ESPN’s Chris Berman has been doing his nickname schtick for more years than I can remember. I haven’t found it particularly entertaining for the last two decades, but even I’ll admit that the names sometimes reflect a certain level of pun-based creativity. His call of Chris Horton’s interception, though, went for the most obvious joke available, something completely incomprehensible about “hearing a who”. I’m not sure why “hearing a who” is synonymous with “making a game-changing interception,” but that’s the surreal “charm” of Chris Berman’s highlight calls.
Anyhow, I figured that Horton has been hearing about hearing a who pretty much all his life — my last name caused me to spend an entire summer hearing about Yertle the Turtle, and Horton is much closer to Horton than turtle is to Terl. So when a schoolteacher on the west coast sent a copy of Horton Hears a Who for Horton to sign, I asked him about it.
The answer was somewhat distressing. Horton is a talented player and a heckuva nice guy with what seems to be realistic view of football and the world — see, for example, today’s USA Today profile of him, in which he answers the inevitable question about the first thing he bought thusly: “A guy in my position, I can’t be going out and spending money. I didn’t buy anything. I’m saving my money and letting it grow.” — but we need to get him to brush up on his children’s books.
“I haven’t read it yet,” he said. “I’m gonna read it, and I wanted to see the movie, but I haven’t read it yet.”
Well, have you signed a lot of copies of it? “That’s actually the first one.” So you somehow have gone through your life with the name Horton and no one mentioned the Dr. Seuss book? (Given my Yertle experience, this seems deeply unfair, but I don’t see any point in complaining to Horton.)
“When they came out with the movie,” he said, “a lot of my teammates were like, ‘Hey, are you starring in that?’ and I was like, ‘Nah, but I’m gonna see it.’ That’s about it.”
I suggested that he angle for a starring role in the inevitable sequel, Horton Hears a Who Two: Electric Boogaloo, and he laughed but brushed that aside as well. “I’m just kicking off my professional football career,” he said, nipping his movie career in the bud.
He does promise to read the book, though, which is nice of him. Maybe I’m reaching, but it seems like there might be some kind of resonance there — a seventh-round draft pick making an unanticipated impact in his rookie season sharing his name with a book whose moral is all about the (literal) little guy making a huge difference. But that still doesn’t make “hearing a who” a synonym for intercepting the ball. Back to the drawing board, Berman.