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The Trite Trophy: The worst sports cliches of 2000

Sunday, December 31, 2000

By Gene Collier, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Sixteen Decembers washed into the linguistic sewer. Sixteen December assaults on lazy sports language without any certifiable proof that we've eroded a single molecule from the monolithic superstructure that continues to belch toxic tons of sports cliches into an atmosphere of otherwise-breathable-English.

(Illustration By Ted Crow, Post-Gazette)

Sixteen blisteringly satiric December essays decrying every slice of phonetic idiocy from Major Bowl Implications to the Emotional Roller Coaster to the time dishonored policy of Playing 'Em One Game At A Time, and what tangible impact can we demonstrate?


Are we bitter? Oh are we bitter. We could sell bile by the keg.We'd sell bile exclusively because we can not even manufacture Bile Lite. That's how bitter we are.

So what do we do?

We Suck It Up. We Rise To The Occasion. We Step Up, because Somebody's Gotta Step Up. We Elevate Our Game, even though we're Just Not Getting It Done.

Welcome then, to the 17th Annual Trite Trophy Ceremony, this one dishonoring the worst sports cliche of the year 2000. We are again sponsored by nobody, although we came very close to selling the rights to an Internet site called I Am Apparently Married To Both My Sisters.com, but, surprisingly, the contract structuring proved a bit too sophisticated for, you know, the four of us.

Anyway, as in every year since the Trite Trophy was conceived in a full blown deadline panic in December of 1984, dozens of globules of nonsensical coachspeak or sportscasterspeak or sportswriter slop morphed from common annoyances into full blown sports cliches in 2000, among them Yac Yards, Killer Crossover, and Gap Stable.

Yac is an acronym standing for yards after catch, or, in football, the distance covered by a receiver after the reception. "He'll give you a lot of yac yards," became a high compliment this season, although historians will note that its first use was in praise of a noted Tibetan farmer who herded yaks into pens for ritualistic slaughter. Or something.

Killer Crossover, first used in Y2K anxiety reportage of border crossing Algerian terrorists, has now become an annoying NBA announcer's gush for even unremarkable dribble moves. Not all Killer Crossovers are in fact Killer. Many in fact are not even hostile and some are downright obsequious. Not to nitpick.

Gap Stable, a term perhaps more suited to describe the herd of remarkably loyal GAP shoppers, has instead come to mean a defensive lineman who is adept at holding his ground in gap-based defensive schemes. Your Gap Stable defensive tackle, for example, is always preferrable to one who is in fact Gap Psychotic.


Obligatory list of previous winners

1984Playing 'Em One Game At A Time
1986Gut Check
1987Crunch Time
1988They Went To The Wall Once Too Often
1989He Coughs It Up
1990Smashmouth Football
1991You Don't Have To Be A Rocket Scientist
1992Mentality Of A Linevacker
1993It Hasn't Sunk In Yet
1994Red Zone
1995West Coast Offense
1996Been There, Done That
1997Show Me The Money
1998Eight Men In The Box


Somebody's Gotta Step Up


Hapless Mixology Medal

We'll have more from the strong field of 2000 Trite candidates in a moment, but it's time to award our annual Hapless Mixology Medal to the sports figure who most deftly mixed two cliches into the most seamless bit of nonsense in the past year, as when Jerome Bettis once said, "We can see the light at the end of the rainbow," which was somehow judged the superior option to that pot of gold at the end of the tunnel.

This year's mixology winner is Washington Redskins' defensive end Bruce Smith, who described his reluctance to repeat an oft-repeated point about his team's comically disappointing season by combining "Not To Beat This Into The Ground" with "Beating A Dead Horse" and came up with "I don't want to beat a dead horse into the ground." That can be very difficult, even for a Very Physical Player such as Smith.

Runner-up in this increasingly popular category was Steelers receiver Courtney Hawkins, who, in trying to express the keen resolve with which he and his teammates approached a December opponent, mixed Buckle Up with Strap It On and produced "You'd better strap it up." Sorry, you either buckle up your chin strap or strap on your helmet. Strap it up is strictly for parachutes and bust lines.

We traditionally like to present an award for special achievement to someone who has neither produced a classic cliche nor some cliche combination, but who has just said something so majorly goofy that we just can't ignore it. This year's winner is Atlanta Falcons defensive back Ray Buchanan, who said of his team's season, "I've got my scuba gear on trying to keep my head above water." Uh, Ray, scuba gear is for when you keep your head under the water.

Congratulations, Bruce, and congratulations as well to former Trite Trophy winner Red Zone (1994), of which we are so darned proud it's just sickening. Red Zone, once a lowly generic cliche describing the area from the goal line to 20 yards out, not only won the Trite, but in the six years since has gone on to become a semi-official NFL statistic, star in a collectible Coca-Cola can campaign, lend it's name to USA Hooray's NFL insider pages, and, most conspicuously, have a deodorant named after it: Old Spice High Endurance Red Zone Anti-perspirant.

Red Zone, you are perhaps the tritest of the Trite. Sorry, I don't wanna reboard the Emotional Roller Coaster now.

But back to our show.

