Trite Trophy: A cliche for all (sporting) seasons
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After a sports year dominated by Head-to-Head hits, Helmet-To-Helmet contact, and blatant Hat-On-A-Hat strategies, it is comforting somehow to discover in our deepest literary history a better way to describe our ever-accelerating uptick in violence.
A very long time ago, which is not to say Back In The Day, because we would never say Back In The Day, and because this happened many centuries deep into Greek mythology, which was prior to even the first of the many billions of abuses of the utterly nonsensical Back In The Day, a Game Changer of an Edge Rusher named Termerus became a much-feared bandit by running into his victims head-first.
The sports writers of that era, notably Woody Plutarch, who was no doubt writing the Life of Theseus on deadline due to a late starting time, reported that Theseus slew Termerus (not the same as Slew-Footed) and others by "returning the same sort of violence that they offered to him."
Therewith the first implication of a helmet-to-helmet incident, but blessedly, Plutarch did not call it that. He writes that Theseus was merely responding to "Termerian mischief." Now can we agree that this should likely be the first question to the NFL commissioner at the official Super Bowl press conference:
"What ho, noble Roger, and what of this unchecked Termerian mischief?"
Here I should thank long-time correspondent Charles Partee for referring me to Plutarch's writings, none of which, I'm fairly confident, include the terms Game-Time Decision, Ice Water In His Veins, Bubble Screen, Ball Security, Off The Schneid, Blitz Package, Setting The Edge, Trap Game, Take It To The House, Go All In, nor any of the following:
Making Plays Down The Field, Making Plays With His Feet, Making Plays Down The Field With His Feet, Buying Time With His Feet In Order To Make Plays Down The Field, perhaps with his feet.
It is very hard, I've concluded after only about 50 years of watching football, to make plays without feet.
So, by now, I expect you realize that you have wandered into the ceremonial column that will award the 27th Annual Trite Trophy to the worst sports cliché of the year sometime before the start of "60 Minutes."
("60 Minutes," once an estimable bastion of something called journalism, has itself been reduced to a football cliché, and although coaches love to point out These Games Are 60 Minutes, no one actually plays anywhere close to that.)
But to refresh, the purpose of the annual Trite Trophy column is to expose lazy language to mockery's blistering lamp, whatever that means, in the hope that we can create A Hostile Environment for the folks who traffic in such nonsense. A quick look around, however, reveals that not only have the members of the Trite Committee (me) Lost Their Swagger, but Face Long Odds of ever Getting Their Swagger Back. More pointedly, 27 years of cliché slinging To No Avail pretty much guarantees they've Fallen On Their Faces.
Much like the various college football conferences, Cliché Nation has steadily advanced the diabolical plot of Expanding The Footprint.
Many new and depressingly venerable sports constructions have been Playing Lights Out this year and obviously several have plans to Keep The Pedal Down until at least one emerges as The Sexy Pick for the 27th Trite, but to win I suspect they'll have to Get The Ball Out Early, Take The Crowd Out Of The Game, and concentrate on Extending The Play, Gaining Separation, and some might even succeed in Getting Excellent Penetration, but Let's Not Go There.
Actually, before we get to any of that, did Chris Berman actually call Merrill Hoge "Myrtle?" just prior to the Steelers-Ravens game his month?
As in "Thanks Myrtle."
I thought I heard it, but I'm fairly certain I heard each of the following, which, while they are not clichés per se, must be included as linguistic spasms so violent that their purveyors failed to Stay Within Themselves by, of course, Trying To Do Too Much.
In other words, they should have stuck to the clichés.
I'm sure I heard Pitt football analyst Bill Fralic mention that an opposing quarterback might be suffering from "a little bit of big-time nerves," which is probably no worse than a big bit of little-time nerves. Just as surely Fox's Mike Ditka said, "You can't let 'em have their cake and eat it both."
