Football phrases fascinating

November 28, 2011
  • Tim Rowland
Tim Rowland

Editor’s note: Tim Rowland is off this week. Below is one of his previously published columns that ran in the Herald-Mail on Jan. 19, 2010.

My favorite thing to do is to watch commercials for muddy pickup trucks and previews of shows with lots of explosions in them.

This is the main reason I tune in to football games.

But I also watch to track the evolving landscape of football cliches, which fascinate me for some reason.

Some, such as “stretch the chains,” fall into the cliche dustbin of time and are never heard from again. Others become so ingrained that we no longer even think of them as cliches.

No team ever punts anymore, but they do find themselves in “punting situations.” And if that punt goes out of bounds at the 15-yard line, the other team is always “pinned inside the 20.”

This would be referred to as a “directional punt,” as if some punts have no direction at all, but just hover forever in space 3 feet above the punter's leg.

At some point, announcers got tired of saying that the ball was short of the first down and, in a cliche innovation for the ages, began to say it was “shy” of the first down. Then, of course, they took it the next step and started saying that the runner “came up shy.” Nothing that a little counseling wouldn’t fix.

Of course, the king of them all is “make a play.” Somebody’s gotta step up and make a play. We just need to get out there and make some plays.

“Make a play” is the new “it is what it is,” which ruled for two years from 2006 to 2008.

Make a play is what happens when a defense “flies to the ball” (which has largely taken the place of a “swarming defense”) or when a defensive back “jumps the route” (route in this case always rhyming with pout).

A receiver can prevent a defender from jumping the route if he “gets separation” from the defender, in which case, he will catch the pass unless the quarterback “puts too much air under the ball.” This might or might not be superior to a quarterback who “didn't put enough air under the ball.” Definitely preferable to both is the quarterback who just “lays it in there.”

The play will stand unless there is “laundry on the field,” an admittedly dying cliche that indicates a penalty. Likewise, I thought a defensive lineman who “pins his ears back” and rushes the passer was extinct, but I did hear that one used this weekend, so there might be hope.

Football moves the language forward, and I would challenge anyone who claims otherwise. For example, it is a bother to use separate verbs, adjectives and adverbs; it is far more efficient to roll them all into one, which football does with words like “escapability” and “physicalityness.”

These would be the equivalent, one supposes, of fastability and strengthicalness.

Near the end of the game, the team with the most winability will likely be ahead, at which point it will want to “take the air out of the ball,” which takes over for the tired old practice of “milking the clock.”

In this case, the running back will “get a lot of touches,” and the losing team will be forced to “burn a time out.”

They do this to “buy more time” in hopes that the back will at some point “lose the handle” and “cough up” the football because he didn't “wrap it up.”

Alas, our team’s hopes for a comeback are dashed on a last-minute field goal attempt (we have yet to evolve to the point of a “field goal situation,” but you know it’s coming) because the kicker, “who usually is automatic,” “didn’t get enough leg into it.”

Game over.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at Tune in to the Rowland Rant on, on or on Antietam Cable’s WCL-TV Channel 30 at 6:30 p.m. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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