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And now ... The Trite Trophy

Gene Collier's annual award for the worst cliché of the year

Sunday, December 27, 1998

By Gene Collier, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

And now, live from the Kennedy Center For Reprehensibly Feckless Language in Washington D.C., home of the Village Idiot Hall of Fame and Museum, it's the 15th Annual Trite Trophy ceremony dishonoring the absolute worst sports cliche of the year.

Tonight's show is brought to you by nobody, because the Powers That Be at Trite Hindquarters on the second floor of the Downtown Pathetic Club do not sell out to anybody, much as we'd love to. Negotiations aimed at renaming this thing The Hooters Trite Trophy went nowhere. Couldn't even . . . well, never mind.

I'm your host - yeah, like someone else has time for this - and I must say that after 14 consecutive Decembers of applying highly acidic criticism in an attempt to scrub phrases like Gut Check, Crunch Time, Red Zone, and Somebody's Gotta Step Up from the great wasteland of sports terminology, I'm humbled by the fact that up to eight or nine people actually wanted to see a 15th consecutive unsuccessful attempt.

More tellingly, They Wanted It More Than We Did, and as we've been instructed only 50 million times (this year alone), It Always Comes Down To Who Wants It More.

Conceived in a full deadline panic back in 1984 ("I know, I'll string together every sports cliche in the book and pass it off as serious linguistic commentary"), the Trite is somehow gratified by its one-trick longevity. Fifteen years, after all, is longer than the sports careers of former Pirate Sammy Khalifa and Steelers first-round picks Tim Worley, Darryl Sims, and Huey Richardson combined. In fact, we've been around so long that we're going to start the show with our first lifetime achievement award, going right now to that grand dame of the Trite stage, none other than Cinderella.

Cinderella has offended us all these many years at NCAA basketball tournament time (Oh, excuse me, during March Madness or The Big Dance), portraying as she does the fairy tale mascot of every obscure no-account doesn't-belong-in-the-tournament-anyway team that thinks it's going somewhere. The miracle of Cinderella is and will continue to be that no other fairytale character ever appears in the tournament. There's no Rumpelstiltskin team, no Big Bad Wolf team, no Goldilocks team. Just Cinderella, bay-bee.

Isn't she lovely? Nice goin', Cindy. Great to see ya.

Now let's meet some of the ridiculous sports cliches who'll be competing for the 1998 Trite Trophy.

Steelers fans and writers and broadcasters have noted often this season that the quarterback seems to be on an Emotional Rollercoaster, which is easier than saying he's given to instability and at times even lachrymose. It's true that last year, Coach Cowher kissed Kordell, and it's true that this year, Kordell was seen pointing at him and stalking away in tears, and it means only one thing. Very soon, one will admit to an affair and the other will throw a plate, leading directly to the appointment of Kenneth Starr as new offensive coordinator. Perhaps the Steelers would be better off with someone like Doug Flutie, who still isn't tall enough to ride the Emotional Rollercoaster.

Once again in 1998, in 100 percent of the instances when an athlete signed a contract calling for him to be paid like the Sultan of Brunei, It Wasn't About The Money. Well of course not. It was just that the guy grew up dreaming of being a Minnesota Timberwolf or that he simply could not say no to being part of the great tradition of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Even as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa Saved The Game of Baseball and destroyed Roger Maris' home run record last summer, it was still pointed out relentlessly that Good Pitching Beats Good Hitting, but it was somehow never pointed out that good pitching beats good hitting by its very definition. Beating good hitting, in fact, is what makes it good pitching. If it didn't, it would be bad pitching. This was again the same as saying The Rain Continues To Fall. If it didn't, it wouldn't be rain, technically. It would be clouds. A good pitcher often made what was again annoyingly called A Pitcher's Pitch, probably because he was man's man who owned a dog's dog and probably a gun's gun.

The historic circumstances of the McGwire/Sosa chase bestowed full cliche status to phrases that had been previously benign, such as He's On Pace For 75 (or whatever the projection was). This was almost always mathematical nonsense, as it assumes a constant rate of inertia. We're all on pace for something, but in most cases, we're not going to get there. Say a person weighs 244 pounds at age 45, that doesn't mean that I'm, uh, he's going to weigh 500 when he's 90. Does it?

Another big year got logged by the ubiquitous He's Very Dangerous Out Of The Backfield, which is supposed to identify a running back that catches passes well, but in and of itself is merely ominous. Lawrence Phillips was very dangerous when he was out of the backfield, as any number of police reports will show. The all-time very dangerous out of the backfield individual was probably O.J. Simpson, who many would say was downright murderous out of the backfield. Many contend he was also a Slashing North-South Type Runner.

Similarly, He's Got A Gun used to mean that a quarterback or an outfielder or catcher would throw amazingly well. Now it more often means that literally, he's got a gun, and perhaps several. He's Got A Gun is going to be with us forever, because He's Exercising His Poorly-Interpreted Second Amendment Rights is never going to come into vogue.

It was a unconscionably huge autumn for You've Gotta Give (Whoever's Playing Pitt) Credit. Panthers color commentator Billy Osborn singlehandedly lifted good ol' You've Gotta right into tonight's ceremonies with his constant struggle to explain how Pitt could possibly lose at home to titans like Rutgers and Temple. "You've gotta give Temple credit," Osborn said at least five times in the immediately aftermath of Temple's victory. Temple got more credit on that postgame show than it has in the past 25 years. The only Pitt opponents you didn't have to give credit to this year were Villanova and Akron, but Villanova came awfully close to taking some.

