This Sunday, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will call the action for the last NFL game of this season. We’ll pause here for a moment while you sob quietly for a few minutes as you contemplate six long, football-free months.
Okay, cheer up. At least there is one very entertaining evening left in this season. And the Nantz-Simms duo, obviously CBS’s top team, will surely do a great job of adding to the excitement. However, one more football broadcast also means one last chance for players, coaches and analysts to dust off their most groan-inducing clichés. Some player in the postgame locker room will probably claim his team “wanted it more,” and if there’s a halftime interview with the coach get ready for him to say, “we have to do a better job of protecting the ball.” As for the broadcast itself, it’s pretty much just a matter of time until someone utters the words, “establish the run.”
Look, I don’t blame anybody involved. If I was a player or coach, I’m sure I’d make use of the same “one-play-at-a-time” clichés as everybody else. (Well, almost everybody else…I’ve noticed that, somehow, Ronde Barber never seems to fall back on the old sayings, which always makes his interviews more entertaining.) And there are certainly common adages by broadcasters that are common because there’s truth in him. Games are often won and lost by turnovers, for example.
That said, everybody has at least one cliché (adage, saying, maxim…whatever you want to call it) that makes them grind their teeth. I’m thinking of mine right now, and it’s already making me angry. So, just for the fun of it, let’s pretend that we have the power to keep one football cliché from ever being voiced again. What would be at the top of your list, Andrew?
Andrew Norton: Perhaps my selection for most hated cliché is actually a bit of a cliché itself. But “Defense wins Championships” really needs to go.
Sure, when the phrase was first uttered (scholars believe it to be roughly 1,400 years ago, though the exact date remains a mystery) it was relevant. But the meaning seems to have gotten a little foggy along the way. To me, “Defense wins Championships” is a lot like “Whoever score the most points is going to win this game.” It has become something of a cop-out. Yes, defense is very important, but does it really outweigh the offense? Not so much.
Since Superbowl XLI (41 for our non-Roman readers), we have seen four different Super Bowl champions who gave up more than 21 points per game in the regular season. Want to take stab at how many Super Bowl winners from I to XL gave up more than 21 points per game? One. The 1983 Oakland Raiders.
Then of course, you have the fact that 15 of the last 21 Super Bowl Champions had their offense more highly ranked than their defense when compared to the rest of the NFL. For instance, those 2006 Indianapolis Colts who walked away with the Lombardi Trophy with the nation’s 2nd-ranked offense and 28th-ranked defense.
Let’s take a look at last year’s Super Bowl. Not exactly a defensively-charged battle between the 31st ranked New England Patriots and 27th ranked New York Giants. The Giants gave up 400 points in the regular season.
Perhaps an analysis of the Championship game itself will help back this “Defense wins Championships” theory. I mean, the quote isn’t talking about the regular season, it’s talking about the big game! Well, since the 2000 season, each Super Bowl is averaging a total of 48.1 points per game. The lowest scoring game has 31 total points. The highest scoring game was ironically the 2002 Super Bowl between the Buccaneers (arguably one of the greatest defenses of all time) and the Raiders with a whopping 69 points. But of course, three of those touchdowns were courtesy of the Buccaneer defense.
So, basically what I’m trying to say is that, more than ever, offense is taking over importance. I know that I’ll have a few people in my ear if the NFL’s third-ranked 49er defense wins the Super Bowl this weekend, but I’ll put my money on Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore and company playing a significant role in that win as well.
Scott Smith: If I’m reading you right, your main gripe with this one is that it may have been true at one point, but it doesn’t seem to have nearly as much predictive value these days. I can get on board with that. Still, that particular one doesn’t hurt my head as much as it obviously does yours, so I’m going to go in another direction.
