Psychologist Publishes Long List of
Shopworn Sports Talk
DETROIT (AP) -- Don Powell has heard it all
before, and not necessarily in his day job as a psychologist.
The lifelong sports fan's memory is crammed with
any number of sportscasters describing "Cinderella stories,"
coaches speaking of "beating ourselves" and athletes "giving 110
Flying from Texas to Detroit a year ago with
nothing to read, a bored Powell began jotting down sports
cliches. By the time his plane touched down, he had 315 of them.
An obsession was born. So was a book.
Powell, president of the American Institute for
Preventive Medicine in Farmington Hills, eventually accumulated
more than 4,000 sports cliches. He winnowed the list down to
1,771 and then self-published "Best Sports Cliches Ever!" The
192-page paperback has been on sale since mid-September online,
through Amazon.com and in bookstores.
Powell says his interest in cliches, spoken and
written, goes back to his childhood in New York.
"Some things just captivate you," he said in a
recent telephone interview. "Going to these games, I was always
interested in these cliches that my dad or the fans around me
would use. I was intrigued by the fact that in just a few words
you can create something very visual."
For that reason, Powell said, cliches aren't
"It's like shorthand. It's a way of
communicating quickly," especially during real-time broadcasts
when the action is unfolding, he said. "We complain about them,
but we use them. ... You're trying to appeal to a large
audience. Cliches kind of help you bridge the gap between the
veteran (sports fan) and the rookie."
Powell once played out that scenario in Detroit.
"My friend and I went to a Lions game and we
talked entirely in cliches. We'd say things like "He really got
separation on that pass,"' which means the receiver got far
enough away from his defender to make an uncontested catch.
"And people around us started interjecting,
talking in cliches. Everybody had some. It's almost like a fan
club where there's a secret handshake among sports fans."
Powell acknowledges that many cliches have gone
bad by being left out in the open too long.
Respondents to his online poll (http://www.bestsportscliches.com)
said the most overused cliche was ""We're taking them one at a
time,' followed closely by "He's giving 110 percent.' And the
third one is, "This is as big as it gets,"' he said.
Powell said many sports figures' reliance on
cliches is the product of "a lack of creativity ... It's like
they're imprinted in your brain." At the same time, Powell said
-- slipping into cliche-speak of his own -- "They don't want to
create fodder for the other team's locker room. They try to keep
things under the radar screen."
Harry Atkins heard thousands of cliches uttered
by hundreds of athletes while working from 1979-2000 as Michigan
sports editor for The Associated Press.
"Alan Trammell comes quickly to mind," Atkins
said of the longtime Detroit shortstop who is heading into his
third season as Tigers manager. "Because Alan is such a good
guy, but also a shy guy. He grew up with television, so that's
what he heard and it was easy for him ... Tram spoke in cliches
Football was a prolific source of cliche-speak,
said Atkins, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame.
"In the early days most Michigan players who
were associated with (football coach) Bo (Schembechler) would
say they were "jacked up.' They were never "fired up.' They were
Former Michigan State football coach George
Perles "was good for a ton of those things," Atkins said. ""One
game at a time' was huge."
Indeed, Powell's book lists more
football-related catch phrases than any other sport, and his
nominee as the most prolific cliche generator is "Monday Night
Football" analyst John Madden. But, he adds: "You cannot
describe sports without cliches. If you banned Madden's cliches,
there'd be a lot of dead air."
Sports cliches ultimately do what the sight of a
classic car or the sound of a now-graying rock band can do,
"The concept of familiarity breeds
comfort ... to remind us of a time in our youth when we were
stress-free," he said. "The same comfort comes from words."