Collier: Trite trophy 2004 / Cornering the winner was easy
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As a third decade dawns here at sinfully furnished Trite Hindquarters, it's apparent that we've either got to wake up and smell the mirror or take a hard look at the coffee, because obviously after 20 years of deliberate cliche sorting, we can't even control them ourselves.
It's not that We Shot Ourselves In The Foot, because frankly we're closer to shooting ourselves in the head, but it's clear we're an organ-I-zation that Needs To Go In Another Direction, possibly toward competence.
Twenty years of singling out the worst sports cliche of the year in the hope of embarrassing the slothful practitioners of annoyingly reflexive language, and It All Comes Down To This: We've Come Up Short. We are dejected, and worse, we've been made acutely aware that dejections lasting more than four hours require medical attention.
Or was that something else?
The writers, broadcasters, coaches, athletes and public commentators of every kind who insist on avoiding the verb "score" so that Put Points On The Scoreboard can be invoked for the 2,344,811th time have won. They've Imposed Their Will on us.
The number of culturally certified sports cliches, numbering in the mere hundreds when we started this seriously unanticipated harangue during a full deadline panic in December of 1984, has Gone Through The Roof. On Any Given Sunday, there are more cliches today than there were in A Month Of Sundays 20 years ago. You Could Look It Up.
There's really no explaining the Trite Trophy's profound ineffectiveness, other than to say what everybody's saying way, way, way too often this year, and that's It Is What It Is.
When Kobe Bryant was asked about the flap over Karl Malone's inappropriate remarks to Bryant's wife, he said, "It Is What It Is."
What is what it is?
Or is it, it is what is what?
No wait. It is what what is?
Give me a subject, at least, please. I can do without an object, even a verb, even some Clintonian explanation of it depending on what the definition of is is, but it is what it is is unequivocal nonsense. I'd rather have someone say, "Blueberries is blueberries," or at least say what "it is what it is" really means, which is "I can't explain it, but I'm using this cliche while I think of something real to say."
But Upon Further Review, this deepening dependency on cliches might actually be good, because when sport's baddest cliche-slingers go off-script, when they instead have to think of something vaguely original, It Ain't Pretty.
Notre Dame football analyst Allen Pinkett, sidestepping several cliches, squawked through my car radio that "nothing simulates game speed like being in the game." You can't argue with that, except to say that, you know, being in the game pretty much ends the simulation.
ESPN analyst Sean Salisbury, going nowhere near a cliche in pregame analysis of the Jacksonville-Indianapolis game, said instead, "It's gonna take some points in that game to win it."
Undoubtedly, You Got That Right.
In either case, I almost think I'd have preferred a standard helping of Somebody's Gotta Step Up.
But the best attempt By A Long Shot at absolute cliche avoidance -- I mean by saying something no one anywhere said before -- came from College Sports South analyst Danny Marshall in overtime of the Pitt-Furman game. A former Furman player, Marshall was pulling so hard for the Paladins that as he watched Pitt line up dead center for the field goal that would win it, he yipped: "Kickers don't like to kick from the center of the field."
"They're used to kicking from the hash marks."
It's too bad the still and former Pitt coach Walt Harris couldn't have been listening, because that revelation might have prevented Tyler Palko's drive-aborting electric slide to the middle of the field at Connecticut five days later.
I'd have preferred from Marshall another analysis of what goes into the decision of whether to Ice The Kicker. Ice The Kicker had another huge year, as will Ice The Shooter once basketball starts.
Ironically, one of the few teams immune from the ice cliche is the Detroit Red Wings. You don't ice the Wings; you de-ice the wings.
Don't tell me you thought I was above that.
Icing the kicker (calling a timeout to Let Him Think About It) rarely works. What works even less frequently, however, is when the announcer describes the kick with this: It's High Enough; It's Long Enough ...
Memo to play-by-play guys: If it's not high enough, I doubt it's going to be long enough, because if it's not at least 10 feet off the ground almost immediately, I doubt it's even leaving the backfield.
