If you're one of those people who just can't quit Shaughnessy, you might be thinking he's using the phrase "tomato can" a lot more these days. You might even think he's getting carried away with it and maybe should find another way to say "loser."
You'd be plum right. A little time spent with the Boston Globe archives shows Shank's use of the phrase has accelerated rapidly over the past year: Since Jan. 1, 2016, he's used "tomato can" in 18 columns - that's almost half of all the "tomato can" columns in a tomato-drenched career dating back to May 7, 1990, when he used it for the first time (way down towards the bottom of one of those random-bits-of-stuff column he loves so much: "Today's Celtics are a little like the 1990 George Foreman. You knew they were going to lose sometime in this playoff round, but they weren't supposed to get dropped by a first-round tomato can like the Knicks.")
Back in the old days, Shank could go years without referring to some team or person as a tomato can. In fact, after that first use, he didn't return to it again for more than two years (in a column about a boxer: "Nicholson was ranked just a notch above Tomato Can"). He even once went nearly six years without hauling out his can, between a 1997 column about the Indians and Marlins ("Marlin fans think Rocky Colavito is a tomato can who once was KO'd by Sugar Ray Leonard") and a 2003 column about another boxer ("Critics claim Holyfield was washed up when he lost to Ruiz and it's difficult to forget when the Quiet Man was knocked out in 19 seconds by tomato can David Tua in 1996").
He started squeezing the cliche a bit harder in 2014 (seven columns, mostly about the Patriots and mostly about the "Tomato Can" division they played in) and dragged poor Andy Warhol into it, even though Warhol painted cans of soup (granted, some of tomato soup), not cans of tomatoes ("The Warhol/Tomato Can Division belongs to New England once again").
He let up just a bit in 2015 (only four columns), but apparently decided that from now on, only one sport and one team's opponents were worthy of the phrase, i.e, Patriots opponents.
Then, in 2016, Shaughnessy just exploded all over the written page in ripe prose, starting right on New Year's Day with a reference to the "Tomato Can Division," i.e., the AFC East.
By December, of course, he could no longer use the phrase to discuss the AFC East, but no fear, now he can talk about "the Tomato Can Foxborough festival that will be billed as the AFC playoffs."
Shaughnessy returned to the theme yesterday, and then some, from the headline ("Patriots get to kick (tomato) can known as Houston Texans") to not one but two attempts to dice up the Patriots' next opponents, or as he called them, "the All World Tomato Cans, the Houston Texans," a team whose players "are Tomato Cans Sui Generis; Tomato Cans Di Tutti, the Houston Warhols."
And that was just four days after he cracked about other playoff teams highlight reels showing up at "the Tomato Cannes Film Festival in France next year." OK, give him points for that.