Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
MIAMI – Whether it’s giving 110 percent or taking it one game at a time, you’ve always got to remember it is what it is.
In other words, the formula for winning the game before the game is simple: Bring on the clichés!
Notre Dame and Alabama are already winners in that regard, spending the days leading up to the BCS championship talking about a lot of things, all while trying not to say much of anything.
“If you can stick to a script that’s already written, it makes things a lot easier,” Notre Dame offensive lineman Mike Golic Jr. said Saturday. “I have an arsenal of clichés always ready. It’s really helped me out so far.”
With both teams – every player and coach – turning out for media day at Sun Life Stadium, the familiar phrases were flowing freely.
Lingering around the podium of Kapron Lewis-Moore, the Fighting Irish’s personable defensive lineman, it didn’t take long to get a rat-tat-tat-tat of banal buzzwords.
“To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.”
“We know it’s going to be a four-quarter battle.”
“You can’t take anything for granted.”
For players trying to sound coherent about their subject matter while avoiding the pitfalls of blurting out something contentious, clichés are like a warm, comforting dish whipped up by your mother. They make everything OK.
Plus, they aren’t going to be the least bit offensive to the other team because, chances are, they are saying most of the same things.
“You don’t want to be that guy who gives out bulletin-board material,” Lewis-Moore said.
Alabama coach Nick Saban – who, if we’re doling out clichés, certainly would qualify as a control freak – doesn’t take any chances when it comes to making sure his team puts out what he describes as a “positive” message.
If others want to call it bland, well, so be it.
Saban bars freshmen and assistant coaches from talking to the media during the season, an edict he was forced to lift this week because of the BCS mandate that everyone is available at least once before Monday night’s championship game.
Reporters who have covered the Crimson Tide for more than four months on its way to the title game were thrilled to hear finally from defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, one of the nation’s hottest head coaching prospects, and freshman stars T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper.
Not that anyone went off script.
“We just go out there and play and have fun,” said Yeldon, guarding every word like it was a matter of national security.
That’s just the way Saban likes it. Before each season, he brings in public speaking experts to meet with the players. The football media relations staff, headed by Jeff Purinton, carries on the training even after the games begin.
“It’s more of a style of answering questions and how to effectively answer questions,” said All-American center Barrett Jones, “without saying anything you don’t want to say.”
Saban takes no chances with his first-year players, still mindful of an episode from his long-ago tenure at Michigan State. In 1998, receiver Plaxico Burress made some inflammatory comments before a game against rival Michigan, and the coach has no doubt that contributed to the Spartans losing.
The freshmen now are muzzled, at least until they can be trained to deal with the media.
“How to get interviewed. Things to say. How to have messages that you want to get out and how to bridge to those messages. Where to look when you talk. Things like that,” Saban said. “Things that actually makes them look better and certainly are a better reflection on them, their family and the entire organization.”
While clichés, per se, aren’t part of the training, they are certainly a go-to weapon (pardon the cliché) when there’s a camera or recorder right in front of your face.
In fact, experts such as Abbie S. Fink, vice president and general manager of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix, rely on the classic baseball movie “Bull Durham” as part of their training seminars. She will start out showing clients how a hot young pitching prospect, played by Tim Robbins, conducts himself in his first interview (not good), followed by a scene where his aging catcher (Kevin Costner) explains the power of saying nothing.
“You’re going to have to learn your clichés,” Costner says on a bus ride between towns. “You’re gonna have to study them; you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends.”
He hands Robbins a pen and tells him to write down what he says.
“We’ve got to play ’em one day at a time,” Costner says.
“That’s pretty boring, ain’t it?” he says.
“Of course it’s boring!” Costner says back. “That’s the point. Write it down.”
By the end of the movie, Robbins sounds downright articulate while spewing one cliché after another.
“That’s what athletes do,” Fink said. “Basically every interview, in one way or another, sounds like that.”
While clichés permeate every aspect of life, from business to education to the legal community, sports is where they really thrive – football, in particular. Coaches are downright paranoid about letting out too much information, and they try to pass on that mind-set to the players.
When in doubt (or even scared) about what to say, one tends to fall back on the familiar.
“Something is very comforting when you’ve heard it over and over and over,” said Don Powell, a psychologist and lifelong sports fan who calls himself “Dr. Cliché.” He has a database with nearly 5,000 entries and has put the best of the bunch in a book, “Best Sports Clichés Ever! We’re Taking Them One at a Time.”
“They’re trite, but they’re usually true. They do make a lot of sense. That’s why we tend to use them over and over,” Powell said. “They’re also a very efficient form of communication, a way to express something simply that may be a little more complex in nature. ... You don’t have to use many words when using a cliche. They’re very visual and hit the nail right on the head.”
With yet another cliche out of the way, let’s get down to business.
There’s a game to be played (remember, only one).
There’s 110 percent to give (good luck finding that last 10 percent).