October 24, 2005

Paper Lions

The Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette, after noting that the Bengals are still a half-game ahead of the Steelers on paper, writes:

Yesterday, the Steelers made the Bengals look like paper lions, ransacking them in Paul Brown Stadium, 27-13, in the biggest football game played in Cincinnati in 15 years.

Interesting. The idiom is really paper tiger--one who talks tough and doesn't back it up, I think. But "paper lion" has a specific football resonance, as the title of George Plimpton's book about his attempt to quarterback the Detroit Lions for three plays. (Rumors that the Lions were thinking of bringing him back, before Jeff Garcia's performance yesterday, have been denied by the Lions front office.) But "paper tiger" is really more apposite for the Bengals, since Bengals are tigers. Also, I don't believe Bouchette meant to claim that the Bengals were as bad as Plimpton was.

(The Post-Gazette sports index page has "paper tigers" AOTW.)

I don't think Bouchette deliberatey tried to invoke Plimpton; my guess is that the phrase was kicking around in his mind and he put down the wrong one. Bouchette, incidentally, has a role in the philosophical literature; in early drafts of Doug Lavin's "Practical Reason and the Possibility of Error," one of the major examples featured Bill Cowher mocking Bouchette. (I don't remember whether the example survived into print.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at October 24, 2005 10:32 AM

It occurs to me that he might actually have written "paper tigers" and been corrected by some copy editor who remembered, or vaguely remembered, the name of Plimpton's book. But that is too horrible to think of.

Posted by: Matt's mom at October 25, 2005 10:00 AM