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Washington Voices

What’s football without jargon, nicknames?

We’re on jargon watch here in these pages, and some days it’s a challenge.

We love our sports jargon in this country – especially with football.

I personally think we’re only a few years away from listing it on our resumes. What languages do you speak fluently? English, Spanish and Football.

Sportswriting straddles the fence on jargon. It helps create jargon, but good writing habits demand we avoid its usage. I have regular conversations about the subject with Kimberly, one of our fine editors. One person’s jargon can be another’s detail. Is a phrase jargon, or is it part of the game’s color?

Kimberly likes to explain she’s not “into” sports. I enjoy our conversations and they encourage me to find better ways to describe the game.

But, Kimberly’s off this week and it’s time to discuss football jargon.

Jargon is confusing for fans coming to the game for the first time and non-sporting editors trying to swim upstream against a rising tide of sport-specific terminology.

Think about it: If you hear a group of people talking about clipping and sacking the quarterback, are they talking about football or bargain shopping at Fred Meyer?

“Icing the kicker” has nothing to do with cupcakes, but college football teams love to load up their preseason schedules with “cupcakes” (like when Oklahoma hosts an August game with Little Sisters of the Poor and wins, 96-3).

Animal metaphors such as underdogs, horse collars, flea flickers, pooch punts and bull rushes are enough to give you distemper, and don’t even start with the gun metaphors. Quarterbacks must have a “quick trigger” so they can “rifle” a pass downfield, especially when lined up in the “shotgun” or running the “pistol,” “red gun” or “run and shoot” offenses.

Position names can make a newbie’s head swim. Why, for example, is the quarterback paid so much more money than a fullback?

When you say “safety,” are you talking about the player or the play (in which a safety can indeed score a safety)?

Are Mike, Sam, Wil and Mo the linebackers’ first names?

Why must a cornerback be able to “play on an island” when he’s in the huddle with the rest of his teammates? For the love of Mike (not the linebacker), how can a back be “running downhill” on a flat field? And is it possible to “run to daylight” in a night game?

If your team’s dominant uniform color is green, like the New York Jets, can you only enter the red zone during the holidays?

If the “slot” receiver is covered by the “nickle” back, are we still talking about football or are we now discussing gambling at the local casino?

If the left offensive tackle covers the quarterback’s blind side, does he need a handicapped-parking sticker?

And if it takes 10 minutes to review the play, why do they still call it “instant replay”?

But let’s not confuse jargon with color. Football wouldn’t be football without colorful nicknames.

You can’t watch a Seattle Seahawks game without hearing the names “Beast Mode” and “Legion of Boom” thrown around. Names like that have been thrown around longer than the forward pass.

Shoot, in the early days they’d double up on the nicknames. Harold Edward Grange will forever be remembered as “Red” Grange, “The Galloping Ghost.”

It’s all part of the tradition. From the “Four Horsemen of Notre Dame” to the “Seven Blocks of Granite” at Fordham, from the “Fearsome Foursome” of the Los Angeles Rams to the “Purple People Eaters” of the Minnesota Vikings to the Legion of Boom, colorful nicknames are all part of the fun – as much as tailgating with chili and brats.

Quarterbacks, especially, are glorified with great nicknames. Texas Christian University gave us “Slingin’ ” Sammy Baugh, the Oakland Raiders gave us Daryle “The Mad Bomber” Lamonica and the Jets gave us “Broadway” Joe Namath. You can even tune into ESPN for analysis from Ron Jaworski, nicknamed “The Polish Rifle” when he played for the Philadelphia Eagles. And who could forget the great nickname of the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson: Russell Wilson!

In the end, Kimberly, you’re right to ignore the jargon.

We’ll just concentrate on the color.

Steve Christilaw is a longtime freelance sportswriter and reporter. He can be reached at steve.christilaw@


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