Cliches, Malaprops, and Other Sporting Rants

Now that the 50th Super Bowl is thankfully over we need to clarify things especially since it was probably one of the poorest performances by a winning quarterback in Super Bowl history. But let's not dwell on the past. Let's focus our attention on the future.

"World Champions"
Let's get this out of the way first. The Denver Broncos are not "World Champions." They aren't even North American Champions since they never played the Edmonton Eskimoes. the NFL has spent a lot of time and money letting the entire world know that professional football (as it is known in the United States) is, well, "America's Game" -- and since we're the only country in the world that plays America's Game, then the Broncos are either the American Champions or the NFL Champions or the United States Professional Football Champions or some other permutation of the same thing, but they are not World Champions just as the Kansas City Royals did not win the "World Series." Nor did they win the North American Series, and if there were a 7-game playoff between the Royals and a collection of All-Star Latin American players, then I'm not sure they'd win that either especially since at least a dozen of their players are Latinos. So, perhaps, we should leave "athletic colonialism" in the past and call the titles exactly what they are.

But speaking of Super Bowls, I remember the first one on January 15, 1967 which, on strictly mathematical grounds after 50 would equal 2017, but who's counting. I was in college and the amount of excitement over the game was tantamount to changing the battery in a transistor radio. Not only was there little interest in Bloomington, Indiana, but the LA Coliseum was only 2/3 of capacity. It was a foregone conclusion that Green Bay was going to win and one could sense it was a rout from the start. One had to wait for the Jets to win in III for there to be any excitement and that was mainly because Namath was brash enough to channel his inner Ali to make predictions. But if one teases away all the hype the Super Bowl really only another NFL game on another NFL Sunday. After all, the Broncos played three AFC teams during pre-season so what's the big deal. They play inter-conference games all the time and the Super is just another inter-conference game. It's the preseason on steroids. It wasn't as if they were playing the Hamburg Brewers or the Paris Baguettes or the Mexico City Chili Peppers. Whatever.

In 2066, if the NFL still exists (which at the current salary rate is very unlikely), and if they're still playing the Super Bowl with the NFC vs. AFC then the interest will be like the first one: minimal. Unless American football goes global then the title World Champions will be even more meaningless than it is today. But the reason the NFL won't exist is clearly financial. According to (since the NFL site doesn't list these) the average NFL salary in 1967 was 19,000. The average NFL salary in 2015 was 2.1M. Adjusting for inflation using the CPI Inflation Calculator, the 19K in 1967 would equal about $134,830 in 2015, so the 2.1M is about 15x more than accounting for inflation. Extrapolating, by the time the NFL plays its 100th Super Bowl (provided the league exists) the average salary will be 231M dollars. That's the average. Based on current salaries, the great quarterbacks of 2066, like Elmo Klampett or whomever it might be at the time, will be making something in the billions, so who's counting?

Along those same lines, according to, the average price for a Super Bowl ticket in 1967 was $10. Once again adjusting for inflation that same ticket should cost about $71 today; however, according to ABC News that same ticket cost about $4500. So, extrapolating once again, the average ticket for the 2066 Super Bowl should cost about $450,000 so you better start saving now and forget your grandchild's college education and therein lays the reason why professional football, as we know it, is doomed, like the names of Clark and Herber and Isbell, to extinction.

"In control of their destiny"
Even the really articulate sportscasters whom I admire -- like Mike Tirico -- tend to screw this one up and I'm not sure why, since in 2008 Bob Costas made it very clear that one cannot be in control of one's destiny. The OED traces the word "destiny" back to Chaucer in 1405, "If so be my destynee be shape, By eterne word to dyen in prisoun." Perhaps, before Chaucer. But destiny means "that which is destined to happen to a particular person, country, institution, etc.; (one's) appointed lot or fortune; what one is destined to do or suffer; fate." One cannot be in "control" of one's destiny otherwise it wouldn't be one's destiny. Even Michael Jackson knew that. So, the cliché of such-and-such a team being "in control of its destiny" is, well, patently wrong. Perhaps, they could be in control of their own "future" since that's seemingly more controllable; however, if it's destiny, it's a done deal and there's no need to think it can be controlled. I imagine the Broncos defense thought it was their destiny to win especially since Manning was 13-23. So it goes.

"Like to have that one back."

Was it Lombardi or Hayes or Royal who said when you put the ball in the air, three things can happen and two of them are bad? Apparently, there's no definitive answer for that, but as a matter of fact, four things can happen and three of them are bad if you include throwing a pass for no gain. I don't know how many times I've heard this cliché and it's always after either an interception or an incomplete pass. Really? Quarterbacks are notorious for saying this. Aikman, Simms and Fouts, for example. The question is: What quarterback on any level (and we can start with Pee Wee football) wouldn't want to take back an interception or an incomplete pass? Perhaps, the discourse should be something more like "it wasn't a wise decision" or "next time he'll remember not to do that," but "like to have that back"? Really?

"He'll be playing on Sundays."

