Signature Calls: Buckhantz Talks "Dagger!"
Introducing another new summer feature: local broadcasters talking about their catchphrases. Up first, of course, is Steve Buckhantz.
Steve Buckhantz doesn't remember when he started bestowing Dagger! calls on game-winning shots. He doesn't remember the first shot that earned such an exclamation, and he doesn't remember exactly where he got the term from. Here's what he remembers.
"I just know in my mind I had this visual of the player just sort of driving a stake into the heart of the opposition--this was finality, this was the final shot, the game winner, the play that ended the game, that did the other team in," the Wizards' play-by-play man told me. "And for whatever reason, and I don't know what the reason was, 'The Dagger!' just popped out of my mouth. I had no idea it would stick. I just knew it felt comfortable to me. It was very climactic, emphatic; a definite exclamation point to the end of the game. It just felt good."
So Buckhantz kept it going, initially using it for game-ending shots made by either the Wiz or their opponents. A clearer memory is when Dagger almost went away.
Buckhantz started doing Wizards games for Comcast SportsNet (then called Home Team Sports) in the fall of 1997; the Dagger was introduced a few years later. Sometime in the early 21st century, the then-general manager of CSN, Sam Schroeder, called Buckhantz to discuss. Schroeder thought it was sort of a harsh term, not very positive, especially when the Wizards were on the receiving end. He thought maybe Buckhantz should find another catchphrase.
"I had the feeling that I was gaining some recognizability through this call," said Buckhantz, who laid out Dagger's defense. "I was starting to be associated with this call, and in our business, like in most businesses, if you develop some sort of association, a brand that's associated with you, that's something you can't pay for, something you can't buy. And he understood that."
So Dagger survived, and began to prosper, although Buckhantz stopped using it for game-winning shots by the other team. He credits some of its booming popularity to the Junkies, who played his Dagger call incessantly and began using it to describe non-sports situations. (From his Wikipedia page: "males observing a friend attempting to ask a woman for her phone number exclaim "Dagger!" or "Backbreaker!" when she can be seen rejecting the friend's advances.")
Which led to the golden age: The Dagger tribute page. The homages at Deadspin and Sports By Brooks (although all the videos have been yanked). The love from Mister Irrelevant. The young fan who brought a huge Dagger sign to Verizon. The CSN commercial.
Buckhantz has a niece who screams out Dagger every time she sees her famous uncle. Eddie Jordan's son drove his father crazy with the word; "You're killing me with this; I got home and my son is screaming Dagger this, Dagger that, that's all I hear," the ex-coach told Buckhantz. ESPN's Scott Van Pelt called out another team's announcer for incorrect use of the phrase. Ed Tapscott, the former interim coach, was always talking Daggers; "We'd get on the plane after the Wizards would win a game with a good finish, and he'd say, 'I know you had a Dagger tonight,' " Buckhantz recalled. And then there are the fans in public places who treat it like a bird call when Buckhantz walks by.
"I'll be anywhere and guys will scream out Dagger, they'll ask if I can say it into their cell phones, they'll record me saying it," Buckhantz told me. "I'll be at a Nats game, and as I walk to my seat I'll hear people scream out Dagger. It happens all the time, which to me is bizarre....To turn around and just hear somebody scream out one word that apparently and evidently has become associated so closely with you, to me, is just bizarre in an unreal way. Sometimes it takes you by surprise, because that's a call I make at the end of the game, but nothing that I dreamed up ahead of time. But I enjoy it, I'm flattered by it."
Obviously other broadcasters use the same term--Bill Raftery's use of Dagger prompted Yahoo to name its college basketball blog the same--and Buckhantz doesn't know who used it first. He said he doesn't "claim to have a patent on it," and said it's different from "The Backbreaker," another one of his key phrases. He also said he's been warned by Chick Hernandez to beware the "premature daggeration," deeming one shot a Dagger before the game has actually been decided.
"Which I think I've done on one occasion," Buckhantz admitted. "You do have to be careful not to get that too soon. A couple times I've called Dagger, then sort of held my breath for the last second in hopes the other team didn't underhand the ball 98 feet."
And one thing I've always wondered: does Buckhantz use Dagger in those non-sports situations referenced above: when someone grabs the last donut from the Verizon Center press lounge, or when his blogging software crashes seconds before he was set to publish?
"I have people scream it to me, but I've never used it in an everyday life situation," he said. "I've never used it any other situation besides the end of the game."
(Oh, and his best Dagger of all time? Gilbert's game winner in Game 5 of the Bulls first-round series in 2005. "To me, that's my favorite," he said. "Now, Phil sort of screamed at the same time, but between the two of us I think you got the gist." Second-favorite was the DeShawn Dagger in New Orleans, also seen here.)
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