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Original Issue

Literally Clueless People in sports don't seem to know the meaning of literal from a hole in the ground

Angela Miller, a volleyball player at Oxnard (Calif.) College,
will require lifelong chiropractic care. Her coach, Rey Reyes,
said in September, "She has literally carried us on her back."
Clement Marie, a football player at Molalla (Ore.) High, is
evidently a pyromaniac. Said his coach, David Lewis, after a
recent open-field tackle, "He just literally lit the kid up."
Perhaps that kid was K.J. Hippensteel, a Stanford tennis player,
of whom then Virginia coach Dick Stockton said two seasons ago,
"Hippensteel was literally on fire."

My jaw literally fell to the floor when I read about Matt Handy,
a soccer player at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J. After he scored
three goals against Bergen Catholic High recently, The Record of
Bergen County reported that Handy "literally took the life out of
the Crusaders." Surely that calls for a red card.

In 1985, when former Detroit Tiger Denny McLain threw a
baseball--painfully--for the first time in years, he told the
Associated Press, "I literally died." Mercifully, he lived to
tell about it. But then, one need not die to go to heaven. As far
back as 1985 the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported of Arkansas
State football players, who had just won a big game, "They were
literally on Cloud Nine."

Two weeks ago Michigan State defensive end Greg Taplin--while
biting on a fake from Minnesota quarterback Asad
Abdul-Khaliq--"was literally screwed into the turf," according
to The Detroit News. (Seconds later he became the first player
in history to be unscrewed by the refs.)

Indeed, every Big Ten football game is an acid trip full of odd
imagery. Wisconsin linebacker Nick Greisen, recalling his first
appearance for the Badgers, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,
"My knees were literally chattering." When I read this, my eyes
literally popped out of their sockets because most knees are
incapable of speech. (They merely issue joint statements.)

"We didn't take care of the ball," North Central (Ill.) College
basketball coach Bob Bray told Chicago's Daily Herald after
suffering a loss, "and literally fell apart at the seams." This
frequently happens to athletes. Jerry Stackhouse of the Pistons
told the Associated Press, "We literally fell apart tonight." The
AP on a Mets-Pirates game: "Both pitchers literally fell apart in
the seventh." The Deseret News on the Utah State volleyball team:
"The Aggies literally fell apart in the third game." Sportswise,
it seems, we are a nation of Humpty Dumptys.

Fortunately, athletes can be put back together again. "We've got
a ton of injuries," Morton (Ill.) High football coach Hal Chiodo
told The Pantagraph of Bloomington, Ill., the other day. "We're
literally held together by tape."

Yankees rightfielder Paul O'Neill can empathize. According to the
Journal Sentinel, "O'Neill is literally on his last legs." (Then
again, unless you work in a prosthetic-limb showroom, aren't
we all?)

At the risk of literally beating a dead horse, I must tell you
that my head is literally spinning while trying to comprehend
what happened three years ago, when Bentley College (Mass.) upset
St. Rose (N.Y.) in the women's Division II college basketball
tournament. "I just fell to the floor," winning coach Barbara
Stevens told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. "I was literally
beside myself."

Recently--while lying beside myself on the couch--I heard a CNN
host say to his guest, "You have literally scoured the Midwest."
(Alas, the guest was a newspaper columnist, not the world's
hardest-working janitor.) That same day the Los Angeles Times ran
an item about Jon Albert, who runs a firm that places musicians
in commercials. Albert, according to the paper, sent ad agencies
a mass e-mail that offered the services of Lee Greenwood, who
would be happy to sing, in a 30-second spot, God Bless This
Country. When some advertisers suggested to Albert that he was
trying to "exploit" the nation's tragedy, he told the Times, "I
literally was shocked." (I pictured angry Ford executives
attaching electrodes to his genitals.)

But my favorite use of literally happened the day before that,
when an energy-efficiency expert on TV's Canada AM said of
weather stripping, "It pays for itself, literally." I happily
imagined a tube of caulk hopping off the shelf in a hardware
store and sauntering toward checkout, a credit card at the ready.
For reasons I can't explain, the caulk was whistling.

A month ago the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise reported of a
struggling 42-year-old professional golfer: "Steve Haskins has
literally seen it all."

I think I know how he feels.