Page 2 columnist
Sick of the endless streams of trash talk?
Tired of all the chest-bumping, upper-torso wiggling, smack-talk bragging that seems to accompany every ordinary eight-yard first-down catch, every simple leg tackle, every measly breakaway dunk, every wide-open three, and every office-pool or home-video-game win reeking with luck?
Make 40 plays. Win a big one. Then talk trash.
In the meantime, since such overkill is unlikely to go away, do you need suitable retorts? Do you need comebacks for all of the trash-talk that goes along with the action in NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL games, as well as in office trash-can hoop and sports talk radio, all the way down to video games with your very own friends?
Want to make things right in your own house, at least?
Then this is for you: Sports Greatest Shut-Down Lines.
This is how you talk the Anti-Trash Talk. Shut-Down Lines will give all the suckers pause, if not crack open their smug faces. These lines are for the verbal bullies who insist on insulting you, on working your last nerve because they think "it's all just good clean fun," or "it's all entertainment," or "really, it's just a form of self-expression." Yeah. Right.
My personal favorite:
"BETTER BITE DOWN ON THAT MOUTHPIECE."
I got this one from my friend Eddie Santino, Raider fan, resident of Oakland, California. It was coined in memory of George Atkinson and Lynn Swann. This one is used on somebody who trash-talks when he's winning, but complains about roughness when he's losing. Or who is blindly dismissive of you, even though he's engaged in a tough battle where the tide turns back and forth. Often, the yakker is being hurt, physically or emotionally (preferably both), as he is doing the talking. This fact alone should require his concentration, command his respect. That's what we play for. Not money, or glory. Respect.
Instead, this guy acts like the competition is no biggie, like he's in control and can make it look effortless against you, or your team, or your horse. He acts like he can win without even trying, like you or your team are nothing to be concerned about unless you go criminal-element on him. Really, how could Chuck Noll, coach of Torpedo Shell, Vampire Lambert and Mean Joe Greene, call any football player part of a criminal element?
It's like when Muhammad Ali got his jaw broken against Ken Norton in San Diego in 1973. Ali was talking instead of fighting, instead of solving that weird crossed-armed peek-a-boo style the body-builder Norton used to keep Ali at bay.
Norton's style was no problemo later for George Foreman, but Norton broke Ali's jaw -- easier to do when one's mouth is open when it should be closed up tight. Hence, this Shut-Down Line, suitable anytime your team is winning and the opponent is hurt, and the opponent (or opponent's fan, preferably a good friend to whom you've recently lost money) insists on talking smack while you notice he's flinching from all the kill shots he's taking.
"I think it's just a matter of time," he yaps.
"Yeah? Well ... I think you better bite down on that mouthpiece."
"YOU NEED TO LOOK UP AT THE SCOREBOARD."
In the fourth quarter of the 1995 Super Bowl, the San Francisco 49ers were putting the finishing touches on a thrashing of the San Diego Chargers. The score was ... well, let's be kind and say it was forty-something to something-in-the-teens. And it wasn't that close.
Deion Sanders, that season's NFL Player of the Year, intercepted a Stan Humphries pass and was tackled, then set-upon in jaw-jacking, smack-talking style by one Ronnie Harmon, a former Iowa running back with a past we won't go into here. Harmon was a tough guy. After tackling Deion, Harmon dared Neon to fight, hurling insults at him.
Sanders quashed his mood by pointing up to the heavens, from whence cometh his help. He pointed a finger at a line on the horizon and whispered an inspiration to Harmon: "Man, you need to look up at that scoreboard."
Harmon, following human nature, turned his head to follow the line Deion pointed out before he actually heard Deion. Then he stormed off into oblivion. This was anti-trash-talk, and it proved that Deion was a classic two-way player.
"THEY LOST." Or (better), "YOU LOST."
I give this two-word Shut-Downer to Larry Bird. He coined it in 1987 after his last-second steal and assist beat Detroit in a crucial playoff game at Boston. Afterward, Dennis Rodman whined that if Bird was black, he'd be just another good player. Interestingly, nobody remembers this part, maybe because Worm is seen as an outrageous, entertaining, ultimately-harmless minstrel, and no threat to competitive thought processes. Isiah Thomas didn't refute it when Worm's uber-trash-talk was brought to him.
