Football For Dummies (2015)
Football for Everyone
Visit www.dummies.com/extras/football for an article on one of the great teams of all time, the 1970-1974 Miami Dolphins.
In this part …
· Follow youth, high school, and college football
· Understand how the NFL has become so successful
· Find out how to play fantasy football
Armchair Quarterbacks and Other Fabulous Fans
In This Chapter
Understanding football jargon
Following a game on TV or the radio
Watching a game in the stands
Keeping up with the game in various ways
Football is a great sport because you don’t have to play it to enjoy it. (In fact, after you watch a few of the hits football players take, you may decide you’d rather watch.) This chapter gives you tips for making the most of the viewing (or listening) experience, however you’re following the game — on television, from the stands, through your browser or mobile device, or through the radio. I also tell you about all the ways you can keep up with your favorite teams when no games are being played — through newspapers, magazines, and the Internet. Finally, I let you know how to visit the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
Deciphering the Announcers’ Slang
One of the most difficult and intimidating parts about following a football game is that the announcers sometimes seem to be speaking a foreign language known only to true football enthusiasts. But if you remember a few key terms, you’ll be way ahead of the game. Here are some terms you may hear, along with their definitions (The Appendix defines a whole bunch of football terms as well):
· Corner blitz: A blitzing linebacker or defensive back rushes the quarterback from the outside edge of the offensive alignment or the corner of the offensive line.
· Dime back: When the defense has six players in the secondary, the sixth player is called a dime back because he’s the second nickel back (two nickels equal a dime).
· Forklift: A defensive lineman lifts an offensive lineman off the ground, moving him aside as he rushes the quarterback.
· Franchise player: Commentators routinely refer to the most important player on a team as the franchise. In Indianapolis, for example, quarterback Andrew Luck is the franchise player; the Colts can’t win without him.
· Looking off a defensive back: Commentators say this when a quarterback eyeballs a defensive back, giving the defensive player the impression that he’s throwing the ball toward his area. In actuality, the quarterback intends to throw in a different direction. He fools the defensive back by looking him off.
· Muscling his way through: When a commentator says this, he means a player managed to gain a physical advantage over an opponent.
· Nickel package: The defensive team is using five defensive backs in the secondary to defend the pass.
· Running to daylight: The running back has found the soft spot in the defense and is running freely down the field toward the end zone.
· Shooting a gap: A defensive player somehow runs untouched through a space that should have been blocked by an offensive player. The gap is often between two offensive players or to the outside shoulder of one player.
· Stretch the field: An offense is employing three to five wide receivers in a formation that’s spread out along the line of scrimmage. A defense has to stretch to cover all of the receivers.
· Zeroing in on a receiver: The quarterback is focused on throwing to one specific receiver. The quarterback watches the receiver while he’s running his route and then releases the ball when he’s open.
Following a Game on Television or Radio
If you can’t be there in person, the next best thing is to watch the game on television or listen to it on the radio. Hey, don’t knock the radio. Radio announcers add pizzazz to the game. They have to paint a picture of the game in words, so most of them have developed a colorful vocabulary and a delivery that makes a game more exciting. I know more than a few fans who get the video portion of the game through their television set and the audio portion from their favorite radio announcer. In the upcoming sections I share the fine points of following a game on television and the radio. (By the way, I realize you can now watch games online, but the stream is essentially the same as what’s broadcast on television.)
Watching a game on television
In a way, television is the best way to watch a football game; you can see up close what’s happening on the field, and you can watch replays of the big plays if you missed them the first time around. My innovative bosses at FOX Sports devised the scoreboard clock, which appears in the upper corner of your television screen and gives you a stadium feel. It gives you the score, the down and distance, and how much time is remaining in a particular quarter.
Excellent football analysts add humor and insight to the game. They’re also good with a device known as a telestrator, which allows them to circle players on the screen or demonstrate how a certain play was successful by diagramming it on the screen.
I like to watch a game from the inside out; first I look at the quarterback and then I check out the action away from the ball. Because the networks use so many cameras, you can follow the entire game and not miss a play. What’s great about television are the replays — you can watch a replay of a critical play from two or three different angles. These different views are often necessary to determine whether a player was in possession of the ball, especially on really close plays involving receptions and fumbles. Also, the different angles help fans interpret whether the officials called the correct penalty, especially on penalties like pass interference (I fill you in on penalties, including pass interference, in Chapter 3).
Here are some tips to help you become a more savvy and informed viewer when you’re watching a game on television:
· Start at the line of scrimmage. Look wide to see how many receivers you spot and where they’re located. Scan to see how many players are lined up on the defensive line and in the defensive backfield. Where and how the players line up gives you an indication of what the play may be.
· Keep an eye on the game’s progress. In the upper corner of the television screen, check out what the down is, how far the offense needs to go for the first down, how much time is left on the clock, and what the score is. The score and the time left on the clock often dictate whether a team will run or pass.
· Check the quarterback. If he’s positioned 5 yards behind the center, he’s in the shotgun formation, meaning there’s a 90 percent chance he’ll pass the ball. The other 10 percent of the time, the quarterback drops back and then hands off the ball to a running back or runs on his own.
· Look for movement among the linebackers and defensive backs. If defenders appear to be creeping toward the line of scrimmage, they’re probably going to either blitz the quarterback or fill all the running lanes to neutralize a run play.
· Look at the defensive fronts, paying particular attention to the defensive tackles. If only three linemen are lined up close to the line of scrimmage, the defense expects the offense to pass the ball. If the defense has four down linemen on the field and the linebackers are within a couple yards of the line of scrimmage, the defense expects the offense to try to run.
