Amazing Blues

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

Suited Up

Pee Wee football. It's cute. But even cuter that they stopped to do the nae nae. Dance or tackle?

“Wait! That’s Rodney!?”

When I was a little Doc, my dad and I watched college ball together. The Lions weren’t much to look at so, likely out of his self-preservation, we watched Big Ten football.

I didn’t pay any attention to the NFL until after college. I only started watching because I casually knew someone who kicked for the Giants. So I became a Giants fan. It was a very fruitful relationship–the era of The Big Tuna and some rings.

The Big Guy didn’t play football until high school. The program was huge–80 or 90 boys would suit up for varsity on Saturdays. Pretty much every one of those boys thought they had a chance to play in the NFL. Especially as their school was nationally ranked, again. (I never got what that meant. Like ranked by who? What criteria? Who sees them? Damn system is worse than NCAA coaches poll. /rant)

There were probably 150 boys in the football program every year across freshman, JV and varsity. A bunch, well more than a handful, were recruited for Division I schools. Some started, many did not.

Most of the boys on that big high school team didn’t were never played a down in a game. It’s like they fielded a big team just to intimidate smaller schools. Many starters played both offense and defense. The Big Guy played on the scout team. Those are the boys who imitate the other guys during practice. Except you weren’t really allowed to hit the starters. And, you kept waiting for a coach to notice you. They didn’t.

The Big Guy would talk about how the first string would hit. How some were hesitant. How some were soft. The top ranked high school player in the country played with him. He said he never rang his bell. The kid who ended up playing for Harvard? That guy could hit. Or so I was told.

Sunday we saw Rodney on TV. The Big Guy ran the 4X4 relay with him. They played ball at the same time. Nobody thought that the little guy would be in the NFL. Eyes were set on other stars. And, yet, there he is. And the hundreds of other boys who played with him in Pop Warner, high school and college? Doing something else.

Rodney was playing for the other team, but I still kind of was rooting for him. You know you have passed into another stage in life when you see a big-contract NFL safety on TV and you just want to pinch his cheek. So I pinched the Big Guy’s sweet bearded cheek.

Selling Fields

Wilma and Fred smoking.

Sunday. Football Sunday. I’m sitting in front of the TV all day watching huge men perform great–and less than great–feats of athleticism while throwing their gigantic bodies at each other. With every game, every time out and during many changes of possession a series of ads play. What do people who watch football buy? What is Madison Avenue selling this fan demographic?

Fast food. A lot of fast food. My arteries narrow in a Pavlovian response. Goopy cheesy pizza, thin crust, deep dish, carryout and delivery. Actually, almost all of the fast food ads are about cheese. Cheese burgers, cheese fries, cheesy tacos. I guess football fans are not lactose-intolerant.

Cars! Cars! Cars! There are two types of car ads during the games. One is about the facts, the quality and safety features of the vehicles and the third party awards and validations. Cars in these ads hardly move. Then there are the emotional ads full of vistas including purple mountains majesties with twisting roads and fruited plains being crossed at high speed. These include old songs that evoke times of freedom for baby boomers who can afford luxury SUVs.

Stupid scary TV shows. The networks use their free airtime to try and get folks to wach their stupid and scary TV shows about serial murders, tortured children and other kinds of murders. Also some ruthless buisiness moguls who surround themselves with people in slinky, shiny golden lame. Do people wear those clothes in the office?  Networks don’t try and sell many funny shows. Just scary shows. Or maybe just fear.

Networks. Lots of ads about coverage and likes and panoramas of new phones encouraging football fans to switch to a new wireless providers–either because it’s better or because it’s the same. I’m not so sure about the reason for switching for more of the same, though.

Containers. There’s a smattering of beer ads. Not as many as I expected. The focus is on the cans. I guess the look of the can is more compelling than the taste of the beers they’re selling.

Financial instruments. There are insurance ads–most of which do not make any sense and are trifling. There’s also retirement investments. Does football make people feel mortal? There’s also meds for boners. I guess football definitely makes people feel mortal.

Alas, Poor Robert

RG3 suited up and alone.

Both my boys played football. One played skills positions and the other was on the line. They worked really hard. I don’t think they threw up during two-a-days. I know some of the boys did. No flies on them. Washington is brutal in August.

Neither boy won a Heisman. They didn’t end up the second pick in an NFL draft. Lacked the NFL Rookie of the Year honor, too.

Nobody underwent reconstructive knee surgeries. One did have his hand stepped on by a 300 pound freshman lineman when he stepped up to fill a hole on the line. (Yes, it’s true. There were 3-4 freshman that size.)  He was a 165 pound corner just doing his job. It was a hairline fracture and he was cleared for practice in a week.

I love football. And, after watching many, many, many practices and games, I know I truly love the young men who work hard to make plays, playing a game they love.

When Robert came to Washington, the entire city loved him, a super-athlete with an easy, thousand watt smile. What a C.V.! He was a stellar student-athlete, earning his Bachelor’s in 3 years with a 3.7. He played his 4th year of D-1 football eligibility while working on a Masters. Seriously, that’s baller. Oh, and he loves his folks.

