When I think of my friends, I think of two or three distinct groups. One group is people from the world of Unschooling, the homeschooling philosophy in which the child directs much of their own educational choices. Another group is the Quakers, a (not extinct!) religion that encourages tolerance, equality, and strong anti-war morals. A third group might be a mish-mash of people from West Philadelphia whom I’ve either lived with, or know through the people I’ve lived with.
There is a lot of crossover between these three groups, and for most of the things I like to do I can find enthusiastic camaraderie in many of the members of at least two of these groups.
Unfortunately, there is one activity that I love, for which very few people in my circles share my interest. That, my friends, is watching American football.
I can understand why, I really can. Football has a relatively intimidating barrier of entry for the uninitiated. The rules are not intuitive, and there are lots of them. There is a major time investment in that most games take three hours or longer to play. On the surface, it can look like a sport that values bodily strength over finesse and intelligence and it’s the sport most associated with frat idiots, bullies, and terrible beer.
And yet, it’s the most popular sport in America. President Obama loves his Chicago Bears, Condoleezza Rice cheers for the (awful) Cleveland Browns, South park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are Denver Broncos fans, Harry Potter himself (Daniel Radcliffe) roots for the New York Giants, and Hunter S Thompson titled his suicide note “Football season is over”.
Here are some reasons you might want to join the ranks of the rich and the famous in adopting your very own football team:
- Football is the only major sport in which most of the players have complete separate abilities and roles. There is the quarterback, whose job is to throw the ball down the field to an open receiver. There is the sumo-wrestler like linemen. On every play, they line up across from their defensive counterpart and try to push them backwards. There is the running back, whose job it is to dodge and spin through whatever openings the linemen are able to produce. There are receivers who catch passes thrown their way. Defensively there are cornerbacks, linebackers, and safeties. Then there are kickers, punters, kick returners, and many other subcategories of players, all working towards the same goal. In short, football is the only game where skinny fast guys, fat slow guys, super strong guys and not particularly athletic guys with strong legs and freakish kicking accuracy can occupy the same field in a single game.
- Football requires brilliant strategy. A typical football team has a head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, special teams coordinator, and position coaches for each of the positions mentioned above. The reason is that each portion of a football team requires vastly complicated strategic thinking. To field a great defense a team needs spectacular players and a coordinator who can create a scheme that adequately uses the unique talents of his players. The coordinator also needs to be paying attention to the meta-game, tracking league-wide offensive trends, as well as studying game film of the current opponent.
- Football is constantly evolving. The NFL is a copycat league. If an offense starts doing something new and effective, the rest of the league very quickly copies them, changes their defense in order to stop them, or both. There is a race to innovate constantly going on between offense and defense, which keeps the game fresh and exciting.
- Football is a showcase of Spectacular athleticism. On December 24th 2011 Cincinnati Bengals Quarterback Andy Dalton scanned the field for a place to throw the ball. With defenders closing in, he noticed receiver Jerome Simpson running free at the 17 yard line. Simpson caught the pass and ran untouched toward the end zone. Arizona Cardinals defender Daryl Washington met Simpson at the goal line, attempting to knock him out of bounds with his shoulder. Simpson left the ground at the 3 yard line, leaping over Washington. He performed a full front flip in the air, and landed on his feet in the endzone, touchdown! I could watch that play all day. On any given play, every week, some of the most athletic people in the world are putting on a show, and you might be missing it!
- Football features gadget plays and trickery. Extraordinary plays are not reserved for the players themselves. Every once in a while a coach run a play so unconventional that it just might work. The flea-flicker, reverse end around, and fake punt have all changed games when you least expect them to. There are very few limitations to how you can design a play in NFL, so coaches come up with new tricks and gadgets regularly to make opponents pay for lazy defense.
- Football is actually not a very long game. The actual playing time of a football in game totals only one hour, and the clock runs between many of the plays. If you pre-record a football game, you can watch it in an hour and a half or less, and skip the annoying commercials. Major Legue Soccer teams play 32 games, professional basketball and hockey teams play 82 games, and a baseball season is a ridiculous 162 games. Each football team in the NFL plays a 16 game schedule, way less time commitment than any other sport.
So, my alternative minded friends, I invite you to join me in embracing America’s greatest contribution to the sports world. If you don’t know the rules, you can find an (admittedly not amazing) guide here. Maybe we can watch a game together sometime!