There’s an old baseball legend about a hitter who takes a called third strike. He’s so upset with the umpire that he takes his bat and gives it a mighty heave into the stratosphere. The ump gazes up at the soaring object and says, “Son, if that bat ever comes down you’re out of the game.”
That was probably the way most people felt Saturday as they watched Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco’s last-gasp pass arch high and deep into the Denver Broncos’ secondary. You had a sense it would come down sooner or later, but there was no guarantee.
For the Denver Broncos, this was the home field disadvantage; if that pass had been thrown at sea level, it loses a yard or two of distance and is knocked harmlessly to the ground. Instead, it barely clears the defender’s fingertips and lands in the arms of Ravens receiver Jacoby Jones to send the game into overtime.
But this has been a year of disappointments in the NFL, including: Replacement referees (except in Saturday’s game, where the regular umpiring crew made the replacement refs look like Mission Control); the Pittsburgh Steelers’ prison-inmate uniforms; and those cockamamie striped, pompom stocking caps that make big, tough football players look like Dr. Seuss characters.
Now add this to that list: The fantastic Flacco-Jones play was awarded no iconic, sports-related nickname by the print media.
No “The Catch,” a la Dwight Clark. No “The Drive,” courtesy of John Elway. No “Hail Mary” (Staubach-Pearson), Immaculate Reception (Franco Harris) or Music City Miracle (Tennessee Titans). All were assigned memorable sobriquets that immortalized these moments in sporting history.
The “Flacco Fling” was the closest thing to a neologism that print sportswriters were able to come up with, and it fell to TV’s Chris Berman to offer up “The Rocky Mountain Rainbow,” which I admit is pretty good. But what of the purple-fingered, typewriting legions of yore, who gave us Thrilla in Manila, the Shot Heard Round the World and other grammatical atrocities that eventually became mainstream.
What in the name of Shirley Povich has the newspaper industry become if we cannot immortalize spectacular play with memorable phraseology?
Yes, as you come to understand that I am right, I can hear you all now, standing and saying with one voice: “Who’s Shirley Povich?”
I can also hear you saying, “With all the problems we have in the world today, what does it matter if the sports world falls behind in minting new clichés?”
Well, it matters because sportswriters are in danger of getting lapped by weather forecasters. This has become the Golden Age of Weather Nicknaming: Stormageddon, Snowpocalypse, Perfect Storm, Storm of the Century.
Weather forecasters have even taken to naming winter storms, much in the way that hurricanes are named. This has touched off horrid, nerdy infighting between The Weather Channel, which likes to name winter storms, and the National Weather Service, which doesn’t.
As for the sportswriters, by Sunday afternoon they were trying to rebound. Except — and this is what I hate about the digital age — writers weren’t coming up with their own nicknames, they were turning it into an inane “send me your suggestions and I’ll put them on my blog” gooberfest.
Although my favorite name for the Flacco pass did indeed come from the unwashed masses. One guy suggested it be called “The Immaculate Lack of Denver Defense.”
Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.