Football is a game of inches. It’s a game of forward motion–you can be knocked back, but usually you get credit for as far as you got before you were touched. It’s also a game of spots. There are humans that decide how far you got, and they put the ball on that spot. It’s a little squishy.
Football is about where the ball is, not where the player is. Except, of course, when the player is in bounds or out of bounds. Then it’s all about the number of feet that touched the ground on the correct side of the line, even if the ball itself is physically out. Scoring, though, is about where the ball physically is–has it crossed the line?–plus where the player is, plus whether he has a good hold on it.
So you could have the ball in the scoring area, but be in the air and float out of range. No score. You could be in the scoring area, have both feet in bounds for a hot nano-second, but bobble the ball as you hit the ground. No score. It’s hard for the player catching the ball, who has to have an amazing sense of exactly where he is while accomplishing a crazy-amazing athletic feat while having people trying to knock him down. Respect!
While this madness is occurring at super speed, some old guys in zebra suits are looking to see if the player crossed into the scoring area before being knocked down (knee positioning is critical here) or pushed out, and that the player actually was in control of the ball–seriously, this whole thing is out of control–and, if there are any opposing players nearby, that nobody is mauling an opponent. That’s pass interference. It can happen either to the receiver or to the defender. There is frequently much motioning to the old guys in the stripes that the other guy was mean. Really, I don’t know how the old guys in the stripes can make their decisions so quickly. Game speed is fast.
But really, why do we care about it so much? Why do we spend hours watching men with helmets and pads that make their huge selves even more huge and that we identify by the color of their shirts and the numbers on their backs?
Seriously, I have no flipping idea. All I know is that I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid. I’d watch with my Dad. It was me and Dad. Nobody else in the family watched football. I don’t know how it started. Likely I just sat down and found the entire game curious. I’d ask him a lot of questions. He’d patiently explain the rules and what was happening on the field.
We liked the same teams–which wasn’t a big surprise since he introduced me to his teams. But still, we shared many Saturdays watching the Wolverines play. That’s where I learned to hate the team in Columbus. It’s a rivalry. It’s like an infection. We are all zombies for our teams.
I didn’t have a clue about college, except that I intended to go. Nobody in my family had done college. When I selected a school, it was based on my love for the football team. Probably not the best way to choose a college. But it was a state school. They seemed to like smart people. I applied. It was good I got in, because I didn’t apply anywhere else.
So this last Saturday, I pulled out a twenty-five year old Michigan sweatshirt–the light gray one with the dark blue letters. The blue one with the gold letters isn’t a sweatshirt anymore as much as a thinning pajama top. I plopped myself in front of the TV for the noon kick off. And the officiating went all haywire. Forward motion, ball placement, the location of butts and shoulders and arms and hands were in a primordial stew of a set of overtime rules that were more akin to a soccer shootout than a college football game.
It seemed like none of my teams are winning this month. I don’t like losing. I am really full of character right now. But I’m thinking that if I was watching this game with my Dad, he would have been so mad. Even madder than me. Every time I saw a replay of the call that was blown by the old guys in the stripes, I know Dad would be calling them dumbshits. That was his exclamation when something went wrong with his team. And thinking about that, for some reason, made me feel just a little bit better.
We so had it. Go Blue. And thanks, Dad. xoxo