2011 Trite Trophy: A reminder that original thought is an endangered species
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First Off , as the talk show callers love to say, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Feliz Navidad, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Kwanzaa, whatever the heck it is that you've got going on, may you and yours be fully wrapped up in this timeless Pittsburgh blessing:
"Have a goo-one."
Heaven Knows we don't want to be conspicuous this season for our Failure to Wrap Up , which can lead to Big Plays and mournful regrets that They Made Plays And We Didn't , because Clearly, Clearly , though We Said It Going In , we just have to Play Our Game , lest we repeat its haunting mirror image admonishment, We Let Them Play Their Game .
So, yes, welcome still again to the annual literary exercise where we try to figure out exactly what our sports figures and broadcasters and writers are saying, particularly when they are merely trafficking in sports clichés 78.8 percent of the time, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For that, there is no reason to Go Inside The Numbers , since mind-numbing clichés date at least to the day the King James Bible dropped in 1611, according to the December issue of National Geographic, and the world beheld for the first time wondrous constructions like Skin of Your Teeth , Fell Flat on His Face, From Time To Time, Turned the World Upside Down and, in what appears to be a heinous anachronism more than a typical 17th- century typo, As A St. Louis Ram to The Slaughter.
Our Body of Work on this matter stretches back 27 years to 1984, when, in a full column-deadline panic, we strung together every sports cliché in the book and passed it off as legitimate social commentary, a spasm that became a tradition, a tradition so tediously indelible that today, the 28th annual Trite Trophy dishonoring the worst sports cliché of the year, will be awarded within minutes unless I suddenly come down with Concussion-Like Symptoms .
While the Centers for Disease Control ponders the question of whether players with concussion-like symptoms are more likely to have an actual concussion than players with flu-like symptoms are to have the actual flu, concussion-like symptoms is obviously the health-related cliché of the year. As with most clichés, however, it provides a certain degree of Wiggle Room , even if players with concussion-like symptoms rarely turn out to have irritable bowel syndrome or that restless leg disease.
With or without concussion-like symptoms, football analysts continued to speak as though they had some related ailment, perhaps FDD, or Football Deficit Disorder, the irrational fear that the audience will not know what sport you're talking about unless you identify it every five seconds.
"When you look at the Arizona Cardinals," said ESPN analyst Eric Allen, "they're a football team that runs the football more than any team in the National Football League."
It's just totally unnecessary to say football on a football show, much more to invite another superfluous C'Mon Man while the people at ESPN were embarking on the autumn when C'mon Man became part of the network's rhetorical crest (along with Break It Down , the official function of every analyst).
It was a Shameless Attempt at trying to influence the Trite Committee. And if anyone expects the Trite Committee to compromise its editorial integrity without first getting at least a butt tattoo that reads Born To Get In Free , well, that's what we around here call a Chris Kemoeatu, a non-starter.
Another brazen attempt came from Kevin Harlan, who does radio play-by-play for the Monday night NFL games on Westwood One. Although roughly 95 percent of all football broadcasts are completed without anyone needing to refer to the hash marks, Harlan says hash marks -- "He's inside the hash marks," "He's outside the hash marks," -- once or more per minute. But you can't win the Trite by yourself. It Takes A Total Team Effort , and Harlan wasn't making the only attempt.
Our 2010 winner, At The End Of The Day , was having another Monster Year on its own without Bill Fralic personally trying to Put It Over The Top last week upon the resignation of Pitt coach Todd Graham. Inside five minutes on the Joe Bendel Show, the former Pitt All-American said At The End Of The Day six times.
Sorry, At The End Of The Day is not going to join It Is What It Is as the only repeat winner of the Trite Trophy but, as at least one person said in a burst of true meaninglessness, At The End Of The Day, It Is What It Is.
Similarly, first-year Pirates manager Clint Hurdle did his level-swinging verbal best to put his favored construction In The Mix , but the skipper's summer-long rollout of barrel quotes had too many variations. He was Trying To Do Too Much with all those references to the barrel of the bat.
Hurdle didn't want his pitchers to throw "anything they could barrel up." Wanted his hitters to "put the barrel on it." Noted the way a good hitter "barrels the ball." Hoped his pitcher's pitch "doesn't find a barrel," and coveted those who were "throwing good strikes, missing the barrel."
Asked when he knew his pitcher was tiring, Hurdle said, "the barrel of the bat will usually let me know."
This column has never included a barrel-racing cliché, but it knows where to get one in an emergency.
All of which somehow brings us to the part of our show in which we award the annual Mixologist Medal to the person who swirled two clichés into one memorable cocktail, as when Hines Ward once blended Take Your Hat Off To Them and You've Got To Hand It To Them to produce, "You've got to take your hat off and hand it to them." Don't confuse that with Hat On A Hat .
Several solid candidates for the Mix Medal emerged in 2011, including Hurdle, who said of his approach to developing outfielder Alex Presley: "I like to give a player his own rope and let him paint his own picture." What's that, rope art? I try to keep up, but I don't remember that in the magazine section.
Steelers offensive lineman Willie Colon put in a bid as well when he said of teammate Chris Scott, "They've thrown a lot at him, and he's stepped up to the bell." Uh-huh. If only he'd answered the plate.
But the 2011 Mixologist Medal goes to Dallas Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki, who told the Texas crowd at the team's championship ceremony that winning the NBA title was "the top of the iceberg."
You can't tip that.
Critics will argue that you shouldn't be able to win the Mixologist Medal merely by mixing metaphors in a second language, but as we say around here, The Standard Is The Standard .
Meanwhile, several worthy young soldiers joined our reliable army of clichés this ear in a variety of sports, or at least they finally came to our attention. We were fairly startled, frankly, by the emergence of Yard Sale , a hockey cliché announcers are invoking to describe the situation where debris litters the ice -- sticks, gloves, helmets, etc., perhaps as the end result of someone Taking Liberties .