Here again we've mercifully reached the portion of the show turned over to the never-ending queue of folks so accustomed to cliche-wrangling that they occasionally start one cliche only to finish another; in other words, the people whose ranks we joined at the top of the show. We see some past winners in the audience -- Hines Ward, ladies and gentleman, who once said, "We've got our hands cut out for us" -- and Mike Tomczak, who made famous "I don't want to kick a dead horse in the mouth."
This year's competition for the Mixologist Medal was particularly fierce, with none other than the august broadcaster Bill Hillgrove kicking it off in August with this description of a special teams play during the Steelers-Eagles exhibition: "That play was a sow's purse that turned into a silk ear."
An amazing opening bid, but even as the Indiana Pacers' Brad Miller said after back-to-back road losses, "It's not always going to be peaches and gravy out there" (let's hope not), our winner has to be Steelers linebacker Larry Foote. When asked about the adept counter-strategies of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, Foote said, "I mean it becomes a chess game out there, and he's always ahead of the eight ball."
The eight ball occasionally crossed the corporate limit of Cliche City, but has none of the presence there of The Three Ball. Basketball announcers obsess on The Three Ball, which has a robust immediate family of cliches, and thank God for Shoot The Three Ball, Cannot Shoot The Three Ball, Have To Defend The Three Ball, and Drain The Three Ball. Somehow, no one ever goes to the line to Shoot A Couple Of One Balls, Just as no one ever Lays In The Two Ball. In a sport where the play-by-play once existed almost totally within the parameters of five cliches: Push It up, Pound It In, Kick It Out, Put It Up, Knock It Down, The Three Ball is almost welcome.
The same can't be said for Dribble Penetration or Dribble Drive. It used to be that an offensive player penetrating the defense in basketball was presumed to be dribbling. No more. The rare player without the requisite athleticism to jump from the free-throw line to the hoop is now politely complimented for his Dribble Penetration. It's almost quaint.
Equally quaint in football today is the recurring construction The Ensuing Kickoff. This seems to presume that everyone is aware of events from which the kickoff ensued (I'm guessing a score of some kind), but its mere mention compromises the cliche itself. All of football ensued from a kickoff at some point, the one that opened the Princeton at Rutgers fray in 1869, if you prefer. All kickoffs from that point were and have been, in fact, the ensuing kickoff.
Before the kickoff of the looming Fiesta Bowl, Pitt will have dealt with loud whispers among the various bowl committees that it Doesn't Travel Well. If all this meant was that the Panthers and their fans are chronically late to the gate area, have too much carry-on luggage, describe their grossest medical conditions loudly into their cell phones, reliably unfasten their seat belts before the two-bell signal for safe de-planing, and still manage to miss their connections because they can't read the airport monitors, well, that would be one thing. But what Doesn't Travel Well really means is that there aren't even enough fans willing to do all those things.
At least Pitt won't have to worry about Utah Driving The Length Of The Field, because nobody in the history of ensuing kickoffs has ever driven the length of the field. There are no 100-yard drives, let alone 120-yard drives, which is the length of the field. That's not to belittle Utah coach Urban Meyer, who, I read, will bring a No Nonsense Approach to his new gig at the University of Florida. This differs from the Occasional Nonsense Approach Harris used at Pitt, and the Plenty Of Nonsense Approach preferred by this column.
Now, before we introduce our finalists for the 2004 Trite Trophy (can you feel the tension?), a few special recognitions. It took 21 years, but the Trite Committee (me) finally has recognized its first NASCAR cliche, Get Up Underneath. On the authority of Post-Gazette auto racing correspondent Chris Dolack, this annoying little construction gets yelped every time one driver passes another on the inside, much like Get Up And Down is invoked every time a golfer needs to chip onto the green and get it in the hole in two strokes, as in, "he's got to Get Up And Down." All purveyors of these two cliches are advised to Get Over It.
The Committee (me) further thanks all faithful cliche-watchers and correspondents, especially Tom Keegan, who wrote, back in May, "In the spirit of the Trite Trophy, I conducted an experiment. I gave myself a topic: Billie Jean King, and sat inside a box attempting to think about Billie Jean King. My thoughts quickly wandered to Anna Kournikova. I conducted the experiment sitting outside the box. Again, I tried to think about Billie Jean King. Again, my thoughts quickly drifted to Anna Kournikova. I maintain there is no difference between thinking inside the box and Thinking Outside the Box."
