On sports cliches

On Thursday night, I wrote an email to my older sister, congratulating her and my brother-in-law on their huge 20 point victory at home against an important conference rival. “Whoa,” I said. “Whoa is right,” she replied. “It was a big win!”

In the middle of my second reply, I offered some heady post-game analysis of the college basketball game:

You pinned them to the mat and made them eat straw. But that’s what did them in.

You see.

I say you take that 210.5% intensity into the rest of the season and no team (well no team apart from those that put in 211%) will stop you. No team. You’ll be invincible. A superhero.

She replied, “Thanks for a tired morning laugh!!! Sent from my iPhone.” After I read this, it became clear to me that one of the keys to the game had been playing both halves in full.


Man, you don’t want to play them at home. They’ll eat you alive with their full court press. They’ll take you to school, then they’ll eat you for breakfast in the cafeteria. (After they pay for it.) Take you to the school of hard knocks. Damn. They’ll be all over you, and you won’t know what to do with yourself. You’ll be lost, verily, amid the existential wasteland. Damn.

Under pressure. Pressure pushing down on you. Down on you. Under pressure. Trill.


I see you’re wearing a Celtics jersey. Nice. I grew up near French Lick. Not far from there. I’m dating myself, aren’t I?


Do you believe in Magic? I sure do. When I was a sophomore in high school, I entitled a group of poems I remember dreaming dot dot dot and elmer glued Chris Webber onto the cover. My poems were about some very dark things. I can’t remember any of those very dark things, no doubt because they were so very dark, as dark as an obsidian eyeball…


Look at me. Don’t get complacent out there tonight. Don’t forget what we talked about all week. Right, the intangibles. Make her go left. Force her to go to her non-right. Success is measured in instants. You hear me?

Give me your all. I mean Your All. All the instants you gave me this week you give them back to her and then some. Pass them out. Blood, sweat, and tears. But remember to keep your cool.

And remember that good teams meet expectations; great teams exceed them; the best teams smash their skulls right fucking through them.


You have to believe in yourselves, that’s what it all boils down to, because if you don’t no one else will. And if you don’t believe in yourselves and no else else does, then how do you know that you, they, or anyone exists? And that thought’ll leave you high and dry.

To begin with, we’d do well not to commit ourselves yet to Error Theory so long as there are reasonable alternatives to our believing ourselves to be nothing but Brains in Vats. It seems to me that we are epistemically warranted in grounding the belief in our own existence on Wittgenstein’s argument in favor of public language, which is canvassed in Philosophical Investigations, nos. 244-271.

Now, supposing that Wittgenstein’s argument against the idea of a private language can be shown to work (and I think that it can), it would then follow that we could, with good reason, be motivated by the first-order desire to kick the other team’s ass. Now let’s go out and make that happen! Are you with me?

Whoop / clap clap / stomp stomp / stomp clap whoop.


Tonight, she really rose to the occasion. Bob. She stepped up. Her game. Well, to be honest, first I looked down the bench. Then I called her by her name and nodded just as surely as I was calling her name. Then, she tore off her warm-ups rather carefully and walked by me, doe-eyed, with the sweetness of lilacs on her breath…

First, that is, I put her in, then she stepped onto the court, which is to say, stepped into the game proper, and after that she stepped it up. Stepped up her game. On the court. Because you got to. The game of others, i.e., was stepped up less than the steps of hers which for all that were higher than theirs and, just because of that, all the more awesome. And once she stepped up (her game), she managed to stay up. Staying up past her bedtime, she absolutely killed it. Out there. On the court. Left it all on the court. And killed it, just killed it.


The momentum, which had hitherto been another’s but certainly not ours until very recently, is now mostly ours and scarcely theirs, and, going forward, we’ve no plans of giving that momentum, the momentum we’d fought so long and hard for, back to our erstwhile and oft-wistful competitors or to the anti-derivatives with their heads up their asses. (Humpf. And this from the horse’s mouth.) From here on out, the tidal wave (whoosh) is being ridden by us and not by anyone else. It’s our wave, after all, ours to do with as we please. In this season of migration across the northern frozen tundra, the channel is treacherous and the sea lies aflame but the tide, like bathwater, is high. This season, we’re on the up and up and we’re not gonna stop till we break into the glass ceiling with a thunderclap.


