"Oscar Gotcha always enjoyed attending plays with his wife of 13 years, Maggie Jean, whom he had met in rodeo clown class back in Ohio before he became a U.S. Senator and avid poker player. But last night at Ford's Theater, the production of 'Our American Cousin' became even more memorable for the Gotchas when, during Act III, halfway through Scene 2, the well-known actor John Wilkes Booth suddenly leaped on the stage after...." That is how today's newspapers would probably handle the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Or we might read this: "It took 12 years and billions of dollars, not to mention Yankee know-how and lots of luck, for his size 10 shoes to scuff the dust and leave behind fresh footprints as Neil Armstrong...." About five paragraphs into the story we learn that man has landed on the moon. This form of journalism has been around since Johannes Gutenberg first cranked out "Mavs Sweep Series!" in 1454. But now we cannot get away from it. The circuitous route before getting to the real point of the story is called "the feature lead" because it is often and justifiably used in soft news stories - tales of cuddly puppies or a 101-year-old acrobat or how to darn a hole in a parachute. But when used in hard news -- a story about the outcome of an election, a crime or what happens when you don't darn a hole in a parachute - this is called "burying the lead." The big fad today is to take an individual, such as Oscar Gotcha, and put him or her doing something inconsequential, then drop back and show how 60,000 Chinese are recovering from an earthquake. That's fine and dandy for reporters who get paid by the word or like to show their literary talents, but for the readers, we don't have the time. "Get to the point!" we think, as we turn the page and leave un-read the purple prose about when Elmer was 11 and Uncle Mildew took him fishing in the Mississippi River which, we learn in the 15th paragraph, has flooded and wiped out Iowa. We see the work of these winding wordsmiths throughout the paper, but the very worst are the sportswriters. In newspapers, some of the best writing is done by sports reporters and columnists. They can be observant, funny, sad and even brilliant. It was Grantland Rice, a sportswriter for the former New York Herald Tribune, who first penned, "Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden." Rice's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse live in sports literature today. And it was Houston sports columnist Mickey Herskowitz who once noted, "There must really be something to religion. People keep comparing it to Texas high school football." But now we see in our sports pages a lot of overly clever puns, cliches, gobbledygook, and, of course, burying the lead. We usually read a sporting events story to find out who won, by what score and how. The headline is some vague "Spurs Spurn Suns." Then we start wading through a lead about a conversation the coach had with a fan last week, the gold flow and a line from "Hoosiers" before we learn what we wanted to learn in the first place. Our sports pages are also filled with nicknames for both players and their teams. We've got SloMoJo, Doggie, Juice, the Rocket and Express. The latter is Nolan Ryan, of course, who received his moniker through a convoluted route. David Westheimer, a Houston native, was shot down off the coast of Italy in WW II and was captured by the Italians. When Germany took over Italy, he was held by the Nazis, who put Westheimer on a train headed for the Fatherland. His experiences led to his writing a great action thriller, "Von Ryan's Express," later made into a movie with Frank Sinatra as Col. Ryan, called by his sullen subordinates, Von Ryan. This led to sportswriters naming the pitcher Von Ryan and then the Express. A long trip and not worth it. Incidentally, radio and TV announcers can be worse. The quarterback is 30 years old, a college graduate, a millionaire, has a wife, three kids, an agent, lawyer and a financial adviser, and the announcers call him Wild Thing or Gizmo or maybe Snake. All teams have nicknames, but that's not good enough for some sports reporters and headline writers. The Cowboys become the 'Boys, the Astros are the 'Stros or, most seasons, the Lastros. We also have the Pinstripes (Yankees), Fish (Florida Marlins) and the lowly New Orleans 'Aints ("We lost our S"). During their heyday, there came a new title for the Cowboys: America's Team. Sophomoric sports writers loved it to death. I once saw that title used in the headline and six times in the story. It was during the Cowboys' Super Bowl entitlements that objectivity was banned. A reporter covering the Cowboys wrote a book about them called "God's Team." Sometimes we feel we are eavesdropping on spies' coded messages. From a recent Houston Chronicle: "But this is akin to saying that Houston's cow-skin work in tops of innings on Crawford St. and bottoms of road innings is outstanding?...But MMP of 2008 is MMP of 2007, and so far, our stats say that in ordinary and OOZ plays, Houston of 2008 is outdoing Houston of 2007." There probably is a book listing every cliche for our rhetorically challenged sports reporters. We have frozen rope, he came to play, pigskin and gridiron, cold as the other side of the pillow, and perhaps the worst, calling track runners, thinly clads. The latest is walk-off homer. Any baseball game that now ends with a home run is a walk-off homer. No wonder the rest of the paper's journalists calls the sports staff the Toy Department. Ash is overused at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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