Around the Horn

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"Four Troperiffic sportswriters right there! Today, lampshades will be hung, hilarity is likely to ensue, and who on the panel will be the first to fail biology, forever? Ten topics, but only one winner. Let's do it!"

Around the Horn is a sports discussion show on ESPN, which debuted in 2002 and is still ongoing. The premise is simple -- four sportswriters with No Indoor Voice debate about current sport topics and are scored on their arguments. The moderator is Pardon the Interruption 's Tony "Stat Boy" Reali (formerly Max Kellerman), who has ultimate power over the panelists' scores and the almighty mute button. Points are (in theory) awarded for good arguments, jokes and commentary, and taken away for contradictory or incomprehensible arguments (among other things), which can also earn a 10-second mute. In practice, however, it usually all devolves pretty quickly. Right before the second commercial, the player with the lowest score is eliminated, then again before the next commercial, before the final two engage in a "showdown" to determine the day's winner, who receives a solo spot to rant about or praise whatever they feel like for 30 seconds.

The usual rotation of panelists includes Woody Paige, Tim Cowlishaw, J.A. Adande, Bill Plashcke, Jackie MacMullen, Bob Ryan, Bomani Jones, and Kevin Blackistone, with occasional appearances by Michael Smith, Jemele Hill, and a handful of other columnists. Jay Mariotti was a regular panelist since the show's beginning, but he hasn't appeared since his August 2010 domestic violence arrest, and ESPN has made it clear they aren't really interested in bringing him back.

ATH is a part of the ESPN network's afternoon block of "journalists yell about sports" shows, with Numbers Never Lie, Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable, Pardon the Interruption and Sports Nation. The audio of every episode is also available for listening on's podcast section.

Not to be confused with Round the Horne.

Tropes used in Around the Horn include:

