Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

The Sounds of the Game

Posted on October 20, 2009 by Don Spieles
Steve Spurrier is one of many sports figures who are quick with the cliches when talking to the media.

Steve Spurrier is one of many sports figures who are quick with the cliches when talking to the media.

If you ask sports enthusiasts about “sounds”, you’ll receive a lot of different replies.  Baseball guys will talk about the crack of the bat or the ump shouting “strike” and pointing to…well, whatever it is umps point to when they yell “strike”.  Football fans may talk to you about the cacophony of a full stadium when the hometown leg man breaks some tackles and is on the way to a kick return TD.  Soccer fans might talk about the smacking sounds of fists hitting flesh as the hooligans enjoy a match.  I don’t know what basketball fans could mention, except for that incredibly annoying sneaker-on-the-court squeak that makes your fillings ache.

All of these responses leave out some of the most endearing sounds in sports.  These sounds are not those that are experienced by folks who actually pay to see game in person.  Instead, this group of auditory treasures is for those of us whose usual place is in front of the television or with one ear cocked to sport radio.  I am referring now to the wonderful world of sports catchphrases and clichés.

Some of the dumbest and wittiest lines ever spoken by man were done so with a sporting event as their inspiration, and there are many, many fine examples.

When our heroes are preparing for the contest, lines like “We just need to make sure we play our game.”  Good advice.  Imagine the embarrassment of walking out on the baseball diamond and playing someone else’s game, say for instance hockey.

Then there is, “We really have to take it to them.”  “We’re going to need to step up and make plays…,” is another favorite.  “We have to eliminate mental mistakes…”  Yes.  In fact, why don’t you go ahead and try to eliminate all mistakes?

Pregame commentary is full is wisdom, like “In order for the (fill in football team) to win, they have to score early, control the ball, and move the chains…”  If it’s baseball you’re getting ready for, rest assured that, “If the starting pitching can deliver, it will take a lot of the pressure off of the bullpen…” Sage-like wisdom, to be sure.

During the game, the wonderful announcers broaden our perspective and enjoyment where the games are concerned.  Try to imagine watching a professional sports match-up without announcers and “color” men.  It would be like, well, watching it in the stands.  Boring!

The announcers can let us know if the game is “…a nail biter…,” “…a battle of wills…,” “…a shootout…,” “…a see-saw match…,” or “…a barn-burner….”  Sometimes the announcers like to point out nuances like, “They’re playing with a sense of urgency!” (Note: This line is not used much in golf.) They let us know what players are “…having a whale of a game…,” “…a monster of a game…,” “…a career game…,” or if a player has been, in fact, “…the story of the game…”  They assist us in knowing where we are at in terms of the game.  It could be “crunch time,” or possibly “gut-check time.”  It might possibly be the point in the game where “…the men are separated from the boys…,” and the time where “…the clock is now their enemy.”

Like many broadcasters, Brent Musberger has a bag fool or one liners and cliches.

Like many broadcasters, Brent Musberger has a bag full of one liners and cliches.

Sometime there is even a little mix of science fiction in the announcing.  “If I’m Andy Reid, I’m looking for a fake right here…,” is right out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Stephen King fans will like lines like “I’m not sure where his head is at right now, but it isn’t here!”

Once the contest is finished, the entertainment has only begun.  We can hear, in post-game interviews, gems like, “We brought our A-game…”  Makes you wonder how many games they have and why anyone would ever have to bring say a “B” game, or heaven forbid an “Q” game.  The players and coaches let us know that they “feel fortunate to have won” or that they “came up a little short”.

The winners assure us that they will not “…rest on their laurels…,” but they may “…savor the victory….” The defeated players offer no excuses, only explanations, such as “We were not mentally prepared…,” “…penalties killed us…,” “…the ball didn’t bounce our way…,” or “…we lost our focus….”  In the end, they realize that “…you can’t point fingers…,” because, either way, “…it will be a long plane ride home…,” and “…we just have to put the loss behind us…”

If you miss the game, you can get your highlights on one of many TV stations or on sports radio.  They can tell us about the moment that “…changed the complexion of the game…”  They remind us that sometimes, “…the final score was not a true indication of the game…”  They use catchy phrases like “pick-six” (interception for a touchdown), refer to the ball as “the rock”, and walk us through each “salami” (grand slam) that we missed.

If the game is in the north west, we might talk about how the Mariners or Seahawks will be “Sleepless in Seattle”.  The Dolphins often show their “Miami Vice” and in the Phillies are always good for a “Philadelphia Experiment”.

In basketball highlight they note; “He shoots! He scores!” (as if there were any other way to do it.)  “He’s not into leather…” is announced then a receiver drops a pass or an outfielder tanks a fly ball, and we are told that “No one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills!”

Perhaps the most over “metaphored” occurrence in professional sports, however, has go to be the home run.  Here are a few favorites:

Medical: “The baby is due and Dr. [fill in batter’s last name] delivers”

Biblical: “Fill thine horn with oil then and go!”

Survivor Fans: “The ball has been voted off the island!”

Circle of Life: “Here it comes…and there it goes!”

Informational: “Dial 9 for long distance!”

Nostalgic: “It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing!”

Just the Facts, Ma’am: “It’s back.  It’s way back. “Not comin’ back.  Hit someone in the back.”

Animated: “That must be a Homer, Simpson, because the pitcher just said ‘D’oh!’”

Experiencing a game in the pure, unadulterated way of the ticket stubbing fan has a lot to be said for it.  But in today’s rough economy, and considering the ticket prices that seem to have been devised by a comedy script writer, why not stay home and immerse yourself in the jargon of sports.  Tomes could (and should) be written in the endless array of sound snacks that one can ear-munch when dealing with sports.

There, I just created one of my own.

Don Spieles is a regular contributor to Sports Then and Now.

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