Flamboyant sportscaster Dick Vitale returns to television this week to call the Duke-North Carolina basketball game. And, to my surprise, I’m actually looking forward to it. There is plenty to criticize, as a person who loathes clichés, listening to Vitale’s often-inane commentary. But watching the college season progress, I have somehow missed his irrational catchphrases, such as “dipsy-do-dunk-a-roo.” I’m beginning think I misjudged Vitale. After all, he doesn’t have a monopoly on sports sayings that make little sense.
At sportscenteralter.com, a Web site that actually catalogs catchphrases from ESPN’s SportsCenter, it’s clear that broadcasters’ descriptions have evolved since the legendary Jim McKay began each “ABC Wide World of Sports” episode with the timeless: “The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.” Now, it seems, broadcasters strive to be creative at the expense of coherence.
A few gems from the catalog:
“He gave up the cigarettes, but he’s still smokin’!” – John Anderson
“I’m busting open some white meat! Gonna move some furniture!” – Stuart Scott
And, my favorite: “I’m not sure what the pitch is, but it tastes like chicken.” – Kenny Mayne
Each phrase is catchier than the last, but deciphering what they mean goes against everything I thought journalists adhered by: that descriptions should be clear. That, at least in the sports world, is no longer the case. Gone are the days of Al Michaels, when the U.S. hockey team upset the Russians in the 1988 winter Olympics, bellowing, “Do you believe in miracles?”
Today, the upset would be described in much more color, even though it wouldn’t need to be. Yet that’s what sports fans, like myself, now expect and that’s why I miss Vitale. His descriptions of young basketball players as “diaper dandies” and three-pointers as “trifectas” are now banked on. A simple Keith Jackson “Whoa Nellie!” won’t cut it.
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