  • Aesop Amnesia: After the Dallas Mavericks won the 2010-11 NBA Championship by defeating the Miami Heat, an ungodly amount of points was deducted from Bill Plaschke at the start of the show; he had declared the series over after the Heat won Game 1 (the Mavericks won 4 of the last 5 games in the series). A few days later, Plaschke won the Face Time and used it to address the people who e-mailed the show about Plaschke's constant "It's Over" declarations, to which he said that he will fess up when he's wrong but he will continue to make proclamations when he sees fit because that's part of the fun of watching sports.
  • April Fools' Day:
    • Woody Paige swapped positions with Tony Reali in 2009.
    • In 2010, the show ran backwards. Once again, Woody Paige takes the "win".
  • Bald of Awesome: Kevin Blackistone, Gene Wojciechowski
  • Butt Monkey: Tim Cowlishaw gets this treatment for being the only panelist who is an an avid fan of hockey, NASCAR and an outspoken supporter of the BCS. Frequently lampshaded: "Cowlishaw's not here, so let's talk hockey" and "the Bowl Cowlishaw Series", for example.
    • In one segment, Reali kept taking points away from Cowlishaw because he couldn't give clear answers (i.e. being on the fence regarding an issue instead of taking a side like the others did).
    • Bill Plashcke arguably is a second-favorite target, especially if a Los Angeles sports team is involved. Reali seems to love to mute him for being a "homer" if he picks the LA team to win, but also mute him for not having any team loyalty if he picks against the LA team.
  • Camera Abuse: A mild example: at the end of every show, Reali crumples up a page or two of his notes and throws the wad at one of the cameras.
  • Catch Phrase: Several:
    • About the show:
"The show of competitive banter!" and "The show that scores the argument!"
"Four [adjective] sportswriters...", or "Four sportswriters who [whatever]"
"Ten topics, one winner!" ("Twelve topics" when the Lightning Round is used as the third segment instead of Out of Bounds)
Reali will occasionally yell "HORN!" right before the show cuts to a commercial. (When Kellerman hosted, his announcer always ended his next segment programs with the word "around", just so he could add "...the HOOOOOOOORN!"
"We're on a 23 and a half hour break" at the end of the show, which changes to "71 and a half" on the Friday show, and "[however many] and a half" for extended breaks such as pre-emptions or holidays.
    • Scoring:
"Self-promotion is the mating call of the mute button."
"A wave of mute-ilation!" (when Reali mutes all the panelists at once)
"You're going the wrong way" (as points are deducted)
"You need to get a hold of your life!" (a contemptuous response to using extremely obscure/convoluted statistics)
    • Leading into the Showdown:
"Two men enter, one man [something]" ("two enter, one [something]" if Jackie MacMullan or Jemele Hill make it)
If Paige and Mariotti made it to the Showdown, Reali frequently said "I believe you two know each other", in reference to the panelists' frosty relationship.
    • From Woody:
"Why do I always have to straighten you guys out?"
"Look at the schedule!"
He also likes to say "Hey now!" right as the camera cuts to Reali after the opening theme ends, which Reali almost always echoes.
    • From J.A. Adande, if he's the "winner": "Welcome to the J.A. Adande Lounge!", usually with a list of celebrity guests.
    • From Cowlishaw: "Wait, what happened there?!" as he loses points, or imitating various sports personas/celebrities, with varying degrees of success.
    • From Bob Ryan: "They STINK!"
    • From Kevin Blackistone:
"It's a freaky, fresh, funky Friday!" (Friday shows only)
"What's happening, Tony?" which almost always leads to "Everything appears to be everything."
    • From Bomani Jones:
"Panky rang!" (referring to that particular bit of jewelry which he flashes as he's being eliminated)
"Foolywang!", which translates to WTF?! and shows up when he's eliminated.
  • Continuity Nod: Panelists will be deducted points if they don't keep their arguments relatively consistent with ones from previous episodes or if predictions made about the outcome of an event turn out to be drastically wrong.
    • One extreme use of this trope was a 57 point penalty against Tim Cowlishaw before "The First Word" due to a bad guess made about Darrelle Revis.
    • On the flip side, some panelists have been given "head starts", earning points before the opening round for correct picks on game outcomes or recent professional accomplishments. Jackie MacMullan received a 25 point bonus for being named a recipient of the Basketball Hall of Fame's Curt Gowdy Media Award in May of 2010. Woody Paige received a 10 point bonus in 2009 for correctly predicting that the New Jersey Institute of Technology's basketball team would snap a 51-game losing streak.
    • For an extreme example, see the example listed under Aesop Amnesia? At the same time that Plaschke was deducted an ungodly amount of points, Jackie MacMullan was given an ungodly amount of points, as she was the only panelist to correctly predict the Mavericks' win in the finals. Reali's opening to the show even stated that Jackie Mac was the only panelist with a chance of winning that day's show, a prediction that (unsurprisingly) turned out to be true. The other panelists did so poorly as a result of being penalized that Jackie was the only panelist in the Showdown.
    • The September 26 2011 episode had a particularly egregious example of the headstart and penalty - the previous episode had Woody Paige dismiss the chances of the Buffalo Bills to beat the New England Patriots in that weekend's slate of NFL games, while Tim Colishaw boldly predicted that the Bills would snap a 15-game losing streak to New England. The Bills won that Sunday and when the Monday episode rolled around, Reali simultaneously gave Cowlishaw a 23-point headstart and Paige a 27-point penalty for their predictions.
  • Couch Gag: Woody Paige's chalkboard by his head will say something different after every commercial break.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Tony Reali, especially in this exchange over Bryce Harper's new nickname - Bam Bam, named after his face was cracked after hitting himself with his bat.

Woody Paige: "I love the nickname. If you go back in history, where did "Bam Bam" come from? He was left on the doorstep of The Flintstones; he was adopted, and they named him Bam Bam because he could swing a club so well."
Tony Reali: "If you go back in history?"