There are about 1700 players playing in the NFLwhich would include those on the practice squads. To put that in perspective, in 2014 Amazon had about 154,000 employees, which means the NFL employs a little over 1% of what Amazon employs. To take another example, Bank of America has about 200,000 employees, so the NFL hires about 0.85% of that number. With that in mind, I'm constantly bemused by the fact that so many sportscasters predict that so many college players will be "playing on Sundays." Maybe they'll be playing in the CFL on Sundays (though they tend to play on other days), or maybe they'll be on the practice squad on Sundays, or maybe they'll be playing with their kids on Sundays, but not every one of the players that sportscasters predict will be playing on Sundays actually play on Sundays. Ryan Leaf played on Sundays. For a while. So did Lawrence Phillips. I guess there's a difference between playing on Sundays and actually remaining to play on Sundays, but regardless, not every one of those players who play on Saturdays will be playing on Sundays since the NFL is a closed corporation and the number of job opportunities is very, very limited. I imagine if someone came up with the statistics for how many college players actually ended up playing on Sundays long enough to get a pension the numbers would be staggeringly small. I think Alan Page once talked about that decades ago when he recommended that student-athletes should spend more time being students rather than athletes since their long-term future was not going to be in the NBA or the NFL or the MLB or any other professional sport. Judge Page was and is a very wise man.

"Skill players"
Perhaps, someone will come up with a better phrase than "skill player" to define a particular position. If one suggests there are "skilled players" then there must be "unskilled players" and since the former are usually offensive players who have a hand in scoring, then it's axiomatic that everyone else is an "unskilled player." Of course, that's ludicrous, but, for some reason, sportscasters insist on calling some players "skilled" and others not. If I were, say, an offensive lineman drafted in the first round and knowing that I would be playing every down and getting my ass kicked by a defensive lineman for four quarters in an attempt not to let the "skilled quarterback" get decapitated, I'd be a bit miffed at not being considered "skilled" at my position. I'm not sure where that phrase came into being, but it really should be relegated to the trash heap of sports history. For example, Jim Marshall (who, for some odd reason, is not in the HOF) owned the career records for most consecutive starts (270) and games played (282) at a time when climate change did not affect Minnesota and Wisconsin and sideline heaters were a thing of the future. But Marshall was a defensive end and, by today's definition, would not be referred to as a "skill player." Really? So, was he an unskilled player or was he something altogether different? If that's the definition, then the list of unskilled players would read like a Who's Who of NFL greats. One could certainly throw in "unskilled" players like Butkus and Bednarik and Deacon Jones into that mix just to name a few. Odd, very odd.

"Pin your ears back"
This cliché is generally used when a defense is about to put a pass rush on the offense and everyone in the house knows that, but, in fact, it doesn't mean that at all. According to the OED, to pin someone's ears back means:

1. Fig. to beat someone, especially about the head. (e.g. "Peyton said don't talk to me like that or I will pin your ears back!" or "Butkus wanted to pin back so-and-so's ears for making fun of him." Right.)
2. Fig. to give someone a good scolding (e.g. "Belichick pinned so-and-so's ears back after a botched play and then fired him a few days later.")Have no clue how rushing the passer fits into that phrase, but so be it.

The word "seldom" is an adverb. The word "seldomly" is not. Grammar notwithstanding, over time, certain sports phrases change for whatever reason. Perhaps, they changed because the game changed. For example, "fast break" changed into "transition"; a "screen" became a "ball screen"; and "a cross court pass" became a "skip pass" -- and it may be the latter, but it clearly isn't the former. As a matter of fact, once upon a time a few decades ago, if you threw a "skip pass" in a game you'd get your ass chewed out for doing something so patently stupid.

Because the English language is somewhat unimaginative for some people, rather than use the word "interesting" (a totally undescriptive word) as an adjective to clarify something in the "world of sports," sportscasters are now resorting to the word "intriguing." Of course, to pair the word with anything that deals with sports doesn't really make sense. No one would say that he finds a move by LeBron James or a pass by Tom Brady or a run by Adrian Peterson or a home run by Mike Trout, "intriguing." "Wow, that homer went almost 500 feet! How intriguing!" Even "interesting" is dull enough, but intriguing? Something that intrigues; something that forms secret plots or schemes, something that excites interest or curiosity; something fascinating. Would throwback uniforms be intriguing? Or a batter's stance? Or a pitcher's delivery? Or a wide receiver's catch? Or a goalie's stop?

But as long as we're going to use the word, what I've always found "intriguing" is the comment Bill Russell once made about blocking shots. Russell once said it wasn't a defensive maneuver, but an offensive one. Genius, pure genius. For Russell, it would have been patently ridiculous to block a shot out of bounds in order to give the opposing team another chance at scoring. Yet, it happens time and again at all levels. Do coaches recognize this failing? Isn't it patently obvious that it makes more sense to block the shot into one's own hands and start the offense with an outlet than to block the shot out of bounds and give the opposing team another opportunity to score? Am I missing something here? Hello? Yo, Bill... help me out.

By the way, after all the sports pundits spent hours and hours talking and analyzing about what might happen in the Super Bowl (though few if any include the tragic flaw of turnovers: six to be exact) and who might win, the odds that anyone is right is, well, 50-50 unless, perhaps, it was Paul the Octopus who was calling the victor. And even though the Vegas line was 5.5 towards the blue it obviously wasn't that close, but on the upside I figured I saved myself about $8000 (including $25 for a glass of wine, $13 for a standard beer, $7 for a bottle of water and $35 for a burger according to by watching one of the most boring Super Bowl games from the luxury box called "my couch." Go Vikings.