Perhaps it was Al McGuire, the legendary college basketball coach at Marquette, who started the entire trend of fracturing the English language while working as a color analyst on television.
McGuire was a former New York City bartender who went on to coach Marquette to the national championship in 1977. It was his final game as a coach. He later tried broadcasting as part of a wildly popular three-man crew, calling games with Dick Enberg and Billy Packer for NBC.
McGuire spoke like a bartender. He gave basketball its own lingo, before Dick Vitale yelled “he’s a diaper dandy,” into a microphone for the first time. McGuire had his own basketball language and clichés. Though they would make an English teacher shudder, McGuire’s words and definitions somehow worked, perhaps because he was an original.
For McGuire, a cupcake was an overmatched opponent, an aircraft carrier was a dominant big man, a nose-bleeder was a guy who could outjump his opponents and Dunkirk was a blowout.
Turn on any college basketball game today, and it seems every announcer has to out-McGuire the next, babbling silly phrases that make no sense.
This year’s trendy announcer babble is “score the basketball.” I guess you no longer score points. Instead, as CBS’ Greg Anthony and ESPN’s Jason Williams say at every opportunity, teams or players “can really score the basketball.”
What else would a player score? Do teams get four points if a player throws his tank top through the basket? Six points for a coach’s clipboard?
Basketball is not the only sport with announcers who have abandoned easy-to-understand terms for new-age gibberish. In football, a simple out pattern has become a “back-shoulder throw,” and a quarterback who scrambles is said to be “extending the play.” A running back no longer fumbles, he “puts the ball on the ground.” A receiver doesn’t make a leaping catch, he either “high-points the ball” or “makes a play.” A player who is often injured “has trouble staying on the field,” and defensive backs don’t knock down passes, they “elevate.”
• College basketball fans are informed at least eight times every game that play has been stopped for a media timeout, like a sportswriter with a tiny bladder is in need of an emergency potty break. There has never been a sportswriter working on deadline who thought a timeout was a good idea. Can we call these timeouts what they really are – advertiser timeouts.
• College basketball officials are permitted this year to use video to review calls in the final two minutes of a game. And they’ve been taking every opportunity to do so in the NCAA tournament?
I guess blown calls by officials in the first 38 minutes of a game don’t matter. If they did, officials would be allowed to review a call at any point in the game, not just in the final two minutes.
Why do calls in the last two minutes have to be right, but not ones in the first 38 minutes? How is a bad call with 47 seconds remaining worse than one early in the first half?
Rules that apply only to certain points in the game are rarely good ideas.
• There’s nothing more boring for a fan than watching officials stand around a monitor.
• Because of timeouts and video reviews, it took San Diego State and New Mexico State 11 minutes to play the final 61 seconds of regulation in the second round Thursday night.
And they say baseball is a slow game.
Sports editor Chris Dugan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.