The world of pro football "punditry" has a language all its own. Whether it is Michael Irvin ranting about "The U" or the indecipherable clucks and whistles of Schlereth-ese (the foreign language spoken by Mark Schlereth that only "football players" understand), the inability of football talking heads to communicate in English has been well documented here in the seedy underworld of online gridiron analysis.
But no matter how proficient a commentator gets in the art of speaking without saying anything, they have an old, trustworthy friend that they can fall back on should things get a little out of control on the set. That old friend is known as the "Football Player" Safety Net.
If someone poses the question – what makes Player X great? – and the analyst can't come up with a reasonable answer, they always reach for this trusted safety net: Player X is great because he's a "football player." Doesn't say much, but it seems to do the trick.
Witness Steve Young on Drew Bledsoe this week:
"He's a gamer. He's played a really long time. Say what you want about Drew Bledsoe, but he plays football."
Or Schlereth last year describing Tedy Bruschi:
"He's a football player. He wants to play football."
Or Darren Woodson on Terrell Owens:
"He wants to play football. He's a football player. He's always been a football player."
What does that mean? Does he play football well? Is he better than other football players? Didn't the pads and helmet indicate to even the most uneducated sports fan that he was, in fact, a football player?
Well, that's the tricky part.
Most of the time the ex-player-turned-studio-hosts will rely on intimidation to justify their description. If you don't understand what it means to describe someone as a "football player," it's because you are a lazy, TV-obsessed slob who wasn't talented or dedicated enough to play the sport and thus you will never be able to fully comprehend its meaning. The gridiron simpletons at home – that would be you people – are left to assume that being labeled a "football player" equals some mixture of intangibles that the non-NFL population can't even begin to wrap their feeble little minds around.
During last year's NFL draft, ESPN's Young gave what is believed to be the only documented attempt to define the term "football player" to viewers at home:
"Jay Cutler is the top quarterback because of the fact that he is the best football player. (San Francisco coach) Mike Nolan just a minute ago came down and I talked to him and he said the same thing: Jay Cutler is a football player in the locker room.
"And what do I mean by that? Football players know each other. All the people, the GMs and everybody can talk about how he can throw and what he can do. Football players understand that he is a guy who can be tough and versatile and can make every throw on the field ... More than any other player on the board, Jay Cutler is going to come in and be a football player and a great quarterback."
So as you can see, Young doesn't have any clue how to explain it either.
A logical, thinking person might assume that, if a "football player" truly is something that can't be explained, and is only understood in the locker room, maybe we should do some more research and find other ways to express what makes this player special, since the goal of a professional communicator is to communicate to the television audience.
But not the pigskin "pundit." They'll chug along dropping their favorite buzzword whenever they have nothing legitimate to say. And the people at home will be left to figure out what in the hell they are talking about. Like the Ohio State-Michigan game or Peyton Manning's annual postseason collapse, it's becoming one of football's most dependable traditions.
"That's why he's a Pro Bowler – he's a stand up guy." – Sean Salisbury on Marco Rivera
Skills are far outweighed by character according to Senor Angry. Not surprisingly, Salisbury never played in the Pro Bowl.
"He's a swashbuckler." – Young on Rex Grossman
Ladies and Gentlemen: Steve Young presents the synonym for gunslinger.
"He's a gunslinger." – Joe Theismann on Grossman
"You get the feeling that Denny Green has (the Cardinals) pointing in the right direction."
– Theismann during Arizona's Week 6 loss to the Bears.
If a 1-6 record (0-4 versus quality opponents
) – with the 24th-ranked defense according to the Cold, Hard Football Facts Bendability Index
– isn't a sure sign that things are pointed in the right direction, what is these days?
"The Rams are plucky, gutty and pretty darned good. And not very lucky." – Peter King, SI.com
The Rams got a gift fourth-quarter fumble from Kurt Warner in their win over 1-6 Arizona and a predictable Brett Favre fumble to beat 2-4 Green Bay. They eked out a last-minute, come-from behind win over 1-6 Detroit and beat a very good Denver team in Week 1 without scoring a single TD. They also have a 4-2 record and a mere +11 point differential with a schedule that has featured just two quality opponents
. But they're not at all lucky. They're all pluck and guts.
"I think Shawne Merriman must be an idiot to think you can use performance-enhancing stuff and get away with it." – King, SI.com
Because clearly that would be naïve, right? Nobody in the NFL uses performance-enhancing drugs.
"Peyton Manning bashers wonder why we make so much of the guy, and I'll tell you. It's not the four touchdown passes against Washington or the three against Houston. It's his record when it matters most. On third downs, Manning has 10 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Nobody is even close." – Clark Judge, CBS.sportsline.com
While TD passes against lousy teams and third-down conversions early in the season are certainly important, some Peyton Manning critics also consider the playoffs part of his "record when it matters most." In these games, Manning's Colts are just 3-6 and have scored an Oaklandesque 11.3 PPG in their six losses.
Pigskin Detention Award for Most Random Halftime Entertainment
Last Monday, ESPN went with the world premiere of the new Jay-Z video as part of its halftime "show." Why? Well, because clearly Jay-Z videos appeal to all football fans across the country.
Hey, if it means less face time for Chris "Rumbling Bumbling Stumbling" Berman, we're all for it.
Random Stats of the Week
4,534 – Times Ed Werder has reported that "I spoke with Terrell Owens..."
5 – Undefeated weeks before a Bears team is automatically compared to the 1985 version
6 – Quarterbacks who have sucked under Brian Billick
2 – Quarters Tony Romo will last if the Cowboys offensive line plays like it did against the Giants
14 – Over/under on days before Denny Green gets canned
1.3 – Seconds it will take Sean Salisbury to beat John Clayton senseless once their obvious personal hatred final spills over into some in-studio fisticuffs
Chris Berman loves him some Chris Berman
From Chris Berman in Bristol: "Da Bears are un-da-feated!"
You've still got it after all these years, Boomer.