Everybody remembers that -- especially my colleague and fellow NBA maven the Boston Sports Guy, who has a blind spot on this. He keeps insisting it's fun to watch Isiah take the Knicks down the tubes. Better bite down on that mouthpiece while you're at the scorer's table waiting to go in and check trash-talking Shake N Bake, often disguised as "Rick Reilly," a mild-mannered scribe for a major metropolitan magazine. Shake's got a gun just like us, so stay up, Sports Guy.
Sometimes, we sportswriters are like the mouth-breathing kid in the schoolyard who instigates a fight by taking reports back and forth between would-be combatants, embellishing as appropriate, and swells up with an odd, twisted power as a crowd of curious children grows around them. Sportswriters are the Kings of Sportsworld -- as in Barnum, Rickard, Jacobs, Arum and King.
When it was brought to Bird that day, Bird couldn't have liked it much. How dare Rodman ignore the skins Bird had on the wall, and the fact that he'd just busted up the Pistons that very day? How dare Worm ignore that? But Bird kept it tight, and simply said, "They lost."
Can it get any better?
I don't think so. It definitely can't get any pithier.
Two words explained the entire scenario. The fact was, Rodman's statement -- and yes, okay, Isiah's refusal to rebut it -- was the height of bitterness, born of hurt, pain, rejection, disappointment and bottomless insecurities. Like we all don't go there occasionally. It was almost a feminine reaction, if I may. And there is no worse accusation you can throw at your average male athlete.
"YOU TAUNT LIKE A GIRL."
I came up with one when I was working with Johnnie Cochran in the days after the O.J. Simpson trial. Johnnie was sifting through potential writers to find somebody to help him set up his first book. Some of the others -- and there were plenty of famous others, in spite of the "outrage" -- were making the mistake of pitching it thusly: "O J. Simpson, an innocent man, wrongly accused. then you, Mr. Johnnie Cochran ... "
They lost him at hello. He was the mouthpiece. Not them. I figured he was smarter than that.
I said, "You, sir, are the latter-day Atticus Finch. Atticus had a day at the beach compared to you. Atticus had a kindly black defendant who all evidence said was innocent. But Atticus knew he could never get him off, not in front of an all-white Southern jury at that time. But he tried, anyway. Innocent black guy dies, but Atticus did his job, stayed true to his profession. You, Johnnie, on the other hand, had a much greater dilemma. O.J. was kindly only to people who had him under contract or who could help him get one. He was an unholy terror to everybody else. The line on guilt and innocence was blurred at best. Yet you, Johnnie, still had your professional duty -- to try to convince a mostly-black jury that there was doubt about O.J.'s guilt, according to the evidence. You had a deeper moral dilemma. What we need is a way to sum that up, in one line, the shorter the better, then use that line as the one to start your book."
Johnnie smiled. I got the gig. Then it took four months to come up with the mother of all Shut-Down Lines, to rebut the hurt people who were calling JC names because he'd done his job, got O.J. off, won the intellectual exercise. Intellect wasn't supposed to be his turf. The entire country became Dennis Rodman, and Johnnie became Larry Bird -- limited at his profession because of perceived "race," which is just a bulls--- social construct. After four months of grinding and researching, it came to me, as if in an epiphany:
"I'M A LAWYER."
Eureka! Later, an editor changed it to, "I am an advocate." No, no, not the same thing at all, right down to the apostrophe, and the more familiar contraction. Later still, I briefly wondered if Johnnie Cochran would defend me if I was accused of killing an editor.
"DO YOU THINK YOU CAN KICK MY ASS?"
Got this one from -- who else? -- Jim Brown. But anybody can use it, provided that you wait for the proper situation. Say, when you're playing jacks against your four-year-old niece or something.
It's a great Shut-Down Line, even if you can't use it much.
