Some things are just ingrained in us. Just a couple of weeks ago, I received an email from someone asking how their performance was measuring up. Without missing a beat, I replied: “First you’ve acquired enough points to show up tomorrow and graduate with your Top Gun class, or you can quit. There’d be no disgrace. That spin was hell, it would’ve shook me up.” The “LOL” response told me everything I needed to know, and from there we had a terrific discussion.
It’s been 34 years since Top Gun graced the silver screen, and we’re just a few months away from seeing Maverick return to theaters. In that time, we’ve seen the movie go from blockbuster to legendary meme status, as well as the butt of more than a few jokes. It’s campy. It’s overacted. And, well, it’s a classic. Along the way, it’s found a place in my personal lexicon – so much so that rarely a day goes by when I don’t find myself drawing on a quote from the film.
1. “Talk to me, Goose.”
This is my standard response to everything from answering a phone call to replying to someone asking for a moment of my time, except without the obligatory tossing of the dog tags. That would just be weird.
2. “The plaque for alternates is down in the ladies’ room.”
While not the most PC of quotes these days, it gets the point across clearly: there are no trophies for second place. Give it your best or don’t give anything at all.
3. “Sorry, Goose, but it’s time to buzz a tower.”
There are times when an unannounced drive-by (or visit to someone’s office) is necessary. This is how you declare your intent to do so. The further you are away from a military audience, the more fun you can have with this line.
4. “I feel the need… the need for speed.”
As campy lines go, they don’t get much campier than this one. But, at the end of the workday, there’s really no better way to say, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” This line also is perfectly delivered as you’re taxiing in complete darkness away from pretty much any place that starts with the letter B: Bagram, Baghdad, Baltimore.
5. “Come on, Mav, do some of that pilot shit.”
We’re in the Red Zone, there’s no time left on the clock, and we need a touchdown. The pressure’s on, the commanding general is ahead of schedule, you have to deliver like you’ve never delivered before. Definitely a time for some pilot shit.
6. “Negative, Ghost Rider, the pattern is full.”
Okay, I’ll admit that this is probably just a cool way to say “no.” But, I’ll also confess that I use this line on an almost daily basis. Ask me a yes or no question where the answer is “no” and this is what you’ll get in response.
After three decades, you would think I would be more original. But I’m not.
7. “You’re at three-quarters of a mile. Call the ball.”
The “ball” is the nickname for the Optical Landing System on an aircraft carrier, and there is a lot more to this line than is worth explaining. What it’s come to mean outside naval aviation circles, however, is clear: when in charge, take charge. Make a decision. Be a leader. It’s also a lot of fun to say during a decision brief.
“What’s your recommendation?”
“You’re at three-quarters of a mile. Call the ball.”
“I recommend COA 2, sir.”
8. “You can be my wingman any time.”
Everybody needs a battle buddy, and every battle buddy needs to be acknowledged. This is the ultimate pat on the back to your battle buddy.
9. “Gutsiest move I ever saw, Mav.”
Generally, a comment reserved for someone who’s made an especially bold decision. Also, however, the ideal line for someone who’s made a potentially career-ending choice that might also be bold.
“I just emailed our plans brief to a bunch of media outlets.”
“Dude, that was classified. What email address did you use?”
“My .mil address, why?”
“Gutsiest move I ever saw, Mav.”
10. “And if you screw up just this much, you’ll be flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong.”
This one? Self-explanatory.
So, as we prepare to celebrate another Top Gun Day, it’s a great time to blow the dust off your favorite lines and share them. Visit your local grocery store and tell the person crowding you from behind, “The hard deck for this hop was six feet. You knew it, you broke it.” The odds are good they’ll know what you mean and back off. Speed past a cop at 20 miles an hour over the speed limit so you can tell them, “I’m not going to be happy unless I’m going Mach 2 with my hair on fire.” That probably won’t save you from a ticket, but you’ll both get a good laugh. In the meantime, break out the callsign generator, pre-order the movie on 4K, and settle in for the sequel. It’s going to be a Top Gun kind of year.