Max Scherzer threw 20 strikeouts for the Nats, a feat rarer than a no-hitter or even a perfect game. Then he did something that’s as typical in D.C. sports as an early-round playoff collapse: He gave a note-perfect quote that wound up on a T-shirt almost immediately. D.C. athletes may not have won many championships in the last couple of decades, but they’ve been an absolutely stellar source of quotes that were funny, memorable, or downright bizarre.
The quote—“The strikeouts are sexy, and that just makes it special, and the 20 really puts a stamp on it”— was shortened to “Strikeouts are Sexy,” with 20 Ks in the first word. What struck me was that this shirt is the latest that’s an authentic licensed product, marketed and sold by the team, because for so long these kinds of things were the unlicensed product of bloggers or designers or just fans who seized hold of a particular saying. (A familiar, significant quote or saying, put on a shirt in team colors, is a nice workaround for people who can’t afford to license the official name or team marks.)
This has become such a routine part of local sports culture, in other words, that the slightly outsiderish tradition has now been firmly and completely co-opted by the mainstream. Which is, as such moments always are, simultaneously kinda cool and kinda sad. That mix of feelings triggered its usual rush of nostalgia, and I decided it was time to put together a list of the top pithy sayings generated by D.C. sports teams.
I worked up an initial list, asked a few sports-minded friends to throw in any that I’d missed, and then imposed my own not-at-all arbitrary ranking scale on them.
And there were a lot—luminaries such as “Portis pockets straight,” “Eat somebody’s face,” “My swag was phenomenal,” “There is no wrong pipe,” “Stay medium,” “Maroon and black,” and all of Robert Griffin III’s grim-in-hindsight sloganeering were all relegated to the category of Others Receiving Votes. (In fairness, I also completely forgot about Kirk Cousins’ “You like that?!” because, divorced from the video, it’s tremendously dull.)
After all my complicated calculations, here are the top five:
5) “Hibachi!” It’s hard to remember from here, but Gilbert Arenas was once a local hero, and his goofy catchphrase was part of the reason why. Arenas said a lot of memorable things, but none of them were quite as evocative as this lightweight portable grill.
4) “Russian machine never breaks.” Alex Ovechkin had only been in town for a year when he dropped this badass Ivan Drago–esque bon mot, shrugging off an injury and naming one of the best local hockey blogs in the process.
3) “I called game.” Paul Pierce’s ice-cold declaration after hitting a walk-off buzzer beater in a playoff game would be even more memorable (and might even be number one on this list) if the Wizards hadn’t gone on to lose the next three games, eliminating them from the playoffs.
2) “DAGGER!!!” The best quotes on a list like this transcend T-shirts and blog names and become their own iconic thing. I say “dagger” so frequently in day-to-day conversation, in so many unrelated situations, that even co-workers who have never heard Steve Buckhantz call a game know what it means.
1) “That’s a clown question, bro.” Bryce Harper was just 19 when he casually dropped this retort on a hapless Canadian reporter who had asked some dumb question about if Harper—who is Mormon and famously doesn’t drink—would be drinking beer in Canada, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a non-scripted line take hold in quite the same way. I texted a friend that night, back in 2012, that we’d be hearing people say this until the heat-death of the universe, and nothing that’s happened in the four years since has convinced me otherwise. The phrase is still making news—White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest broke it out in a 2015 briefing, while statcentric blog Five Thirty Eight used it in a Harper-related headline just last month. Memorable, usable in a day-to-day context, and with mainstream staying power, this is a no-brainer to top off this list.
One day, one of the local teams will finally win another championship, and when that happens some player will say something both clever and triumphant that will wind up on thousands of T-shirts inside of two hours. But until that happens… well, at least we’ve got clever.
Follow Matt Terl on Twitter @Matt_Terl.