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The Weirdest NFL Phrases & Where They Come From

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By: Michael O’Nair

When it comes to the NFL, there are tons of unique phrases and terms used by broadcasters and analysts. From bull rush to icing the kicker, there are quite a few unique phrases that originate from gridiron football. On the other hand, some have been borrowed from totally separate and unique fields—many of which have nothing to do with sports.

Locals in Baltimore, for example, know the Ravens Fight Song and maybe even a few hits from the marching band. But what about more hardboiled phrases used throughout the league? Let’s take a look at some of the most unique terms and phrases used in the NFL that didn’t originate as part of gridiron football. We’ve laid out three different categories, starting off with the highly competitive world of poker.

The World of Poker

Whether or not you’ve ever tried your hand at Texas Hold’em or Omaha, you’ve likely watched a few hands being played on TV. During WSOP and other major competitions, analysts break down the live action using a wide range of unique phrases and terms—but most people are already very familiar with them. Which poker phrases do you recognize most from the NFL?

  • Fold: A player throws their hand down to forfeit their chance of winning. In football, it’s used to describe a team or player who can’t hold up, AKA ‘folding under pressure’.
  • Bluff: A player purposefully deceives others at the table in reference to their hand. In the NFL, a bluff might simply refer to a deceptive move from a player—or even a term used to describe offseason activity from around the league.
  • Under the gun: In poker, this refers to the player who must act first in each round. But in football, it’s used to describe a team that’s under a lot of pressure, particularly quarterbacks.

unique phases

The World of Boxing

Just like with poker, boxing has lent quite a few unique phrases to the world. These are used across the globe to describe tough situations and the spirit to overcome them. Unsurprisingly, they’re used often in the NFL.

  • Roll with the punches: To keep on moving after getting hit. For an NFL team, rolling with the punches might mean manning up after a star player is injured.
  • Below the belt: Hitting below the belt in boxing is an illegal move that’s often seen as a cheap shot. In the NFL, a late tackle would be dubbed a hit below the belt, along with any other type of risky contact.
  • Throw in the towel: To throw in the towel in boxing is when corner men toss in a towel to get the referee to stop the fight. In the NFL, throwing in the towel is used to describe teams that let up before the game is done, especially when they’re down by a lot.

The Spiritual World

Some of the most interesting phrases used in the NFL don’t come from a mental game like poker or a legacy sport like boxing. Instead, they’re borrowed straight from the spiritual world, harkening back to some of our deepest emotions.

  • Hail Mary: This term was made famous by the Notre Dame team where it was first used to describe a very long pass with a low chance of succeeding. Today, it’s used to describe just about any last-ditch effort to win—though the focus remains on long passes.
  • At the eleventh hour: What began as a parable for laborers is now used in the NFL and far beyond. To do something at the eleventh hour is to do it at the last possible minute. This usually signals a fourth-quarter comeback or an overtime win in the NFL—especially one that catches everyone by surprise.
  • The writing on the wall: Once upon a time, a text scrawled on the wall of a Babylonian king directly preceded his assassination and the division of his lands. Today, we use this bad omen in a much more casual sense to describe teams that are slated to lose early on in a game… or even the season.

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Originally posted on Russell Street Report