  • Department of Redundancy Department: "Travelers Around the Horn, presented by Travelers Insurance".
  • Did Not Do the Research: Frequently.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Woody Paige
  • Eliminated From the Race: After Buy or Sell and Round 3, the lowest-scoring player is cut with a lightning-bolt effect.
  • Fan Disservice: When the MLB brought in a dress code for reporters banning tank tops, flip flops and short skirts Woody Paige said he'd go to the first game wearing all three. He lost points for it.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language:
    • Bob Ryan occasionally slips in some Gratuitous French.
    • Jay Mariotti used to try and butter up Reali with Gratuitous Italian, and frequently got muted in response for "Trying too hard".
  • Hey, It's That Sound: Is that the Pokémon anime recall noise played at the top of the show now?
  • Incredibly Lame Pun:
    • Woody is a fan of these.
    • Reali sometimes will move on to the next topic by muting the entire panel and declaring "A wave of mute-ilation!"
    • When the show's main sponsor changed from Travelers Insurance to Pizza Hut, the show's intro over the opening music changed to "Around The Horn, delivered by Pizza Hut!"
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In one episode, Plaschke smugly bragged that he was close to eliminating the other panelists after the 1st Cut. He became the next one eliminated.
  • Large Ham: Seems like a requirement to be on the show. Paige and Plashcke in particular are extremely hammy.
  • Motor Mouth: Plashcke, frequently.
  • No Indoor Voice: Just about everyone.
  • One of Us: Reali delights in referencing 80s Video Games, 90s Grunge Bands and classic WWF Wrestling.
    • Even went so far as to deride a panelist for looking like "Macho Man Randy Savage" and then giving the win to Woody Paige just because he referenced Hulk Hogan.
  • The Pete Best: Wait, Max Kellerman hosted this show?
  • The Points Mean Nothing: A very borderline example as the points allow panelists to keep talking with the eventual winner getting "face time" at the end, but they are awarded and taken away so arbitrarily that it's hard to take it seriously as any sort of measure.
    • When Max Kellerman still hosted the show, the points did mean something. The writers would get 1 point for a good argument, 2 for a great one, and would get muted (with a -3 point penalty as opposed to the current -1) for bad ones or if they made fun of the Yankees, as opposed to the half dozen points they get just for existing. A good day for one of the writers would typically net them 25 points at the end of the Buy or Sell, which is the average that they get now at the end of the first round.
  • Product Placement: Travelers Insurance, Pizza Hut, Guinness Black Lager, Johnnie Walker Black Label and Crown Royal Black have been the principal sponsors since the show converted to HD. The first two companies' logos were used in the on-set decorations, while the spirits' logos are the first things shown when the show cuts to the studio in the intro and are displayed over the ESPN logo in the ticker during the show.
  • Put on a Bus: Regular contributor Jay Mariotti has not appeared since his August 2010 arrest. He was dropped with little fanfare (a brief discussion about it on one of the following episodes), and it doesn't sound like he'll be returning any time soon.
  • Retool: Just before Max Kellerman left, panelists all got face time in relation to points.
  • Role-Ending Misdemeanor: Again, its why Mariotti's gone.
  • Running Gag: During the "Buy or Sell" round, Tony will often make references to 80s Nintendo games just to elicit silent confusion among the significantly older panelists.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Tony Reali for Max Kellerman.
  • Swapped Roles: On the 2009 April Fools Day episode, panelist Woody Paige and host Tony Reali switched roles. Hilarity ensued.
  • Throw It In: Chatter between Reali and the panel frequently runs into the opening theme and the bumper music before ad breaks.
  • Title Drop: Used often in the Kellerman era; he would end the coming up teaser with the word "around", followed by the Disembodied Voice finishing up with "...the Horn!" Reali just says "Horn!" after his.
  • Token Girl: Jackie MacMullan and Jemele Hill are both subversions since they're both well-accomplished sportswriters and more than capable of winning debates with the male panelists. MacMullan actually has the highest winning percentage of any regular panelist (but will jokingly play the sexism card when eliminated first).
  • Too Soon: Sensitive topics, such as deaths, arrests or possible racial issues, are sometimes discussed without any scoring, loud voices, or interrupting other panelists.
  • What an Idiot!: Paige boldly claimed that LeBron James would average 30 points in the 2012 playoff series against Indiana. He was so confident that he said that, if the Heat lost, Paige wanted Reali to deduct 30 points away. When the Heat won the series, on the backs of Wade and James (who did score a combined average of about 33.4 or so points since Game 4), Paige eagerly asked for a 30-point raise. Reali and the other panelists quickly pointed that out and deducted about 11 points away from Paige. Dude still won in that episode, though.