We’ve got to take it one game at a time. That’s the key, when you think about it. We’ve just got to–to–to just stay focused on the game plan Coach gave us… I thank God for everything. I give Him all the credit in the world for our being where we are today. I give all the credit to my teammates; I couldn’t have done this without them. There’s no credit I wouldn’t give someone else for everything I’ve been given except for the credit I occasionally give myself for giving credit to God and to my teammates. I mean it’s just such a blessing to work with these guys out there every night, night in and night out. (Good night, moon.) They’re like my family. They keep me sane… Mom and Dad, I love you all, and honey Daddy will see you very very soon.

Tear kiss sky dome.


Hands down the greatest moment in sports history has to be Bobby Knight’s game face parody. I kid you not. Twelve seconds of pure unadulterated glory. Watch, my friends, and be humbled.

2 thoughts on “On sports cliches

  1. The reference to Bull Durham is truly apt. I wasn’t thinking of that film when I wrote this piece, but the scene where Kevin Costner’s character is talking to Tim Robbin’s character about how to deal with the media is, once again, very vivid. KC is saying, “You can’t just spout your mouth off and say whatever you want or feel. You’ve gotta say boring stuff that will make you look sympathetic and that won’t get you into trouble. Here’s what you tell the media: ‘We’re just taking it one game at a time… Lucky break… Thank God.'”

    You have to remember that that film came out in the mid-80s. Somewhere around there. The lines were already cliched by then, but you can imagine that at some slightly earlier point in time minor leaguers had to actually *learn the script.* Had to have someone teach them these lines. It’s about survival, prudence, good marketing, and great PR.

    Not anymore, because it comes pre-packaged in the womb.

    Case in point: I’ve been loosely following this splashy splashy headline story in NYC about Jason Lin (“Linsanity,” as it’s been dubbed by the media). He’s had 4 games w/ over 20 points a piece. Total fluke, and the Knicks, battered and bruised and not very good this season, have won 4 straight games. Comparisons to Tim Tebow here…

    Anyway, you listen to Lin, who’s (what?) 23, and you know he’s grown up with these lines. I mean everything he says is just pitch perfect. Not just him. All the coaches, teammates, opposing players, owners who cut him… they’re all on script. Everyone’s following suit. But I mean: the script, for someone like Lin, *is reality*. In the highly mediatized world in which Lin’s grown up, he’s been listening to and watching ESPN all his life. No need for a consultant, a speech coach, or whatever. He’s got it all second nature.

    That’s what I also got from reading Sullivan’s book of essays, Pulphead. In one horrifying essay, Sullivan writes about the culture of Real World. I can still remember MTV being a novelty, and I can also recall watching the 1st season of the Real World on cable TV. That was in 1992, I believe. Now kids have grown up for 20 yrs. with the Slutty Southern Girl, the Handsome Country Rube, the Ambiguous Gay Man who’s part-Asian, part-African; a Smart but Torn Evangelical Christian Girl… The point Sullivan’s making is that things have ‘flipped’: the Real World doesn’t have any quote marks around it. Cliches all, of course, but cliches seemingly making up college students’ *long-lived reality.*

    What I find incredibly moving about the Bobby Knight clip (and I agree with my literary persona here) is that he seems to be standing, if only for a moment, out of the frame and asking, “So what the hell are we really up to here? Huh? I mean what the hell are we really doing?” I don’t know whether Knight knew what he was doing (maybe he was just pissed off that night: he always hated reporters, especially dumb ones, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his team lost big), but I’d like to think that it was–and I mean this in all sincerity–one of the greatest, most illuminating moments of Knight’s basketball career. For 12 sec, he became a genuine philosopher…

  2. Beautiful, Nancy, I’ll leave you with the final word. To do that is to put one of those white-gloved pointy fingers in this reply field [imagine it here]. That pointy figure would draw the reader’s eye up to your post where it would stay.

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