But 2010 was, for no evident reason, a year in which hockey broadcasters said almost as many goofy things as the football yakkers, which is An Upset of Major Proportions, never to be confused with merely A Major Upset, or one of your Mere Mortals.
During a Penguins-Capitals appointment last winter, studio host Mike Milbury said, "You can't argue the fact that the highest-paid players in this game are the best-paid players in this game."
You sure can't.
But Milbury was positively lucid in comparison to an Eddie Olczyk observation during the Olympics, when the former Penguins coach lamented that "goals like that rip your heart right out of your stomach."
You'd almost rather be Slew-Footed.
Which brings us to our annual Mixology Medal, given annually to the sports figure who starts one cliché only to find himself caught in another, as when Hines Ward said famously, "They'll have their hands cut out for them."
This year's winner, with sad irony, is job-losing Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt's confused attempt at either "the wind went out of our sails" or "the air came out of the balloon," which resulted in "the wind came out of the balloon."
When you're picked to win the Big East Conference and end up sentenced to the Dump Us In the Compass Bowl, you tend to start dealing those windy balloon clichés Early And Often when seldom and late is highly preferable.
Early and Often has never been a Trite finalist, but this year it's In The Conversation, certainly In The Discussion, and quite possibly even In The Mix.
Time Will Tell.
Much like Early and Often, the journeyman cliché Orchestrate A Drive had perhaps A Career Year. Before I hang up the laptop, I'd really like to see someone actually orchestrate a drive. I'd like to see a series of sequential risers positioned on the football field, to the specifications of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and then, on first-and-10, perhaps a fanfare of trumpets or a haunting overture where the wind comes out of the bassoons, followed by a burst of percussion and strings to Establish The (melodic) Ground Game. On second down, a counter melody by the woodwinds might be sidetracked by a misdirected flourish of timpani, forcing the ensemble, on third down, to Take A Shot Down The Field with a dazzling oboe cadenza that is always, Clearly, high-risk.
But That's Just Me.
To most fans, that just wouldn't pass The Smell Test, to say nothing of The Eye Test, much less the annual colonoscopy.
But while we're in anatomy class, you should note the nearly overnight emergence of the so-called Back Shoulder. Quarterbacks have cleverly begun to throw to a receiver's back shoulder (technically the one nearer the passer, sometimes a better target than the lead shoulder, depending on the coverage), but team physicians familiar only with the left shoulder and the right shoulder simply don't know what to make of it. Wait, he's got a back shoulder? Is it separated? Dan Dierdorf has even turned this into a verb: "He was trying to back shoulder Massaquoi!"
Back Shoulder deserves to disappear even before it becomes a major annoyance, but it's nowhere near as deserving as Vertical, as in Stretch The Field Vertically, The Vertical Passing Game, etc. Vertical is a term that somehow came to describe the deep ball, which meant deep downfield, but vertical, I presumed, meant up. If you throw the ball straight up, it's Up For Grabs, no? Vertical should be limited perhaps to basketball, sky-diving, and Santa Claus, whose offense has true verticality -- it's pure up-on-the-rooftops-down-through-chimney stuff. The Real Deal, vertically speaking.
And please, can we stop saying a team has to Set The Tone Early. Can you set it late?
And please, can we stop saying Déjà vu All Over Again. That semi-clever redundancy was funny maybe two times, but we're approaching two billion. Can someone throw in George Carlin's Vuja de once in a while? Vuja de, the odd feeling that what's happening has really never happened before.
And please, can we stop saying a team Can't Seem To Get Untracked in one breath while saying the other team has to get Back On Track in the next. Let's make up our minds. They don't have this problem in track.
Now before we introduce out 2010 finalists and their hair stylists (how about the buzz in this place right about now?), we must Pay Lip Service to the many new and overly abused clichés here in our live audience at the fabulous new Stage PG, hard by the Boulevard of the Disappearing Hairlines.