He Makes Him Pay came into cliche prominence as never before in 1998. Almost everywhere that somebody hit somebody hard, whether it was a linebacker clocking a quarterback, a defenseman cross-checking someone in the crease, or a runner breaking up a double play, there was a cliche-addled broadcaster to explain He Makes Him Pay. Doubtless a lot of the fans, given contemporary salaries, wish this were a literal condition as well. Levon Kirkland tackles Eddie George (hey, it could happen), and when George gets up, Levon says, "That'll be $1,000." He should make him pay. George can afford it.

Sports was again one of the few cultural arenas that can produce new cliches. The constant updating of information and the declining talent for original thought among its purveyors often ends in catch phrases being pirated and relayed into frightening proliferations. He Got Game is such a phenomenon, a prolifically abused construction from the Spike Lee film of the same name that means, translated from the English, he can play basketball, which is not to be confused with He Can Play or with He Came To Play, which somehow persists even though it's apparent that he didn't get dressed up in that uniform because he came to fix the water heater.

We're literally within minutes now of identifying our finalists and the winner of the 1998 Trite Trophy (how about the electricity in this place?), but first for some special awards for utterances that were not technically cliches, but were just so dumb that we had to include them.

Two of these, in fact go to Verne Lundquist of CBS for two comments on back-to-back Steelers telecasts this month.

"One of these days I'm going to go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning without seeing a flag on a kickoff." What? Verne dreams in football? Or he just has some bizarre nights? And, after partner Randy Cross described a pounding rain in Tampa by saying, "In Georgia they call this a frog-strangler," Verne chimed in with "or a quagmire", proving again the broadcasters will never let an original colloquialism stand where a cliche should be.

The annual hapless mixologist award to Terry Bradshaw, who during his narration of Broncos-Giants highlights on Fox warned: "Hold onto the edge of your seats." This unlawful mixing of Hold Onto Your Hats and They're On The Edge of Their Seats is a worthy winner, although past winners Rod Woodson and Jerome Bettis were a little edgier. Woodson won for "Today we stepped up to the plate and answered the phone call" and Bettis for his unique "we can see the light at the end of the rainbow," never to be confused with the pot of gold at the end of the tunnel.

Now before we introduce our five finalists for the 1998 Trite Trophy (and please, no recording devices of any kind a permitted in the auditorium), a glancing recognition for some of the most hideous linguistic tumors of the past 15 years.

Hail Mary (still no Our Fathers in football), He Put The Ball On The Ground (yeah, and he fumbled, too), Deer Caught In The Headlights (what, again?), Burn A Timeout (he has matches out there), He's Not Afraid To Catch The Ball In The Middle Of The Field (Oh, yes he is, but for a million a month, he's reconsidered the whole thing), High Ankle Sprain (yeah, in his neck), He's Cap Friendly (yes he's relatively inexpensive, but he's trying like hell to get Cap Hostile), Stretch The Field Vertically (only meaningful in pole-vaulting folks; otherwise, he's just trying to throw a football a long way), Look In The Mirror (only interesting as a sequel to Snow White), You Wanna Go North-South (no, you wanna go one or the other), Wake Up Call, Time Is A Factor, The Complete Package, He Brings A Lot To The Table, That'll Come Back To Haunt You, 110 Percent, Tremendous Upside, Outkicked the Coverage, Good Cover Guy, On Both Sides Of The Football, Sheer Athleticism, Everybody Wrote Us Off, Dug A Hole For Ourselves, Shot Ourselves In The Foot, Total Team Effort, Rise To The Occasion, Put On A Clinic, Point of Attack, Went Yard, A Class Act, A Nose For The Ball, Maybe A Yard, In A Zone, On A Mission, Make A Statement, On A Roll, Came Into His Own, The Total Package, Extremely Well-Coached, Lost His Footing, Playing Within Himself, They Came Out Flat, and Legitimate Beef.

All right I have the envelope. Quiet in the back. No snoring.

To win the Trite, ladies and gentleman, a cliche must be monstrously overused; it must be essentially meaningless on its surface, and the Trite Committee (me) has to really, really hate it.

Our fourth runner-up. Two Teams Going In Opposite Directions.

Oh my, the venerable Two Teams. Invoked in almost every instance when a game matches one team playing very well and one playing worse all the time. The problem is that football, hockey, and basketball are always quite literally two teams going in opposite directions, one to one goal, one to the other. It's the essential nature of the competition. Only baseball has two teams not going in opposite directions. They go in the same counterclockwise direction, but not at the same time.

Our third runner-up. Time Will Tell.

No kiddin'. Always and everywhere. No kiddin'.

Our second runner-up. Run The Table.

A vague and useless reference adopted from billiards, this is the Siamese Twin of They Have To Win Out. The Steelers got themselves in a position where they had to Run The Table and instead they merely tabled the run. Perhaps how they got into that position in the first place. Not to be critical.

Our first runner-up, and remember, should the Trite Trophy Winner be unable to blah, blah, blah, yeah, right. Prior To The Snap, False Start.

Oh my, how many years has it been that this cliche has waited for this kind of notoriety (15). With college and professional football officials become all too conspicuous this past season, the little bit of idiocy was everywhere. Gentlemen, there are no false starts after the snap. Still.

And the winner of the 1998 Trite Trophy dishonoring the absolute worst sports cliche of 1998:

Eight Men In The Box.

All right, please. Don't make me call security. Eight Men In The Box, a finalist last year but still a relatively young pile of coachspeak garbage, was omnipresent this year as teams stacked their defenses against the run, which is all it means. Eight Men In The Box can be traced directly to telestrator technology, whereby analysts could draw a box around the eight defensive players nearest the ball. What diabolical genius. What a crock.

Tip your wait staff.

Gene Collier, who once upon a time appeared in these pages as a sports columnist, keeps himself busy these days writing features and a weekly column for the Post-Gazette Magazine section.



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