By now you know that Steve Sarkisian has a new pet metaphor to describe the process of his team navigating the 2011 season
“Climbing the mountain.”
Sarkisian first spoke of it before the Colorado game when it was clear his team was vastly superior to the Buffaloes in every way and it was game his team was supposed to win and win big.
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"If we are mountain climbers and we are climbing Rainier here, we are pretty inexperienced climbers right now. I don’t think we are at a point where we can really look down to see what we’ve accomplished yet. And I don’t think we are at a point to where we can look up to see how much further we have to go. We have to focus on our very next step. We just don’t have enough experience on the mountain right now to be focusing on feeling too good about ourselves. Because one false step and we could slide right back down."
And since every good metaphor derives some sort of mental image. I had by co-worker and photoshop guru Kenny Via come up with an image of Sark, "Climbing the Mountain."
After Washington whipped the hapless Buffs, the sentiment didn’t fall into metaphorical crevasse and disappear never to be heard from again.
It was here to stay.
On Monday, when Sarkisian was asked about what it would mean to the program as a whole to beat No. 7 Stanford in prime time.
He said: “That’s looking up the mountain. I’m not looking up the mountain. Next step, it’s playing Stanford.
As far as another step in the climb, is it a big step? Or a normal step?
“I think it’s a step that we have to take,” he said. “It’s one that’s obviously not on flat ground. It’s a challenging step for sure. But we’re not up the summit by any means. It’s a step we need to take if we want to go up, and a challenging one. But I don’t think it’s a gigantic step.”
So why hadn't we heard of "Climbing the Mountain" till Colorado -- was it along the lines of the John Denver song "Rocky Mountain High?"
"I didn't think of it then, quite honestly," he said. "I wish I would have, but I didn't. It just kind of came to me. I think it's fitting. I don't if it's for everybody or for every team, but it's fitting for us from where've begun to where've gotten to. I think that teams make mistakes that are new to this of looking and saying, 'Wow, look at all we've accomplished.' And you slide back down because you feel you've made it. And I think teams make mistakes when they look up and look ahead and say, 'I can't wait until I get to there, get to there.' And they miss what's right in front of them. So we are really just trying to take this one step at a time and this next step happens to be Stanford.”
So how did he think of it?
“I was watching a 60 Minutes episode on a climber that uses no ropes and no cables,” Sarkisian said. “Pretty fascinating.''
That climber was Alex Honnold – a 26-year old climber from the Bay Area.
Don’t expect it to go away. It’s staying. It’s a good bet there will be t-shirts.
Metaphors aren’t new. Coaches in general, specifically football coaches, love them, because it’s a way of articulating something on simpler terms that players understand or embrace. You can preach to a kid forever about focusing on the task at hand, but sometimes it just won't resonate.
I’ve seen coaches have players carry lunch pails. I’ve seen players wear hard hats onto the field. Remember Washington’s t-shirts that said, “Finish” on them?
For a while, some football coaches were carrying around axes because of the axiom “Keep Chopping wood.”
Back in 2003, Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio put a large stump with an axe in the middle of it as symbol of the metaphor. And his punter, Chris Hanson, was lost for the season when gashed his foot when he grabbed the axe..
The wound, agent Drew Rosenhaus told ESPN.com, was self-inflicted.
"Chris said that everyone else had been taking a swing with the ax, chopping the wood, and he finally decided to do it, too," Rosenhaus said. "Unfortunately, the ax either went through the wood, or bounced off it, and went into Chris' foot. Chris told me it is a pretty significant injury."I don't think players will be scaling Rainier any time soon. But they seem to believe in the concept.
This week after practice, players broke with the team yell of “Keep climbing!”
They've all mentioned it at some point during interviews in the last few weeks.
Never underestimate the power of the metaphor in football. It's been around forever and will stay. Some are simple. Some are clichés. Some have deeper meaning. Some are just plain odd.
But for Sarkisian, his staff and his team, “climbing the mountain” is what works.
If they beat Stanford, they better call up Alex Honnold and give him a Husky jersey.