Jim's invention came when I challenged him by trash-talking a point of observation about golf -- about which, admittedly, I know next to nothing. But I do know something about competition. So I usually base all of my smack on that. This was during last year's 2003 British Open. Jim and I were up at this swanky-grand hotel in Cooperstown, New York, for a wonderful reunion of his old Manhasset (L.I.) High School football team, successful men from all walks of life and points on the map now. They came to honor their coach, 91-year-old Ed Walsh, a great educator, coach and man from the John Wooden school of greatness. Coach Walsh was still as straight as a rail, gently-mannered, the power of his own character and moral strength commanding the respect of his older, graying charges, now in their 60s but still looking fit for anything.
I enjoyed the company of Ed Walsh. Not once in our conversation about football, Jim Brown, his other players, and his own life, not once did trash-talk ever enter my mind, in spite of its corruption.
This gave me my own great, cryptic anti-Trash Talk line.
"YEAH, BUT COULD HE PLAY FOR ED WALSH?"
Good way to knock on someone you think is overrated -- in terms of playing ability, to some degree, but mostly in terms of character.
OK. Back to Jim Brown. Jim and I were talking about golf, me kicking in here and there, waiting for the time when I could watch a football, hoop or baseball game, or a boxing match or track meet with him so I could basically knock his socks off and thrall him with my acumen. Golf for me was just warming up.
I don't even know what I said. Oh, now I remember. Jim was saying Tiger Woods wouldn't play that well and was now in his blue period, smoking cigars and going to Vegas and enjoying life, and golf is not a game like that. It's not to be enjoyed, not by a man who is in the lifelong process of trying to win 19 majors.
I think I said, "He'll probably play well. Wanna bet, Jim?"
Jim raised his massive arms as if to conduct a mass choir and said ...
... "DO YOU THINK YOU CAN KICK MY ASS?"
This was hysterical to me. That is the perfect word. Look at the meaning of the word -- "an uncontrollable outburst of fear and emotion, an emotional shock often characterized by irrationality, laughter, weeping, etc." -- and the root. "Hysteria" is a Greek word, related to women, meaning "suffering in the womb," relating the Greeks' erroneous conclusion that hysteria was peculiar only to women and caused by "disturbances in the uterus."
No. Hysteria is what happens to both men and women when Jim Brown asks if any of them think they can kick his ass. In the American colloquial tongue, it's come to mean something is hilarious. Not really. So next time someone belittles your team, or even your own efforts, by saying that these efforts were "hysterical" to them, say:
"THEY'VE GOT A FAIRLY COMMON AND OVERUSED SURGICAL PROCEDURE FOR THAT, YOU KNOW."
I had no comeback for Jim Brown's Shut-Down Line. The classic SDL leaves little wiggle room for a rejoinder. Could've frowned and said, "How's that relevant?" But then Jim might have been tempted to show me its relevance. I could've said, "This is a conundrum." But then Brown might've said, "What does that mean, conundrum?"
As it was, I said to Jim a little bit later, "Well, come to think of it, I don't believe I can kick your ass, not at boxing, or at wrestling, or at football, or basketball, or baseball, or track and field, or even at backgammon (Jim Brown is a fabulous backgammon player; kingly at it, you might say), or at much of anything else, Jim." I chose not to bring up writing. Figured this wasn't the time.
"But I'll try you ... at backgammon," I said. Luckily, Jim smiled.
Do you have any Shut-Down Lines, any Anti-Trash Talk? If so, and if you promise to keep them clean, brief, creative and true to life, send them to Ralpwiley@aol.com
"YOU ACTUALLY TELL PEOPLE THAT?"
Ralph Wiley has written articles for Sports Illustrated, Premiere, GQ, and National Geographic, and many national newspapers. He was one of the original NFL Insiders on NBC. His many books include "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir," "Why Black People Tend To Shout," "By Any Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X" with Spike Lee, "Dark Witness," "Best Seat in the House" with Spike Lee, "Born to Play" with Eric Davis, and "Growing Up King" with Dexter Scott King and the children of Martin Luther King Jr. He contributes to many ESPN productions, and bats cleanup on a weekly basis for Page 2.