And you think I've got time on my hands.
Finally, a special hello to all of our past Trite Trophy winners including Red Zone, the greatest living cliche -- it became an official statistic and a deodorant -- and all of our worthy non-finalists: The Hail Mary, They Gave Us A Lot Of Different Looks (like the Dolphins in those orange jerseys?), Shy Of The First Down, I've Got To Feed My Family, We Feed Off Each Other (the Fighting Cannibals?), Tough Sledding (especially in the Iditarod), An Emotional Roller Coaster, On The Same Page, Take It To The House, The Skinny Post, Hat On A Hat, Steeler Nation, Bengal Nation, Blue Jackets Nation, The United Nations, They Drank The Kool Aid, They Threw Him Under The Bus, They Threw Him Into The Kool Aid, Moving The Chains, Moving The Sticks, Anything But Moving The Ball, Pounding The Ball, Pounding the Zone, Pounding the Pavement, Swarming To The Football, Taken Out Of Context (literally: "I wish I hadn't said that), He Plays Bigger Than He Is, We Made Plays When We Had To, They Made Plays When They Had To, We Didn't Make Plays When We Had To (presumably the difference between their Difference Makers and ours), and The Whole Nine Yards, which somehow never gets said on third-and-nine.
And if I might just offer this humble personal note: Please don't contact me with any letter, call, e-mail, etc. that begins, "You forgot one." If I included them all, this thing wouldn't end until Tuesday. Believe me, I can't forget any of them.
Now then (alert security): our finalists and the winner of the 2004 Trite Trophy.
Again, our three-pronged antelope criteria: winners must be essentially meaningless, ridiculously overused and I have to really really hate 'em.
The third runner-up: Blitzing Off The Edge. What edge? You mean, the end? When did the defensive end or the area adjacent to him become The Edge, and what does the guitarist for U2 have to say about it? If I hear this once more, I'm going over the edge.
Second runner-up: Hot Read. I know, it's the guy the quarterback flips it to in a panicky reaction to the blitz. Would his third option in a seven-step drop then be the cold read? The hot read is nothing like a hot read anyway. Esquire. That's a hot read. In the post-Nicolette Sheridan Era, nothing's likely to be that hot for some time.
Our first runner-up: Statement Game. If way too many people said, "This is our statement game" or "That was a statement game" this year, way too few people seemed to realize that all games make some kind of statement, even the games you lose. If the statement you were hoping to make was, "We're a Team To Be Reckoned With," how come no one claims to have made a statement after getting scalded 37-0? That's a statement game, too. The statement is, "We stink" or "We couldn't find our ass with both hands. But at least we made a statement."
And now the moment about 17 people have been waiting for: the winner of the 21st Annual Trite Trophy dishonoring the worst cliche of the year in sports is ... Shutdown Corner.
Teams from one ocean to the other this season either had, lacked, coveted, boasted, acquired, or desperately needed to develop a shutdown corner, the thing that used to be called an excellent cornerback who could take the opposition's best receiver out of the game. Every other position on the field remained open for business -- there were no shutdown nose tackles, for example -- but somehow cornerbacks got their own cliche, and it's a beauty. It sounds like a notorious intersection in a crack neighborhood. Not content with a shutdown corner, some teams sought to draft a Lockdown Corner, especially if they were being victimized by the opposite of the shutdown corner, the Meltdown Corner.
Drive safely everyone, and don't forget your Trite Trophy gift bags.Stacy Innerst, Post-Gazette
Click photo for larger image.
Obligatory chart of past Trite Trophy winners:
Put Points On The Scoreboard
Somebody's Gotta Step Up
Eight Men In The Box
Show Me The Money
Been There, Done That
West Coast Offense
It Hasn't Sunk In Yet
Mentality Of A Linebacker
You Don't Have To Be A Rocket Scientist
He Coughs It Up
They Went To The Well Once Too Often
He's A Throwback
Playing 'Em One Game At A Time
First Published December 26, 2004 12:00 am