Here's something cool. We were flipping through ESPN 25: 25 Mind-Bending, Eye-Popping, Culture Morphing Years of Highlights, a 2004 book published by Disney. Tucked away inside Chapter 5? A taxonomy of ESPN highlights—what author Charles Hirschberg refers to as the "seminal 17."
The list was created in the early '90s by former ESPN highlights coordinator Dan Steir (he recently left Bristol to take a fancy job with NBC Sports). Steir's list was a manual of sorts for ESPN employees, created right around the time that SportsCenter was re-inventing the sports highlight. As late as 2004, this list was still popping up in ESPN training seminars. An ESPN spokesman says the list isn't handed out anymore, but as you'll see it's such a part of the show's DNA now that a formalized taxonomy is no longer necessary. "A good 90 percent of highlights on ESPN fall into one of these categories," Hirschberg wrote in '04.
Here are the 17 types of highlights as defined by ESPN:
1. The "Who Won?" Highlight
A straight-up chronological walk through a game.
2. The Epic Highlight
The highlight begins near the climax of the game. And just as you're about to get to the juicy stuff, the big play, the highlight pauses to tease out some backstory.
3. The "Hail, Conquering Hero!" Highlight
Focuses on one star and stays with his performance.
4. The Blowout Highlight
Obvious enough, but with a special emphasis on making the winner's accomplishments seem amazing and the loser's futility seem so much worse.
5. The "Just Put a Gun to His Head and Put Him Out of His Misery" Highlight
Did someone choke really bad? Did John Starks just go 2-for-18 in Game 7 of the NBA Finals? This highlight is dedicated to that guy.
6. The "Put a Gun to ALL of Their Heads and Put Them ALL Out of Their Misery Highlight"
Same as above, but pluralized.
7. The Defense Wins Highlight
You get the idea.
8. The Offense Rules Highlight
Same as above.
9. The Clash of the Titans Highlight
Highlight with an almost exclusive emphasis on the two big stars. Manning vs. Brady, LeBron vs. Kobe, etc.
10. The Turning Point Highlight
11. The Single Series Highlight
Did one drive or one inning change the whole game? Then that's the highlight.
12. The Blue Collar Highlight
Did someone make an incredible block? Was there a great relay throw to the cutoff man? This highlight package is dedicated to the little things.
13. The Cutaway Highlight
This has long been ESPN's trademark highlight. If the game is godawful, you focus on something else: fans, fighting mascots, whatever.
14. The "Do You See a Trend Here?" Highlight
This is every-curveball-induced-a-grounder-to-the-left-side sort of stuff.
15. The Game Plan Highlight
Was there a strategy going in that totally worked or backfired? Analysis strictly on that.
16. The Controversy Highlight
A highlight package that centers around the one play in question.
17. The History Highlight
Reserved for records or milestones. Break out the archival footage, with the new stuff mixed in.