It is now possible in sports to hold a meaningful conversation
entirely in acronyms or initials, as when Shaquille O'Neal, asked
which teams ought to be in the BCS title game, answered,
Shaq, like the rest of us, is constantly coughing up alphabet
soup. He wears a tattoo that says TWISM--The world is mine--and
for a time replied to all Kobe-related questions by saying,
"CAT," which is short for Can't answer that.
BTW (Internet shorthand for By the way), one of the many problems
with the BCS is its name, three letters that rearrange themselves
into so many other staples of the sports page, such as CBS (TV
home of the NFL's AFC) and SBC (corporate sponsor of an NBA
arena). There is, to confuse matters further, a BSC
(Birmingham-Southern College), which plays its games in yet
another BSC (the Big South Conference).
But then, by age 10 the most casual sports fan has committed to
memory thousands of these acronyms and abbreviations, nearly all
of which rearrange themselves, in whole or part, into still other
abbreviations. So ALCS (American League Championship Series)
yields ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), ACL (anterior cruciate
ligament) and LAC (sports ticker symbol for the Los Angeles
Clippers). Order means everything. It's good in football to make
an INT, bad in basketball to make the NIT. The shuffling of a
single letter can cost millions. It's the difference between
wearing khakis on the PGA and selling khakis at the GAP.
Still, that your brain can--in a fraction of a second--tell the
PGA (Professional Golfers' Association) from the PBA
(Professional Bowlers Association) from a PAT (point after
touchdown) from PTI (Pardon the Interruption) from the ATP
(Association of Tennis Professionals) from OTB (Off-Track
Betting) from OBP (on-base percentage) is remarkable. Ask a
college hockey fan what RPI's RPI is, and he'll understand what
your question is. (If he attends Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute, he might even know the answer.)
Typically, a star athlete's career has three acts: MVP, MRI, DUI.
(Star athletes themselves are increasingly identifiable by
initials alone: LT, AI, O.J., MJ.) The financial decline and fall
of Pete Rose can be summarized as: OTB, IRS, IOU.
IMHO (In my humble opinion), e-mail and instant messaging are
partly responsible for all this abbreviating. They've created a
cryptic shorthand--from LOL (laugh out loud) to TTFN (ta-ta for
now)--that has many of us asking, while trying to read an e-mail,
So you'll be forgiven for wondering, on any given morning, if
someone barfed Alpha-Bits on your sports page. Unheard of two
years ago, YAC--short for yards after catch--is now an
omnipresent football yacronym. Boxers are our biggest
acronymphos, bedding down with the WBA, WBC, WBO, IBF, IBO, AAU
and--in the case of George Foreman--AARP, all in pursuit of TKOs.
No one need pause to puzzle out these abbreviations. Deciphering
them is a reflex. If I tell you an MRI of his MCL put KG on the
IL, you'll be saddened, not baffled. If I say an NFL QB has
wicked BO, you will instantly reply, "PU."
The average sports fan is full of such BS (blocked shots, blown
saves). One shudders to think how much brain space is occupied
telling CG (complete game) from BB (bases on balls) from BC
(Boston College) from CBGB (seminal New York music club whose
name stands for Country, Bluegrass, Blues).
Which isn't to say this knowledge is worthless. Quite the
contrary. The World Wildlife Fund defeated the World Wrestling
Federation in a legal cage match for exclusive rights to the
lucrative monogram WWF. Yet South Carolina persists in billing
itself, with impunity, as USC, all but asking for a legal
smackdown with the rightful owner, Southern Cal. (Oklahoma State
and Oregon State should likewise cede OSU to the Buckeyes.)
My father, in all seriousness, once asked several North Dakota
hockey fans, before a North Dakota hockey game played in North
Dakota, why they were all wearing Notre Dame sweaters. To him, an
interlocking ND trimmed in green could only stand for Notre Dame,
even in Grand Forks. No such confusion exists for Indiana
University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, whose singular (and
euphonious) abbreviation is the same coming and going: IUPUI.
In sports there's no end to these secret handshakes. Stephon
Marbury wears PHX on his jersey and WWJD on his wrist. We know
what they stand for, because we know shorthand: NCAA, UTEP, ERA,
RBI, DNP, BMX, ACC, NBA, MSG, SEC, HR and OT--all on ESPN, in
Which brings us to SI. In New York newspaper headlines, Staten
Island is often abbreviated as S.I., so that it's not uncommon to
read, over your morning coffee, S.I. MAN VICTIM OF BRUTAL
ASSAULT. Such headlines are sometimes tacked to cubicle doors by
aggrieved SI writers, who feel their copy was savagely molested
in editing. Editors, BTW, seldom LOL at the joke.
B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER
We can talk sports entirely in initials. If I tell you an MRI of
his MCL put KG on the IL, you'll be saddened, not baffled.