Historically Speaking

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Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

Move The Goalposts

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 11, 2016

Back in 1976, country recording artist Bobby Bare had a hit on his hands with the song, “Drop Kick Me Jesus Through The Goalposts of Life.”  It was a humorous song that crossed over to radio stations with non-country music formats.  But where did Bobby Bare come up with the idea of goalposts being idiomatic for describing life?  And is a positive or negative connotation when someone moves the goalposts?

If you hear someone accusing a person or company of shifting or moving the goalposts, they’re alleging that the person or company has changed the rules while everything is in progress.  Whether it’s done so the company or other person can come up the winner, if it’s done to set someone up for failure, or if it’s just to complicate a situation, is immaterial.  It’s a case of changing the rules while the “ball” is in play.

On February 2, 2016, journalist James Longstreet writing for the American Thinker shared his article about Dianne Feinstein, Vice-chairperson of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in the U.S. had commented on the Hillary Clinton email situation.  He stated that some of what Dianne Feinstein  had to say on the subject had shifted the focus to impact on the Democrat primary.  The article was titled, “Hillary Email Scandal: Feinstein Moves The Goal Posts, Raises Many Questions.”

Five years earlier, in on July 22, 2011, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) gave a press conference on the debt ceiling, and the reasons why he pulled out of negotiations with President Barack Obama on the topic of raising the legal limit to borrow money ahead of the August 2, 2011 deadline at which point the U.S. would no longer be able to pay all its bills.

The problem, according to John Boehner, was that the White House was demanding an extra $400 billion in revenues to the already agreed upon $800 billion (resulting in a tax increase for Americans).  He claimed that the White House refused to consider serious expenditure cuts, and was not interested in making hard decisions that would benefit America. In his comments to the press, he stated in part:

And a tax system that was more efficient in collecting the taxes that were due the federal government. And let me just say that the White House moved the goalpost.

In the article, “Uses and Misuses Of Strategic Planning” written by Daniel H. Gray and published in the Harvard Business Review of January 1986, the writer took on the subject of corporate America’s problems as they pertained to formal strategic planning.  He discussed how it was the poor preparation and incomplete implementation of decisions made through strategic planning that caused corporate America to struggle.  This is how he incorporated the idiom in his article:

What actually does happen is often rather primitive: exhortation, backdoor dealing, across-the-board cuts, moving the goalposts, and mandated performance promises. In other words, the units’ plans are force-fit in various ways into the corporate plan. At this stage of the game, companies normally focus their attention more on the numbers in the business plan than on the strategies.

Back in 1978, Albert Vincent Casey had been with American Airlines for four years after starting his career in the railroad industry.  He had been tapped to be their CEO at a time when the airline was struggling with a burdensome debt load and high costs due to premium services that were a hallmark of the airline.  He piloted the company through this turmoil in the 1970s and 1980s.  With regards to deregulation of airlines, he was quoted in the February 4, 1978 edition of the Washington Post thusly:

“They keep moving the goal posts,” he lamented.  “We’re not afraid of deregulation, though,” he said, “if they really took off all the wraps.”

Just a few years earlier, Time magazine used the idiom in the body of an article as well as in the title.  Published on March 6, 1972, the article, “JOBS: Moving The Goal Posts” took on the concept of what full employment meant.

To economists and politicians, “full employment” does not mean what the words suggest: a job for absolutely everybody who wants one. Instead, the working definition has long been a jobless rate no higher than 4%. Even by that measure, the U.S. has rarely enjoyed full employment since World War II; the last time was in the closing months of the Johnson Administration and the early days of the Nixon era. Now the President’s aides are redoubling efforts to bring the jobless rate back from nearly 6% toward full employment by the elections. Instead of launching another new economic game plan, however, they are trying to move the goal posts.

In Spanish, the idiom is cambiar las reglas del juego.  In French, the idiom is changer les règles du jeu pendant la partie.  Another way of saying this idiom in English is to say that the rules of the game were changed.

The word goalposts first came into being in 1834 and referred to sports requiring upright posts to allow for goals in a game involving two opposing players or teams. At that time, the goal was identified two upright posts supporting a crossbar of a goal.

Used in the current way, it’s easy to understand how, when someone moves the goalposts, it is an unexpected and frustrating occurrence for the person or persons focused on reaching the formerly identified goal.

Moving goalposts was even frowned up in the Christian Bible where it states this in Proverbs 22:28.

Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version going back before 1972, however, the fact that it was used with ease in a Time magazine article published in early 1972 indicates that the idiom was understood by the public at large.  It is most likely that move the goalposts as we understand the idiom to mean these days, came about in the 1960s.

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Posted in Bible, Football, Idioms from the 20th Century, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hail Mary Pass

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 22, 2013

Every once in a while, you may hear someone say he or she has thrown a Hail Mary or that someone he or she knows made a Hail Mary pass.  Unless you’re in the know, you might think these people are religious zealots. They’re not. What they mean is that, with no other viable options in their opinion, someone has gone with a desperate last-ditch effort to resolve a serious problem with only the smallest of chances of success.

How did this idiom come to be, and is it an idiom that’s been around for a really long time, taking into account how long ago Jesus’ mom, Mary lived?

Many believe (and incorrectly so) that it was coined by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach in a December 28, 1975 playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings. He threw the game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Drew Pearson, with only 26 seconds to go in the championship game, and Drew Pearson caught it, made the winning touchdown and made the Dallas Cowboys the winners. Later on, Roger Staubach told the medias,”I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary.”