After some such brisk activity near the Penguins net in November, Versus analyst Brian Engblom said, "It's like a Yard Sale out there; there are bodies everywhere."
What kind of yard sales does Engblom go to?
Sometimes at yard sales you might see a yardstick, but I'm not sure I'd know a Measuring Stick Game if I saw one. Heard about them the entire fall, though. People in all sports were playing Measuring Stick Games, usually against superior competition, the better to measure something. This sounds as though it's related to a Statement Game , which, by the way, every game is, even if the statement is "Boy, we probably should have just sat Roethlisberger for that one."
People who once were implored to Catch The Ball At Its Highest Point , maybe you've noticed, are now said to have the ability to "High-Point The Football."
Sorry, still an impossibility.
Some passes sail 20, 30 feet in the air or more, no? Nobody's high-pointing that football. I believe Calvin Johnson's vertical leap at the Indianapolis Combine was 45 inches. Can we dispense with this nonsense?
Another relatively new construction is Tackle The Catch , which means to tackle the receiver immediately before he starts piling up YAC (yards after the catch). Tackle The Catch is less non-sensical than High-Point The Football but not as valuable as the recommended course of action when a defensive tackle scoops up your fumble and heads toward your goal line: Catch The Tackle.
Further, what used to be called the pocket from which the Pocket Passer actually passed has somehow become the Launch Point . Teams now want a Clean Launch Point (formerly Excellent Protection ), and some are even willing to Move the Launch Point in order to keep it clean, particularly if the passer has the ability to Extend The Play by Making Plays With His Feet (try making one without 'em).
Before we get to our finalists (the anticipation has begun to swell, either that or my ankles) and the unveiling of the 2011 Trite winner, the obligatory nod to the many dishonored clichés in our live audience, even though we can't get so much as a sniff from ESPN IV.
Thanks for another ubiquitously productive if ultimately pointless year from Manage The Game, He's a Specimen/Freak/Load, Make 'Em One Dimensional, The Second Level Of the Defense (how many are there?), Ball Security, Pin Their Ears Back, Take The Crowd Out Of The Game, He Kept Contain, He Lost Contain, They Locked Him Up (with either a new contract or after a mug shot), Hit It Up In There (the instruction for running backs who might otherwise Run East and West instead of North and South -- that is a lot of effort to go to when all you mean is "forward"), It's A Copy Cat League, Situational Football (is there non-situational football?), He Can Flat Out Hit, Lightning In A Bottle, The Bump (sometimes still called the pitchers mound), Take Care of Business (win), Outside the Tackle Box (a distant cousin of your mother's "Take that tackle box outside"), Get The Ball Out Early and Impose Their Will , or as High Octane Graham would say it, "Sumbody gon' pose their wheel!"
Now before we're halfway to Christmas again, our finalists for the 28th Trite Trophy, the cliché that in 2011 best met the three ageless criteria: ubiquitousness, essential meaninglessness and I have to really, really hate it-ness.
Our third runner-up: No Question.
The people in sports broadcasting whose first response to any question is "No question ... " or "There's No Question ..." is now the majority. No perfectly legitimate question is safe from instant dismissal. They could be on stage with Hamlet for his "To be or not to be?" moment and shoot right back with "No question ..."
Our second runner-up: Take A Shot Down The Field. This used to come out as, "Why don't they throw a long pass every once in a while?" This sounds more aggressive but doesn't make a lot of sense.
Our first runner-up: The Edge.
You know the edge by now. Not the great U2 guitarist, the edge they launch from when they're Blitzing Off The Edge , the edge they establish when they're trying to Set The Edge , the corner they're trying to navigate when they are Trying To Get To The Edge . The Edge, or the near flank of the defensive front, is everywhere it seems, and you have to blame Lady Gaga at least in some part for: "I'm on the edge of glory, and I'm hangin' on a moment of truth; I'm on the edge of glory, and I'm hangin' on a moment with you; I'm on the edge, the edge, the edge, the edge, the EDGE, the THE EDGE , THE EDGE!!"
To the moment then that several dozen of you await.
And the winner of the 2011 Trite Trophy for worst cliché of the year in sports:
Are You Kidding Me?
Are You Kidding Me?
Oh ... that's it?!
Yes, Are You Kidding Me?
That's right (please do not go onto the field), in a year when the Trite Committee (me and a trusted handful of nonvoting members) was Left Scratching Their Heads almost until deadline, Are You Kidding Me got a necessary final push from college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who in his chuckly season-summarizing awards show last weekend presented the "Are You Kidding Me? Moment" of the year, which had something to do with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.
One day, may we be the first to point out, the awarding of the "Are You Kidding Me? Moment" will be more anticipated than the Heisman itself, and Herbstreit's vision actually provided the perfect broadcast bookend to Dan Dierdorf's September description of the look on the face of New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton: "That's a real 'Are You Kidding Me' look on the face of Sean Payton."
Yes, even when people weren't saying it, people were saying that other people should be saying it because they were obviously thinking it.
Are You Kidding Me? was not in the least football-centric. It got heavy play in every sport and just about everywhere else. My wife used it at least twice in reaction to the Airedale eating a throw pillow, and I think at one point Are You Kidding Me? was the official negotiating position of the NBA Players Association. On the morning after the St. Louis Cardinals twice came back from two runs down with two outs and two strikes in their final breath against the Texas Rangers in Game 6 of the World Series, the linguistic weight of all the Are You Kidding Me's? in the world likely threatened to break the Google's back.
Here's to a cliché-ridden 2012.
Like we could avoid it.
First Published December 25, 2011 12:00 am