'Like a fart in a skillet': newfound football term and old-school Appalachian adage

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PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) — Let me paint you a picture.

Imagine minding your own business and suddenly discovering that "like a fart in a skillet" is not only a phrase, but you can use it when talking about football.

I never imagined writing an article of this magnitude, but strange, unforeseen circumstances arose on Friday.

A memetic turn of phrase caught fire and stole the show at the Steelers' after-practice media availability.

Here's some clarity: A reporter asked Steelers' offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner about the team's young yet productive troupe of wide receivers.

"I always kind of use the term, in the beginning, they're like a fart on a skillet. They're just bouncing around everywhere, they're like popcorn; you never know where they're going to be. But it's getting better; they're growing up," Fichtner said.

There it is: "like a fart in a skillet."

And Fichtner really opened Pandora's box on this one, so let's wrap our heads around it.

Rookie Chase Claypool, second-year Diontae Johnson, third-year James Washington, fourth-year JuJu Smith-Schuster, and even Ray-Ray McCloud are the most well-known receivers on the Steelers roster.

Consider them to be the core of the wide receiver room in reference.

A more mundane way of paraphrasing Fichtner's words might describe the receiving group as explosive and energetic, that they can scoot around on the field like darting waterbugs.

While it might have meant adulation for the receivers, the expression itself took center stage.

But what exactly does the phrase mean?

And more importantly, where did it come from?

So by now, you might already have a pretty good grasp on what the term means, but what you might not know is that it appears to have Appalachian origins.

Website Appalachian Mountain Roots wrote a blog post about the very phrase.

The unknown author compared the phrase's meaning to a "squirrel when crossing the street" in the post.

More so, after checking the comment section for some reason, it turns out that there's some variability in words used in the idiom.

One commenter mentioned the "like a fart on a griddle" variant.

Regardless, there's a fidgety, erratic, and hyperactive connotation to the phrase, it seems.

To bridge the expression with football jargon, maybe "twitch" is the best word to use.

Wide receivers aren't always the first position group used when the idea of a twitchy athlete is being thrown around, though.

It's also commonly used for edge rushers and defensive lineman, too.

But there's something to be said about a twitchy receiver.

It could be a way to describe the smaller, jitterbug type of wide receivers with lateral quickness and insane 40 times that double as returners — Kansas City Chiefs' Tyreek Hill or Miami Dolphins' Jakeem Grant come to mind.

The twitchy label could also mean general explosivity and how it pertains to getting out of releases.

And I think this is pay dirt because that's something that the Steelers wide receivers have been credited with.

The receivers have to be twitchy on the 2020 Steelers team, and the 11-0 record shows that it has been a part of the formula.

According to Next Gen Stats, Ben Roethlisberger has the quickest throwing motion of his career so far in 2020, 2.28 average seconds.

Roethlisberger is making faster, shorter throws, more so now than at any other point in his career, but when he launches it, Chase Claypool has been the beneficiary.

NFL Research's Joseph Ferraiola more eloquently spells out Claypool's effectiveness: "Chase Claypool has caught five of his team-high 21 deep targets (20-plus air yards) this season. He has gained more yards on deep targets (214) than all of his teammates combined (177) this season. Claypool's three deep-ball TDs have all come on go routes, tied for sixth-most in the NFL on such routes."

Earlier in the year, FiveThirtyEight also created an NFL model of separation versus the value of yards gained (SOE/Play).

On that list, Diontae Johnson came in fourth place among all eligible pass-catchers in the SOE/Play column, second among wide receivers.

It was an efficient season for Johnson in the short game.

His targets and the average depth of target were lower than other receivers, but that's fine for a rookie.

Keep in mind, only Johnson's 2019 season was used in the model.

And for what it's worth, he's been making significant strides in Year 2.

Anyway, as you can see, the data is there to support what Fichtner said.

None of the sites I found had a "farts per skillet" metric, but I think that the bottom line is clear: The Steelers have a twitchy, speedy, productive group of pass-catchers.

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