So if it’s not right that Roger Staubach coined the idiom, who did and when?

Fritz Barzilauskas played in the National Football League from 1947 to 1951 and before that, he was a star player at Yale. Acting as a scout for Yale years later, the article that quoted him in the October 13, 1959 edition of the Hartford Courant was about the “spectacular 65-yard heave” that came at the 24 second mark in the Cornell versus Yale game the previous Saturday. He was quoted as saying:

“They call it their Martin Luther play,” Barzilauskas said. “The same thing at Notre Dame would be called the Hail Mary pass.”

Back on December 30, 1940 Associated Press staff writer, John Wilds, wrote about the upcoming Orange Bowl game that would see Georgetown take on Mississippi State. Joe McFadden, the Hoyas’ quarterback, was described as the freckle-faced Irishman who ran the team. The article stated in part:

McFadden — a great actor in the huddle — is willing to call any play from a straight line buck to a ‘Hail Mary’ pass with never a thought of the second-guessers.

Jumping back 8 years to January 1932, newspapers from the Moberly Monitor (which ran the story on 8 January 1932) to the Fairbanks Daily News (which ran the story on 24 January 1932) ran a story about the annual banquet of the American Football Coaches’ Association. In the article, the story told by Jim Crowley (September 10, 1902 – January 15, 1986) — one of the University of Notre Dame’s Four Horsemen coached by Knute Rockne — had to do with the game on October 28, 1922 between the North Dame Fighting Irish and Georgia Tech.  This is what Jim Crowley reportedly said:

In 1922 Notre Dame had nine sophomores on the team that went to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech. In the first half Tech got a field goal and things looked pretty dark for us. In the third period Layden punted to Red Barron, who muffed. We recovered on the 20-yard line and tried three plays in vain. It was fourth down.

It so happened that we had a Presbyterian on the team. He stopped play and said to us, ‘Boys, let’s have a Hail Mary’. Well, we prayed, and Layden soon went over for a touchdown.

Believe it or not, the formula was repeated. Again Layden kicked, again Barron fumbled, again we tried three plays in vain. ‘Let’s have another Hail Mary’, said the Presbyterian. Well, again Layden went over for a touchdown.

After the game I discussed the strange series of events with our Presbyterian. ‘Say, that Hail Mary is the best play we’ve got’, he exclaimed.

While the idiom got its start in football, it has since spread out and is found in any number of situations (including business, politics, and technology) where a long-shot desperate last-ditch move is made in the hopes of coming up the winner. It’s an idiom that’s even made it into the geek community such as in the board game Blood Bowl.

That being said, the earliest published mention of the Hail Mary Pass is from 1932 and clearly stamps the expression as being from 1922.

Posted in Football, Idioms from the 20th Century, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Horse Collar Tackle

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 4, 2013

What would football or rugby be without perfect tackles, high tackles, diving tackles, grass cutter tackles, broken tackles, slam tackles, and wing tackles? But one tackle that’s been banned in the last ten years by the National Football League (NFL), the Canadian Football League (CFL) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is the horse collar tackle.

So what exactly is a horse collar tackle? When the defender reaches a hand inside the ball carrier’s collar by their necks from behind and pulls the player down, that’s a horse collar tackle. The dangers associated with this kind of tackle are that it can cause severe injuries to the tackled player’s neck, broken legs and ankles, and tears to ligaments in the knees and ankles.

The rule instituted in 2005 that forbids the use of the horse collar tackle was euphemistically referred to as the “Roy Williams Rule” due in large part to the fact that the 2004 NFL season saw 6 major injuries thanks to horse collar tackles. Four of those six major injuries were a result of Roy Williams’ horse collar tackles. On May 23, 2005 and as reported in a number of newspapers including the May 25, 2005 edition of the Lewiston Tribune, owners of NFL teams voted 27 to 5 to ban the tackle. The 5 times that didn’t want it banned were the Dallas Cowboys (the team with Roy Williams), the Detroit Lions, the New England Patriots, the New Orleans Saints, and the San Francisco 49ers. In the Lewiston Tribune the Associated Press story entitled, “Owners Prohibit Horse Collar Tackle” the article stated in part:

The owners’ only definitive action was the 27-5 vote to ban the horse collar tackle, in which a defender grabs the back inside of an opponent’s shoulder pads and yanks the player down. Dallas safety Roy Williams does the tackle as well as anybody, but he seriously injured All-Pro received Terell Owens of Philadelphia with the maneuver last season.

On August 28, 2013 Jaimie Uribe of Fort Lauderdale, under the headline “Around The League” posted this to his Google Plus account:

Can’t hit high, cant hit low, cant hit from the blindside, cant hit with unnecessary force, cant grab from the horse collar, can’t grab from the facemask, cant hit with the arm, helmet, or shoulder, oh yeah, and can’t trip someone either as that is just too rough. Is the NFL one rule away from jumping the shark?

Now the game of football (more or less as we know it) in America has been around since 1889 and the rules have evolved ever since. In 1974, there were serious changes in the rules to add action, color and tempo to the games. Four years later, more rule changes were made, this time permitting a defender to maintain contact with a receiver within five yards of scrimmage. Restricted contact was allowed after that point.

But nowhere in all the research done was Idiomation able to identify when horse collar tackle was first used.  Idiomation’s best guess is that it was some time after 1978 and before 2000. If readers or visitors have additional links they can provide to help pin point the origin of the expression, please post them in the Comments section below.

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