Turning up the house lights (yeah, like we've got house lights), I see He's Finally Healthy, Net Front Presence, Make Them One Dimensional, Time And Space (you've got to take that away in hockey, or at least one of 'em), Stood On His Head, Shot Ourselves In The Foot (do not attempt while standing on head), You Can't Coach Height, It's A Foot Race, Pound The Strike Zone, Professional Hitter, Quality At Bat, The Big Tight End (depth issues nearly forced Hines Ward to play tight end this fall, in which case he would have been history's first Small Tight End), Body Of Work, and Man Up.
And right down here in our legends circle, all our former winners including Red Zone, the greatest living cliché (now an official stat, deodorant, network, and, I believe, drain opener) and the one and only It Is What It Is, the Archie Griffin of the Trite Trophy, the only one to win it twice.
Very well then, if you'll turn off your cell phones and pagers, blackberries and torches, droids and I Pads, I Phones, Kendels, Pringles, and anything else that beeps, tweets, texts, downloads, uploads, and particularly reloads, here are our finalists for the 27th annual Trite Trophy.
Our fourth runner-up: Score The Basketball.
Knock It Down, Hit It, Drain It, Nail It, Swish It, Jam It, Ram It, Tomahawk It, for God's sake do anything but Score The Basketball. Does Albert Pujols score the baseball? Does Sidney Crosby score the hockey ball? Does Chinese table tennis champion Wang Hao score the ping pong ball? Maybe he does, but at least I don't have to hear it.
Our third runner-up: Working The Count.
The baseball people doing what Pirates general manger Neal Huntington calls the subjective analysis of the extensive available customized objective data have decided that Working The Count is the key to Run Production (formerly scoring), which is apparently why the New York Yankees get so much praise for running deep counts. It's also why their typical game against the Red Sox runs six hours and 11 minutes. Here's the cliché I prefer to Working The Count: Getting A Hit.
Our second runner-up: A No-Nonsense Guy.
The classic No-Nonsense Guy Mike Haywood just got the Pitt football job after Dave Wannstedt was either Thrown Under The Bus or Kicked To The Curb, whichever scapegoating cliché you prefer. Wannstedt, based on the arrest records of returning letterman, was apparently a Some-Nonsense Guy, which you can get away with unless you lose to West Virginia, 35-10, at home. Former Houston Oilers coach Jerry Glanville, for the record, was the rare All Nonsense Guy.
Our first runner-up: Livin' The Dream.
According to online urban dictionaries, Livin' The Dream is best used as a snarky comeback to a simple, "How ya' doin'?" but sportswriters and sportscasters have given it a literal spin to fit just about every circumstance from the back-up running back scoring a critical touchdown to the Heisman Trophy winner dreaming he won't have to give the thing back, to LeBron James bolting for Miami. It is true that a great percentage of the people associated even marginally with sports are living in a kind of dream world, but Enough Is Enough.
And now -- Do Not Go On The Field At The Conclusion Of The Trite Ceremony -- the winner of the 27th annual Trite Trophy is -- what? Are You Kiddin' Me? It's At The End Of The Day!
Please keep your seats! At The End Of The Day, I mean, What A Great Comeback Story. Dismissed by this same column just last December as too generic for the Trite and having sprung from a rhetorical region not exclusively sports-centric, At The End Of The Day on this day becomes the first Trite Winner ever to overcome such arbitrary prejudice and Take Care Of Business. At The End Of The Day, At The End Of The Day is likely the most ubiquitous cliché in the culture today, a cliché that simply Wouldn't Be Denied, a cliché' that simply Imposed Its Will on the Trite.
A ridiculous construction that has supplanted When It's All Said And Done in the broader language, At The End Of The Day easily meets the three ageless criteria for our annual championship: it's everywhere, it's essentially meaningless (very little of what follows At The End Of The Day could not have been said without it) and I have to really, really hate it.
Though Truth Be Told, not as much as Back In The Day.
Where's that after party?
And, oh yeah, We Probably Left Some Plays Out There.
First Published December 26, 2010 12:00 am