(The Blog)

And now for a few words about words (and many other things)...

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Entries in football (3)


In football, as in life...

Here's just one more reason that I'm proud of my alma mater—and, of course, its football team. After a Rose Bowl championship, Stanford is planning on "using vocabulary to win a national title." Yes, words matter.

PALO ALTO, Calif. – When David Shaw and his assistant coaches go out in search of football recruits capable of playing for Stanford, the list of necessary attributes is long.

Superior academics are mandatory for admission and success at the elite university. Great athletic ability, strength and speed are a necessity to play for the reigning Pac-12 champions. Character, leadership and motivation are highly valued intangibles. 

And then there is something unique Stanford coaches evaluate when meeting with a prospect, something that few would think predicts football success.

"Vocabulary," Shaw said.


"Yes, you look for vocabulary," he said. "Can this kid express himself in a way that befits a Stanford man?

"Does that correlate to football? I say, yes, absolutely. [We seek] a young man that has the confidence to stand up in front of you and express himself as opposed to what a lot of young kids do today – they don't give you eye contact, they kind of mumble when they talk to adults. 

"You walk around and talk to our kids, they look you in the eye," Shaw continued. "And we play that way. We are going to play right at you, in your face, 'Here is who we are, here is how we play.' There is a one-to-one correlation. There is no doubt about it to me. The inability to be intimidated by a person or a situation is something that is significant."


Words, Football, Nuclear War, and the Delightful Rediscovery of Don DeLillo

If you're like me, you've found two ways to consistently and satisfyingly occupy a fall Sunday:

  1. Exploring the vagaries of the English language, particularly in terms of its evolution in literature and daily use in society
  2. Watching football

These, of course, are not as unrelated as they may at first seem. Anyone with a working knowledge of English who also watches sports on TV with the sound turned up, can derive hours of frustration* from the constant recycling of phrases that don’t really mean what they are intended to mean and the use of qualifiers such as “obviously” and “literally” for situations that are anything but. (For example, “adversity” is not necessarily “a state of hardship or affliction” or “a calamitous event;” it is facing third-and-long, down by four, with only three minutes to go.)

*Or joy. Fortunately, someone has gone to the trouble of creating a searchable sports cliché database. If you're a sports fan who somehow also enjoys seeing the language abused, it's worth a lookthough you may not derive as many minutes of meaningless fun from it as I did.

That said, I love many of the words that certain gifted writers use when writing about sports and even the language of sports. I have, for example, been a longtime devotee of sportswriter/author Joe Posnanski, from his (relatively recent) days at the Kansas City Star onto his current stint as a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, where he recently touched on the fact that “football has an argot all its own.” And while I have never before taken book recommendations from the SI letters section, this suggestion from a Mr. Robert Kelley of Iowa City, IA, caught my attention:

Fans of Posnanski's column might want to consult Don DeLillo's 1972 novel, End Zone, which dramatizes the complicated relationship between ordinary language and football jargon.

This intrigued me, because I have long considered my inability to connect with DeLillo’s prose to be a personal failing. I mean, how, when a friend first pushed a copy of it on me in college, could I possibly have not liked White Noise?*

*Here’s how: I didn’t.

But maybe I had not eased myself in. After all, as I was to find out, End Zone, DeLillo’s second novel, would come to be considered his “most accessible,” in which he tries out some of the themes that would dominate his later works, but with a—for me—more enjoyable, disturbingly comic approach.

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Intelligible player downfield...

Thankfully, now that the NFL lockout is over, we can get back to hearing SAT words being used properly and effectively. At least in certain cases. Today, there's this dispatch, on new Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Nnamdi Asomugha, from the Reading Eagle:*

"There was a market out there with numbers that the media assumed I wanted," Asomugha said. " It's funny, you know, you don't pay as much attention to it because everything happened so fast, but you heard the apocryphal stories about the things that I'm expecting as far as numbers."

Apocryphal. I had to check my tape recorder to make sure that's what he said. Then I looked it up to make sure again.

A star on the field, his vocabulary is apparently at an All-Pro level, too.

*I know, I know. For the record, that's the Reading Eagle, a newspaper from the town in Pennsylvania, not the "reading Eagle," as in "a Philadelphia pro football player who can see and comprehend written material"—though either, ahem, reading would be perfectly understandable here.

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