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Posted: Thursday December 31, 2009 11:20AM; Updated: Thursday December 31, 2009 11:20AM
Ross Tucker

Mastering the art of football-speak

Story Highlights

'You are what you are' in the NFL, but only if you talk in cliches

Bill Belichick brought the 'stats are for losers' mantra to the masses

It is what it is? There may be a whole lot more to it than that

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The NFL leader in footballisms: Bill Belichick.

It is Week 17 in the NFL which means the use of agonizingly boring phrases will be used all week in full force. Yes, even more so than normal. NFL players, as a general rule, cling to various well-known football clichés like they are running backs hanging on to the football when their team has the lead and is trying to run the clock out with less than three minutes remaining.

The reasoning is simple and twofold. For one, it is the safe route to take; the players have heard these same "footballisms" so many times over the years themselves that there is a certain comfort level in using them. The other reason is most teams encourage their players to stick with those basics in an effort to avoid any potential locker room bulletin board material for their opposition. So in an effort to educate, here are some of the most oft-used expressions you will hear this week, what they really mean, and whether or not you should be buying what these players and coaches are selling when they utter such phrases.

"You are what you are." This is one I actually believe in and have always lived by. It is also the best way to counteract all of the "what ifs", "should'ves" and "could'ves" that fans and media harp on this time of year.

I was speaking with an NFL Pro Personnel Director last week and in trying to boost his morale I pointed out the two or three games his team could have easily won if they had made one play here or one play there. If they had made those plays, his team likely could have accomplished their goal of making the postseason. But he immediately dismissed my attempt at some form of consolation and brought up two games his team won that they easily could have lost if the other team had made just one more play.

His message was simple. You win some close games and you lose some close games but in the end it evens out. Ultimately your final record is the only true barometer of where you are as an organization. Nothing else matters, nor should it. So teams like the Texans can point to the critical misses by Kris Brown against the Colts and Titans earlier in the season or the Steelers can point to rookie cornerback Joe Burnett's missed interception against the Raiders, but it really doesn't matter. They are what their record says they are.

"All we can do is control what we can control." No kidding. This one is true as well but is so obvious and used so often that it is almost maddeningly frustrating. Just once I want to hear a guy say "We are really focused on hoping that Team X loses so that we have a better chance to make the playoffs."

But that is never going to happen. Nor should it. Players on teams like the Steelers, Texans, Broncos, and others have probably already uttered this phrase hundreds of times this week and will continue to do so. After all, this really is the only thing that can be said once a team like the aforementioned three no longer controls their playoff fate. Then again, if those teams had controlled what they could control in the first place they wouldn't be in this position.

"Stats are for losers." This is one of my favorites. I was happy to hear Patriots coach Bill Belichick say this at one of his press conferences a couple of weeks back in reference to a question about Randy Moss and his lack of production against Carolina. This has long been one of the basic, behind the scene commandments of life in the NFL and I was delighted Belichick took it mainstream.

The point is that typically you really only hear a team that lost or fell short of their goals talking about the statistics. For example, we have heard a lot of talk about the Jets No. 1-ranked defense and rushing offense but those rankings won't mean anything if they don't punch their playoff ticket by beating the Bengals on Sunday night. But the Jets aren't the only team. Listen to some of the end of the year press conferences next week after teams that aren't going to the postseason wrap up their season. They'll talk about the areas where they improved, whether it is the Texans defense or the Broncos pass defense or whatever. But the bottom line is it doesn't really matter. Think about it; you very rarely hear the winning teams or coaches talking about stats because they are focused on next week's game. That's because stats, ultimately, are for losers.

"It is what it is." This one can often be heard in tandem at this point of the season with "We are playing for pride", which is akin to saying there is nothing really at stake because, well, there isn't. At least as far as the playoffs are concerned. "It is what it is" is the default mechanism that players and coaches can fall back on when their season hasn't gone as well as they had hoped and they no longer have the ability to either get into the postseason or control their postseason possibilities.

That is not to say these games are meaningless, because they are not. Coaches in places like Cleveland, Tampa, and Chicago are working their charges as hard as ever this week in order to put forth a good showing and finish strong. Their very livelihood could depend upon it. The other thing about these "pride" games is that it is actually a pretty good opportunity for personnel people, coaches, and even teammates to see how players react when they are in these kind of situations. Do they continue to play as hard as ever or is there a slight hint of tentativeness that wasn' t there in Week 5 as the player attempts to avoid injury? These game films will be scrutinized as much as any other, especially if a regime change ensues, because that new staff will want to know which players they can count on in tough times when the chips are down.

So maybe it isn't just what it is. Maybe it is a whole lot more than that.



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