Buckhantz's 'Dagger' Remains Mightier

Steve Buckhantz has been asked to record his signature call into people's cellphones over the years.
Steve Buckhantz has been asked to record his signature call into people's cellphones over the years. (By Michel Du Cille -- The Washington Post)
Tuesday, July 7, 2009

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 honor, and he doesn't remember exactly why he chose that word. Here's what he remembers about the origins of one of D.C.'s most famous current sports calls.

"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 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 the dagger in his arsenal, 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 that word. 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 although Buckhantz stopped using it for game-winning shots by the other team, "dagger" survived, and began to prosper. 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 cellphones, they'll record me saying it," Buckhantz told me. "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."

Obviously, several other broadcasters use the same term, and Buckhantz doesn't know who screamed it first. He's also been warned by CSN host 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. "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."

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