This week, take it one cliche at a time

July 13, 2006|By MILTON KENT | MILTON KENT,SUN REPORTER

It was New Year's Day 1998, a day for new beginnings, when Mike Hasselbeck and his brother and his uncle all got on the same page while watching the Rose Bowl, the granddaddy of them all.

Hasselbeck and his posse took their thinking outside the box by noticing how often Keith Jackson and Bob Griese, the ABC announcers, invoked well-known expressions during the telecast.

Soon enough, Hasselbeck started compiling a list of the cliches. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that he could go for the gold, hit pay dirt and touch 'em all by creating a Web site of all the hoary phrases and expressions that sizzle through the sports consciousness like a hot knife through butter.

Today, Hasselbeck's site, www.sportscliche.com, is home to all those idioms and more.

Now, if you're Mike Hasselbeck, an electrical engineer from New Mexico with a doctorate to boot, and you have time on your hands, the question you have to ask yourself is: Why collect this useless information?

"That would be a relevant question if we were talking about something that had any kind of logical relevance in the world. It really probably doesn't," Hasselbeck said.

That would be true in any other week but this one, which has officially been declared Sports Cliche Week, the week to keep your head in the game, which is what France's Zinedine Zidane probably took to an extreme during Sunday's World Cup final.

It's a week to get locked in, as Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard said he was doing during Monday night's Home Run Derby in Pittsburgh. It's a week to look forward to making them "when it counts" as Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury pledged when she didn't make it out of the first round of the WNBA's All-Star three-point shootout Tuesday in New York.

"If cliches are used all the time in everyday life, it makes sense that we have a week devoted to them," said Don Powell, a Farmington Hills, Mich.-based psychologist.

Powell, who runs the American Institute for Preventive Medicine, has collected nearly 1,800 sports cliches for his self-published book Best Sports Cliches Ever! and said they serve a noble purpose.

"Cliches take you back to a point in time when life was simpler and we were taken care of by parents," said Powell, who has a Web site, www.bestsportscliches.com. "We didn't have to worry about terrorism or the economy. There's a psychological expression that familiarity breeds comfort. Just as you have comfort foods, I think you have comfort expressions. Sports cliches serve that purpose of bringing us back to a point in time in life that was simpler and easy. They make us feel good."

Powell said the highway between sports cliches and the general vernacular goes two ways, as the athletic realm has borrowed from the outside world ("beat them at the point of attack"; "he did his homework"; "they got nickled and dimed") and vice versa ("Bush and Kerry took off the gloves"; "Congress has swung for the fences with the immigration bill"; "the legislation is a slam dunk").

Indeed, sports cliches were so commonplace that few people probably paid attention to them until the brilliant scene in writer-director Ron Shelton's baseball film Bull Durham, in which Kevin Costner's world-weary catcher character, Crash Davis, schools Tim Robbins' lunkheaded Nuke LaLoosh on how to succeed in The Show.

Crash: "It's time you started working on your interviews."

Nuke: "What do I gotta do?"

Crash: "Learn your cliches. Study them. Know them. They're your friends."

Crash eventually would teach Nuke three of the most important cliches, namely, "We gotta play 'em one day at a time"; "I'm just happy to be here and hope I can help the ballclub"; and, of course, "I just want to give it my best shot and, good Lord willing, things'll work out."

The one phrase that Crash didn't teach Nuke was perhaps the best-known sports cliche, "I'm going to give 110 percent," a phrase Powell said was first attributed to Pete Rose in a 1968 Esquire magazine profile.

But, just like Yogi Berra's axiom that a New York restaurant had gotten so popular that nobody went there anymore, the "110 percent" cliche has become so overused, no one goes there anymore.

"It's just so silly, the fact that you can't give more than the maximum available," said Hasselbeck, who said the phrase has been retired to the Hall of Fame on his Web site. "People are painfully aware that it's a lazy use of language. It was a cliche that got worn to the basement of oblivion by its overuse. It's definitely out to pasture."

Thankfully, for writers, broadcasters, players and coaches, a new phrase has emerged as the go-to phrase of choice.

"`Stepping it up' is definitely the new hot phrase," Hasselbeck said. "Everybody is saying it."

All of which proves that if you want to be an impact player and you want to take your cliche game to the next level, you definitely have to step up your game.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

Coming up big

During Sports Cliche Week, selected sports cliches as culled from the Web site www.sportscliche.com, with commentary:

He's some kind of player. (When we find out what kind, we'll let you know.)

He makes the players around him better. (Because they look so good in comparison.)

You can't teach that. (Why? None of the players would listen.)

They have to circle the wagons. (Will the NCAA still allow you to say that?)

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