Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Highest Point

There is a lot of stuff we see and hear that doesn’t seem to make much sense. (No, I don’t mean anonymous comments from people who take offense at particular Displaced posts.) I'm talking about other stupid stuff, like this thing about receivers catching a football “at its highest point.” What the hell does this mean?

We hear it all over the place from football experts and broadcast analysts on Saturdays and Sundays. I’ve heard John Madden say it. Ron Jaworski, Kirk Herbstreit, Steve Young … all those guys say it, including former USC QB and current ESPN stalwart Sean Salisbury. Even our own Rhodes Scholar QB Pat Haden has said it.

“Watch [insert receiver’s name here] as he catches the ball at its highest point!”

Huh? I’m no physicist, but don’t most football passes have a natural arch with a highest point that occurs well before and considerably higher than a receiver can leap to catch it? Aren’t virtually all long passes (the kind of plays to which this phrase is usually applied) literally coming down toward the receiver and/or defensive back when they try to catch it?

Think about Doug Flutie’s “Hail Mary” against Miami in ’84, perhaps the greatest TD catch in college football history (besides Erik Affholter’s “catch” from Rodney Peete versus ugla in ’87, of course.) If Gerard Phelan had attempted to catch Flutie’s pass at its “highest point” he would have had to leap up about 18 feet in the air at about the 25-yard line. Right?

Of course, this is one of those misnomers, like the “foul pole” in baseball that is actually in fair territory, or a “wood” in golf that is actually made out of titanium alloy. But it seems like a lot of people use the phrase without even thinking about what they are saying versus what they mean.

Obviously, the phrase should be something more like, “Watch Dwayne Jarrett as he catches the ball at the highest point he can.” But, like foul poles and metal woods, “the highest point” is engrained in the conventional wisdom of football to the point that it makes common (if not perfect) sense to ordinarily intelligent people.

Am I nitpicking? Sure. Does it really matter? Not so much. As long as USC receivers catch the ball do we really care where they catch it … high or low? Not at all.

It’s all just part of the fun we have here pointing out stupid stuff. Even our anonymous readers can appreciate that, right?

Beat the Ducks!


Jae said...

That bothers me too, DT.

Other things that bother me include:

Dwayne Jarrett is out for today's game with a shoulder.

Or, no one can catch the ball like a Steve Smith or a Mike Williams.


JOHN said...


This can only be accurate if a player is catching a ball that is either:

A. Ascending, as in the rare case of a receiver plucking a short, but overthrown pass still on its way up, or a defender intercepting one extremely close to the quarterback's release point.


B. Just stopped ascending, as in the case of some unfortunate soul trying to recover an onsides kick beyond the vertical leap of the other guys. Even in this case, the comment can only refer to the highest point of that particular bounce, as it may or may not have been the highest arc overall.

My guess is it was used once, correctly, in the onsides example and everyone else has been using it incorrectly because it sounds intelligent and vaguely suggests something about athleticism, timing and defying gravity.

But you're right, it's stupid. It reminds me of the idiots that used to say they wanted their GM's "to put a good product on the field." While, this comment was grammatically correct, I still felt it spread like wildfire because people just repeat what they hear and what they heard sounded smarter and more businesslike than, "I'm not buying tickets if we suck."

P.S. Did you read that article from the OC Register I sent you?

Shawn said...

I don't really find anything odd with that phrase. I always took it as assumed that the announcer meant "watch Jarrett catch the ball at the highest point [that he can catch the ball]". I believe you were misunderstanding the announcers by interpreting that as "the highest point [of the ball's arc]".

Displaced Trojan said...

I don't get those two statements, either.

Yes, I did see that OCR piece. Very interesting. Thanks.

Perhaps you're right, but my view is that people should say what they mean, especially when they get paid for it.