An unusual intrusion into sports came from the more general cliche known as Zero Tolerance Policy, the one often applied to drugs or weapons. But in 2000, Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight and Minnesota Vikings wideout Randy Moss both were subjected to zero tolerance policies, tolerance of their random acts of idiocy having been exhausted by the university and by NFL officials, respectively. Knight violated his and was dismissed (and only about 25 years too late). Moss has endured so far, but hold your tickets.

A highly annoying year was generated by A Buck-And-A-Half which was never used to describe $1.50, but rather a situation where a minute and a half remained on the clock ("A Buck And A Half left to play") or a batter hitting about .150. ("Hittin' a Buck And A Half"). We'd much prefer the banishment of this nonsense, unless A Buck And A Half is used to represent the actual money Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez now makes every 1.9 seconds. No kidding.

A huge autumn came from Get Off The Field, as coach after coach lamented his defense's inability to Get Off The Field in third-down situations, which actually meant after third-down situations. In other words the opposing offense converted on third-and-8 too often, keeping the defense on the field. A lot of defenses should have just physically gotten off the field and avoided the prolonged misery of a 16-play, 88 yard drive.

He's A Presence got wickedly overused to describe an Impact Player, which, though it was almost equally annoying, somehow said more than He's A Presence. Mario Lemieux was certainly a presence this week after a 3 1/2 year period during which we could only say He's An Absence.

Any number of athletes in any number of uncomfortable situations got themselves described as a Deer Caught In The Headlights again, and while this is still only moderately annoying after its first 5 million uses, we're beginning to wonder whether deer can actually be caught in any other kind of light. Has not a deer ever been caught in the porchlights, the street lights, the stage lights, the light-up-night lights? Give us something, anything. Has not someone's flashlight ever been found in the mouth of a deer corpse? A light caught in the deer head? Please.

Before we introduce our finalists (and whoa! the tension), how about a nice hand for all our usual suspects, all the awful constructions that have poisoned the language lo these many years: Total Team Effort (as opposed to partial team effort), Everyone Wrote Us Off (or wants to, on their taxes) He Came To Play (no, he came to clean the gutters), It Depends On The Spot, Time Is A Factor, Dodged A Bullet, Anything Can Happen, They Brought Their 'A' Game (good, since we paid 'A' prices), Pound It In, Kick It Out, They Control Their Own Destiny (no they don't; they can barely control their impulses), They Made A Statement, Sheer Athleticism, He Makes Things Happen (yeah, like he shoots people), Blitz Package, Hot Receiver, Run The Table, Get The Monkey Off Their Backs, On Both Sides Of The Football, A Team In Transition (aren't they all), He's Day to Day (aren't we all), Survived A Scare, Dug A Hole For Ourselves, Shot Ourselves In The Foot, Testing the Free Agent Waters and Went Yard.

The third runner-up is ...

Now then, our third runner-up for the 2000 Trite Trophy: Dennis Miller.

No, nothing Dennis said. In fact, in one of the larger ironies in the history of the trite, Miller did more cliche-free sportscasting than anyone this year, but more people talked about him while he was doing it than about almost anyone who was actually on the field. His name became a cliche. Miller, in fact, was refreshing. From his opening night "there's no such thing as minor groin surgery, anyone with a sharp object near my genitalia, I'm thinkin' it's major" to his late season response to Dan Fouts' analysis of a controversial replay -- "yeah, but we were at a football game, now we're at an autopsy," Miller jacked up the literacy of NFL presentation 75 percent, even as he spooked his booth partners.

The second runner-up is ...

Our second runner-up: Subway Series. The possibility of a Yankees-Mets World Series and the reality of same made us sick to death of these two words from Aug. 1 until Nov. 1. A very impressive blast of annoyance for a cliche that, thankfully, gets relatively rare exposure.

The first runner-up is ...

And now our first runner-up, and remember that if for any reason our Trite Trophy winner cannot fulfill its obligations, whatever the hell they are BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH: Put Points On The Scoreboard. Oh my. Old Put Points has been around for ages without ever having reached the level of disagreeability to even be a finalist, and now here it is taking second. I hope there are no Sour Grapes. Put Points On The Scoreboard remains as reliable today as it did in the '60s for broadcasters who cannot bring themselves to say, "The Panthers are in a situation where they have to score." No, they've got to put points on the scoreboard, like there's another place to put them in the blender, in the glove compartment, in your ear buddy.

And the winner is ...

All right we've alerted your affiliates that we're going to be running into the late local news, so let's get right to it. Quiet in the back. No recording devices of any kind. The Trite Trophy, going annually to the sports cliche that best fulfills the three hallowed criteria -- it has to be viciously overused; it has to be essentially meaningless; and I have to really, really hate it -- is ... Walk-Off Homer.

Yes, what might have sounded like some kind of Simpson's wind-up doll before the spring and summer of 2000, Walk-Off Homer got abused eight billion times by people trying to describe the situation in which a player homers to end the game, and the other team, presumably, walks off, although many were seen to jog off, but there were no Jog-Off Homers. Generally credited to ESPN's bottom line sports info crawl for parentage, Walk-Off Homer never ceased to infuriate, even as it mutated into Walk-Off Triple, Walk-Off Double, Walk-Off Walk and even Walk-Off Balk.

I phoned Pirates announcer and former National League right-hander Bob Walk to ask if there'd ever been a Walk-Off Homer off Walk, but Walky, triggering the final cliche of 2000: Did Not Return A Phone Call.

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