I don’t feel like reciting his career, but know that I was saddened to hear he was released from The Washington Football team. I’m glad that his benched-time is over. I still feel like he was misused and abused.

Oh, come on, Doc! some of you say. That guy made more in Subway and Gatorade endorsements his rookie year than you will make in your entire worklife. Put your sympathies to better use.

I’m like. So. What are his big faults? He’s arrogant? He blamed his O-line? He made a logo for himself? He wasn’t buds with the other quarterbacks? He didn’t play hard enough <false>? The team didn’t win <true>?

But, also. Did he flip off an opposing team? Get into “massive fights” at his apartment? Show up all over the place drunk? Hit his girlfriend, many times? While driving drunk, by the way? Did he hurt dogs? Drag a woman out of an elevator by her hair? Violate a restraining order? Drive through a hit and run? Get pulled over for DUI, even once, versus more than once? Murder somebody? [Here’s a list.]

No. He did not.

Did he publicly support his team while dealing with the personal public humiliation of being benched? Well, yes. Yes he did. Still, he worked hard running the  practice squad. Knowing that he wasn’t suiting up he still made his team better by prepping for the opposition–and keeping his head and body in the game for his future.

Robert was a young man recruited by older men to demonstrate Einstein’s definition of insanity. You know, repeating the same experiment and expecting different results.

Bottom line, he came to a Washington Football Team franchise that as a habit brought in a star–could be a coach or a linebacker or a QB–to flip the franchise to #winning.

No matter, there were no more wins. It was always the same result. Loss. Former Washington Football Team linebacker LaVar Arrington–who was once one of those star variables introduced into the proofs of insanity–said you can’t just add a superstar, stir and expect a change if the underlying system is a mess.

That seems right. As long as your owner focuses on a star-savior as a solution and manipulates the savior and the universe around that star to try and voodoo the owner’s desires, the system remains blighted. Your superstar bounces off the tense surface of your dysfunction like a penny on a trampoline and beelines a trajectory to the ground.

And, he ends up ignobly packing a cardboard box with his superhero figures and disapparates away.

Robert didn’t earn that. He gave fans much more.

Alas, dear Robert, we knew ye well. It’s time for us to let you go. I wish you much success. Know that when you come back to D.C., with your new team, I will be rooting for you.

Good luck this next round.

Head to Head

helmet to helmet hit

Watching the AFC and NFC championship games and wondering, how much longer will we watch football?

Will a future civilized society look back at today’s Sundays (and Mondays and Thursdays) of watching super humans in pads and helmets running into each other, bones cracking, brains shaking inside skulls and shake their own heads at our barbarism?

Today I watched a receiver grab the football and bring it close to his body, tucking in and cradling it by bringing his head closer to his chest. As he contracted himself, a defender running at full speed–which is very fast in the NFL–hit him. The defender was trying to get to him before the ball, or even better, to hit him just as the ball came in and cause a drop.

As the receiver lowered his head, the defender crashed into him, helmet meeting helmet. Flags flew. The defender somehow had to be able to stop himself to avoid hitting on the defenseless receiver.

That is an important rule. A rule pushing even the most agile and aware athletes at the top of their ability. Then there’s the conflict between pulling up and doing your job. Can it be enforced? When it’s enforced it’s 15 yards and a first down.

The rules to protect the gladiators are important. They likely are making a difference. But as we watch this crazy game, I wonder how long until it just isn’t the same game. More pads, more rules, more whistles.

Moms and dads don’t want their kids to play anymore. Young, promising players are walking away. And the issue is increasingly, and finally, becoming an issue. I’ve known people who loved playing football. I’ve loved watching it. But as the athletes become bigger and faster and stronger, maybe the game has run it’s course.

But don’t worry more civilized people of the future. Football is nothing compared to brutality as entertainment of the UFC. Maybe that’s football with the pads off.

Go Blue!

Glad–and relieved–to see the Wolverines win their “bowl” game. I know, it may have been the generic brand cereal bowl, but it’s the first time since 2003 that we ended the season on a high note.

The [Wolverines] also carried [retiring Coach Lloyd Carr] to midfield. His players dropped him off and headed straight to the Michigan section for a raucous celebration –AP

Buh-bye, Lloyd. Oh, and Coach, don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

Next year, it’s Ohio State.

The Coaches

Picture Copyright Doctor Of Thinkology 2007

Football coaches have a hard job. I’m not talking about the football coaches of men. No, I mean the football coaches of MIT (men in training). What an opportunity, and what a responsibility.

If I were a coach of MIT, I would hope that I would remember that the boys are learning the game. And I would hope that I would be a teacher.

I would hope that I would look at all the boys and give everyone who was working hard a chance to contribute.

I would hope that I remembered that this is a developmental process and that I would work hard to try different combinations of players. And I would know all of their names.

I would hope that I would remember that this isn’t the the NFL or even the Big 10. And that these boys have futures as lawyers and accountants, electricians and drivers, and husbands and fathers and I am preparing them for their real futures, not the canard of becoming the next multi-million dollar franchise.

And I would know that when a boy gives you his heart, that my job is to handle it like the precious gift that it is. And at the end of the season, I would only have succeeded when I return that gift bigger and stronger than when I received it.

That would be my solemn promise. That is, if I were the coach.