The great ones have their catchphrases. I’d posit that the most noteworthy one in the sports world currently belongs to Stephen A. Smith.
Mike Breen has “BANG.”; Marv Albert has “YES.”; Mark Jackson has “Mama, there goes that man.”; Andres Cantor has the “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!”; Bill Raftery has “ONIONS.”; and Chris Berman has “Back, back, back, back, back, back, back.” They all pale in comparison to Smith’s signature phrase:
Stay off the weed.
If there is a Mount Rushmore of sports phrases, this one must be on it (click there if a video’s not showing up for you below, or throughout this post).
Smith has transformed into one of the more entertaining characters in sports media. If you try to take him terribly seriously, it’s just gonna make your head hurt, so don’t do that. If you view him purely as an entertainer, you’re gonna have way more fun, and you’ll start to appreciate the art of the delivery.
It’s always during a rant about athletes using marijuana the message is clear. but there are a couple core tenets of the delivery to consider.
Think of the phrase as a theatrical production with three acts.
Keep track of these acts, because they’re important to the ratings for each production.
Act 1: The initial element is the setup and how he hits the “off.” Phonetically, with his native New York accent, it’s at his best when it sounds like “AWF.” By itself, it’s just a short word. But in the full context, as the foundation for the rest of the performance, its value cannot be understated.
Act 2: As you’ll see, as a true wordsmith, the phonetic gymnastics of the word “weed” come in two distinct sections. The crescendo, the “wee-” portion of the word takes us on a certain journey.
That brings us to ...
Act 3: Then the “d” or phonetically “duh” as a dismount to the turn of phrase.
Like a snowflake, all of Smith’s performances of this phrase are different. For posterity, I’ve taken as many utterances of the phrase as can be found on the internet (collected in great compilations by YouTubers that can be found by clicking on those links) and decided to score each instance out of five.
All verdicts are final and unimpeachable.
Nov. 28, 2018: 5 stars
This is truly the standard by which all others are judged. At a length of 8.57 seconds, the full “weed”: is the longest in the group. Act 2 in itself has multiple parts as Smith takes his voice to one key before dropping it to a lower register. You just can’t coach this.
And the finish here. Just **chef’s kiss**.
Nov. 28, 2018: 4.2
It starts about 40 seconds in.
Act 3 here is what I really want to hit on. It’s a guttural “-duh,” a truly impressive finish to make up for the fact that Act 2 was good but not great.
Feb. 6, 2014: 2.5
There’s little in the way of a dismount here, but the hand gestures in play do show what you can do to spruce things up to save the performance. It’s not just about the vocal registers. The window dressing can play a part as well.
Nevertheless, a disappointing Act 3 and no Act 1 leave this one incomplete as best.
May 12, 2014: 4
Like the one at the very top of this post, I think this is the most complete performance. It’s not the best or the most memorable but it is solid. The cadence measured, and no part stand out above the others.
This is consistency of delivery. It’s a 20 and 10 performance.
March 4, 2019: 1.5
I’m just disappointed with this one. The full voice crack ruins Act 2. What I will give some credit for is the intent inherent in Act 2. He’s trying to go to a certain place with it, but he misses the mark. I can’t in all good faith reward that.
Aug. 22, 2014: 1
This one isn’t particularly noteworthy in its own right, I just think it’s funny that he’s delivering a normal sentence and literally stops himself to hit the weed (not literally of course).
Aug. 21, 2014: 4.8
The flair put in here with the damn. Like a gourmet chef adding just the right amount of seasoning to a masterful dish. The head movement adds a certain bit of panache too.
July 7, 2014: 4.5
Lest you think the man is a one-trick pony, he throws a curveball here to keep you on your toes with a “stay on the weed.” The bellicose low register he goes to with the “weed” cannot be ignored either.
March 26, 2015: 3.0
While the full delivery’s a little brief for my tastes, I do respect the head fake here to sell as well but I have seen better in that department.
July 7, 2014: 3.7
The hold of the note and the look to camera as he’s hitting Act 2 elevate it above replacement level. The man is a true professional of his craft. Even when he’s not at his best, he’ll at least give you something.
May 12, 2014: 3.7
Measured, concise, and on beat. I’ll consider those factors while being disappointed there is little in the way of an Act 3.
Date unknown: 3.8
I must dock points for a lack of an Act 1 while being quite impressed with both 2 and 3. There’s a different cadence and it’s less mid-rant than usual. It’s what holds this back from being great.
We are all Max Kellerman here, as Smith gives us two for price of one in an extended rant. We are just witnesses to true greatness incarnate, making sure we’re clear on where Smith stands on THE WEEEEEEDUH.