Sunday in the Super Bowl, millions of Americans will hear it seemingly millions of times: "He's wide open!" You will hear this whether he's wide open or not, since receivers described by announcers as wide open! are often tackled as they catch the ball. To announcers there seem two possible states for a receiver, covered or wide open! Greg Gumbel and Phil Simms of CBS, who have the call for the Super Bowl, are particularly bad on this verbal tic. During the Dolphins-Raiders playoff game, TMQ counted them shouting "wide open!" seven times in the first quarter alone.
Watch a game in person, and you'll see that receivers are almost never wide open! They're either man-covered with a slight edge on their pursuer or free for an instant in the seam of a zone, with hostile individuals bearing down on them. The wide open receiver occurs occasionally when there's a blown coverage. Announcers endlessly say wide open! both for hyperventilation and because they aren't taking in the full field. Rather, they're concentrating on the little TV-sized tetragon where the ball is—an edited perspective that artificially exaggerates the distance between receiver and defender. NFL passing attacks seek a slight footrace edge (in man coverage) or rapid delivery to anyone who finds a seam (in zone coverage). Even good offenses are lucky if, once a game, a receiver isn't covered at all. But in the announcer's world, every third pass goes to someone wide open!
Other annoying announcer tics:
- "It's a double reverse!" To TMQ's knowledge no actual double reverse was run in the NFL this season—a play in which there's a handoff in one direction, then a second handoff coming the other way, then a third handoff back to the original direction. NFL defenders are so fast that in the time it takes a double reverse to develop, players from games held the previous week will have closed on the ball carrier. What announcers call a "double reverse" is usually a reverse, and what announcers call a "reverse" is usually an end-around. A reverse requires a RB to take the ball going one way, then hand off to a WR coming back the other way. To eliminate the risk of a fumble when the running back makes a handoff, NFL teams now usually fake up the middle and have the QB perform the handoff to whoever's coming around. True, defensive players yell "REVERSE!" when they see this action, but only because it is cumbersome to yell "END-AROUND!" Announcers should use correct terminology.
- "He's giving 110 percent." TMQ would like to have the extra 10 percent from all those gentlemen who give more than is physically possible.
- "He's got athleticism." This phrase appears to mean "he is athletic" or perhaps refers to a disease.
- "Right now somebody needs to step up and make a play." Somebody always needs to make a play.
- "This is a bad time for a turnover." Precisely when is a good time?
- "He's taking it to another level." This appears to mean "he's playing better," if it means anything.
- "It's a zone blitz!" Terminology for the zone blitz is unsettled, but even so, announcers seriously overuse this phrase. Blitzing used to be premised on the idea that DBs would play tight man coverage to prevent the quick slants that are the standard blitz countermeasure. The drawback was the chance of giving up a long bomb. In a zone-blitz scheme, the DBs play zone, shutting off long passes but conceding the short completion while one unexpected player, usually a DL, drops off into slant coverage to create uncertainty in the quarterback's mind about whether it is safe to unload the ball. True, there's no simple way to say that. But we've reached the point that announcers cry "zone blitz!" anytime they see a LB cross the line. Many plays that announcers call a zone blitz actually have the customary four rushers and thus aren't blitzes at all, but zone-switching in which a LB rushes and a DL takes his coverage assignment, the goal being to create confusion among blockers. In the Giants-Vikings championship game, John Madden yelled "zone blitz!" once when only three rushed.
TMQ further objects to the "he could have _______" construction, as in, "If no one had tackled him, he could have gone all the way!" Many players who "could have gone all the way" have little chance of gaining more than 10 yards if you view the entire field, not the TV-tetragon which makes them appear to be alone. In the Vikings-Saints playoff game, as an interception clanged through the hands of New Orleans DB Alex Molden, announcer Dick Stockton shrieked, "If he'd caught that, he could have gone all the way!" Actually, as Molden made his break on the ball, he was headed out of bounds. He would have been fortunate to keep both feet in.
As you watch this Sunday's Super Bowl, TMQ suggests you keep a running tally of how many players are wide open, show athleticism, take it to another level, and could have done things.
Save the Best for Last: One interior drama of the Super Bowl is that in most cases the winner is the team that plays its best game of the year in the season's final contest. The Rams got their rings last January by the length of a football after playing what was clearly not their best game. But the Broncos had their best game of the year when winning the two previous Super Bowls. Almost every winner in the last decade or so (Dallas, Niners, Packers, Persons) saved its best game for last.
This is one of the factors that make coaching, psyche-up, and game plan far more important for the Super Bowl than for other games. Of the 68 teams that have taken the field in the 34 Super Bowls so far, 18 of them—26 percent—failed to score a touchdown. Though conference champions, they were pounded by someone better psyched and better prepared. The much-commented-upon frequency of Super Bowl blowouts is not, in most cases, caused by lack of talent by the losers but by poor preparation and the exposure of the losers' coaching. Great coaches spend the year building up to the Super Bowl as their team's best game. Average coaches treat the Super Bowl as "just another game," which is a formula for defeat.
And what of the teams that have their best game the week before the numeral event? Think of Atlanta, which two years ago played its best game of the season when it defeated Minnesota on the road in the NFC championship game, then went to the Super Bowl and honked. Think of Buffalo, which a decade ago beat the Raiders 51-3 in the AFC championship game, then went to Super Bowl against the Giants and dropped passes, missed tackles, and hooted the winning field goal. This consideration doesn't seem to bode well for Jersey/A since the Giants clearly played their best game of the year in the NFC title win against the Vikings. Then again, the Ravens clearly played their best game of the year the previous week against the Flaming Thumbtacks. Best-game reasoning therefore suggests that XXXV will go down to the wire.
Their Wrists Stung for Several Seconds: Last week's TMQ discussed how the Ravens got away with late, dirty hits on quarterbacks in two consecutive playoff games, knocking the QBs off the field and greatly enhancing the Ravens' chance of advancing. The NFL has now fined Ray Lewis $7,500 for his late hit on Titan Steve McNair and Tony Siragusa $10,000 for his late hit on Raider Rich Gannon. This must have caused open laughter in the Ravens' locker room. Not only are the sums meaningless compared to the players' pay ($4.7 million for Lewis this season, about $1.5 million for Siragusa), they're meaningless compared to playoff bonuses. Each Baltimore player got an extra $34,500 for winning the Titans game. Each will get an extra $34,500 to $58,000, depending on the Super Bowl outcome, for beating the Raiders. These bonuses are supplied by the league, which will soon be sending large checks to Lewis and Siragusa while expecting small checks in return.