done in the passing game, or at least the deep passing game, even though Cover 2, the defense, not the cliche, has been around for decades.
Some teams play Cover 3, dropping three defensive backs to prevent teams from Stretching The Defense Vertically, and some play variations of Cover 2, but for some reason this fall, straight Cover 2 seemed to cause apoplexy in commentators. "Well, they're in Cover 2," they'd say, as if quarterbacks could instantly stop thinking about throwing The Home Run Ball. How'd that get into football anyway?
The Steelers, if you're wondering, played a very specialized version of Cover 2, best described in the sentence, "Oh, you mean we were supposed to cover him too?" Seemed like often they were in Cover None.
Thank you all very much and remember to stay tuned for a very special 52-minute version of 60 Minutes.
First Published December 28, 2003 12:00 am