Let me paint a picture for you, and for paint I’ll use the blood that leaks from my ears whenever this happens: You’re watching a football game; your team is facing a third-and-nine; the quarterback drops back, scans the field and throws a pass to a receiver who is seven yards down the field; the receiver is tackled without advancing any further and your team has to punt. Now, this is not a particularly enjoyable scenario for you, but it’s pretty commonplace and easy to get past. Now, where this scenario heads into “boiling-rage” territory for me is when there is a person seated next to me and, as soon as the short pass is caught, he sanctimoniously bellows, “You can’t throw a seven-yard pass on third-and-nine! You have to throw it past the sticks! Why would he throw a short pass there?! Is our quarterback an idiot?!”
At this point, I should probably let you know that I have been the bloody-eared victim in this scene more times than I count. A former colleague was the worst defender, but you’ll hear professional announcers say the same thing on their broadcasts, too. What kills me is the underlying insult of the complaint: That somebody – be it the coach who called the play, the quarterback who chose his target or the receiver who ran the route – was not smart enough to realize that a 10-yard pass would be more effective on third-and-nine than a seven-yard pass.
Listen, if any of us even halfway-knowledgeable football fans would stop to think about it for a second, we would probably realize what leads to a five-yard pass on third-and-eight. A play is called that has up to five pass-catching options, and most likely several of those are sent on routes beyond the first-down line. The quarterback goes through his progression of reads, sees nobody remotely open downfield (yes, the defense knows that it’s third-and-nine, too, and pays special attention to the longer routes), and rather than forcing a potential interception or taking a sack, he dumps the ball off to the only open player, who is short of the marker. No, this play doesn’t work all the time, or probably even a majority of the time. But at least the quarterback is giving his team a chance. The pass-catcher could catch the ball and then pick up the remaining yards needed for the first down. Anyone recall a certain Ray Rice running through 240 Charger defenders to pick up a critical fourth-and-29 in November? Man, those Ravens must have had a terrible year, employing a quarterback who would be dumb enough to dump the ball off on fourth-and-29. What, Baltimore is in the Super Bowl? Oh.
So please, next time it’s third-and-nine and your quarterback completes a seven-yard pass, please don’t shout something disparaging about his mental capacity. It may have been his only viable option.
That’s why I never want to hear, “You’ve got to throw it past the sticks on third down!” ever again. Ever. Man, I know this is a hypothetical discussion, but is there any chance we could really make that happen? I would be willing to pay a handsome fee.
Andrew Norton: Valid point. As fun as it would be to disagree, I don’t feel like reading about you in the papers tomorrow. Rather than our regular arguments, I think we’ve turned this in to more of a conversation. A nice little break from the norm.
I guess, what it boils down to for me is that I despise when the blatantly obvious is spouted off by seemingly anyone on the football field who is handed a microphone.
“We’re taking it one game at a time.” – As opposed to neatly dividing your season into groupings of four?
“Seemed to be some miscommunication on that fumbled handoff.” – No, I think it was by design.
“We have to play the full 60 minutes.” – After researching this, I’ve found that 100% of all winning teams have in fact played the entire game.
“They need to take better care of that football.” – For real. Whoever keeps calling these interception plays needs to be fired.
Really the list goes on and on. So I’ll pass it back over to you.
Leave it all on the field.
Scott Smith: Leave it all on the field? Man, I’m going to turn it up a notch, because when it comes to Point/Counterpoint, I’m better than my record indicates.
Really, I don’t have much to add here, because your on-the-money list above makes it obvious how ingrained these cliches and adages and sayings and one-liners are in the world of sports. They aren’t going away.
So maybe I can do one tiny bit of good here, just make a little difference in the world and make all of our lives a little letter. Andrew, could you indulge me for just a moment and scroll up exactly 21 paragraphs to the one you began with “Since…?” Thank you. Now, do you see that word after “Since?” Yeah, that should actually be two words. I know you know this and it’s just a typo, because you have it written correctly a few paragraphs later. Still, you’ll have to be my unfortunate whipping bag as I speak to perhaps my number one pet peeve in all of NFL written language:
SUPER BOWL IS TWO WORDS!
That is all.