· Count the number of defensive backs. If more than four defensive backs are in the game, the defense is geared toward preventing a pass completion.
Listening to a game on the radio
Every NFL team and most major college teams have a local radio station that owns the rights to the teams’ broadcasts. And because of the popularity of sports talk radio, many fans want to tune in to their favorite broadcasters.
Perhaps the best thing about listening to the radio is that you get the home-team announcers’ insights into what strategy your team plans to use. These announcers know the players and can immediately tell you which player has the ball and who made the tackle. They also have access to the injury reports, so you can receive player updates throughout the broadcast. You also hear important statistics — such as how many total yards and first downs each team has collected — faster than most scoreboards can provide them.
The first time I saw a fan listening to a radio in a ballpark was during a Los Angeles Dodgers game. Although the fans were watching the action in person, they wanted to hear Vin Scully, the radio announcer, describe it. Just like these baseball fans, many football fans also enjoy listening to the radio when attending a game.
Talk radio: Getting the inside scoop
I enjoy being a guest on most sports talk shows. To me, talk radio is another way to get information about pro football. These shows discuss the inside scoop and address all the serious issues.
Sports talk radio has altered the landscape of sports journalism. Players and coaches listen to these shows. One season, Philadelphia’s WIP radio station was so critical of the Philadelphia Eagles that the team declined to issue game credentials to some of the station’s commentators. I know that coaches on the team quit listening to the morning shows because they would get too upset to go to work. This shows you the power of talk radio and how it can irritate people.
However, I recommend listening to the pro football reports in most NFL cities. If the talk radio show includes a lot of conversations about your team and regular player interviews, the program is probably worth listening to. Some talk radio hosts can be more insightful than some reporters; they do their homework on the team.
Other talk radio hosts allow callers to dominate their programs. This kind of interaction with the audience might make for great radio, but you rarely get much insight from local fans, whose commentary, let’s face it, generally breaks down into these categories: calling for the quarterback to be benched after a loss, calling for the coach to be fired after a loss, complaining about the refs, or declaring their team an unbeatable playoff contender after any regular-season victory.
Attending a Game
To the die-hard football fan, nothing beats watching a football game live. You get caught up in the excitement of cheering for your team. You sometimes get the feeling that the outcome of the game is in your hands — and in a way it is in your hands because cheering loudly can disrupt the other team’s offense and make it difficult for the other team to hear its quarterback barking plays. Most of all, attending a game is just plain fun. The following sections look into some of the nuances of watching a game in person.
Picking the best seats
The really good seats in every stadium are near the 50-yard line, 25 rows up, where you can scan the entire field. But those great seats usually belong to longtime season ticket holders. If you aren’t a longtime season ticket holder or lucky enough to have an official sideline credential, the end zone can be a good place to watch a game. The best seat in the house, from my perspective, is in the end zone about 20 rows up. Of course, you need good binoculars. I like to see plays developing and watch the line play on both sides of the ball, and the end zone offers the best vantage point to see this action.
Sitting in the end zone, you can focus on a matchup of two linemen, like a defensive end battling an offensive tackle, and watch how they attack each other. Whoever wins this battle is going to win the war (the game). These individual battles can teach you a lot about football, even when the play or ball is going in the opposite direction. For a team to win, its players need to win these individual battles.
I love to watch a game from the sidelines. It’s too bad more fans don’t have that same opportunity at least once in their lives. Standing on the sidelines, you see firsthand the speed of the players and the ferocity of their hits. The contact occurs — and the overall game is played — at such a high speed. The players move like bullet trains plowing through a cornfield.
Wherever you sit, make sure you buy a program or check your local newspaper or team website for team depth charts and numbered rosters — these rosters are the only way to identify the many players on the field. A depth chart lists the starting lineups for both teams by their positions on offense and defense. It also lists the punter, placekicker, snapper for punts and kicks, and kickoff and punt return specialists. The reserves are listed alongside the starters on the depth chart, so when a player is injured, you can figure out who will replace him.
Knowing what to focus on
The beauty of watching a game in person is that you can see the entire play develop. As soon as the center snaps the ball, all 22 players on the field are moving. Television can’t possibly capture that singular moment and every player, too. At the stadium, you can also watch what happens to a quarterback after the ball is released. On television, the camera follows the ball, but in person, you can see whether the quarterback is hit after he releases the ball. Occasionally, the quarterback and a pass-rusher exchange words (or even swings).
The special teams play, especially kickoffs and long punts, is exciting to watch in person because you can follow the flight of the ball and the coverage players running full speed toward the kick returner. Because kickoff and punt plays cover so much of the field, often 50 to 70 yards, television can’t capture all the action.
During commercial timeouts, scan the sidelines with your binoculars. You can spot coaches talking strategy with players, and sometimes you can capture an animated conversation or debate. The more games you attend, the better able you’ll be to follow the action and observe the sidelines. The pace is fast during plays, but there’s enough down time between plays to check out what’s happening on the sidelines and to figure out, by how teams are substituting, which play may be called next.
Enjoying the halftime show
Except for the elaborate halftime shows at the Super Bowl every year, halftime shows aren’t televised anymore. To see a halftime show, you must attend a game in person.
College game halftime shows usually feature high-spirited bands, drill teams, and cheerleading squads doing their best to rally the fans. I remember when you used to see card stunts at college football games. To perform one, thousands of fans would hold up different-colored cards coordinated to display, for the entire stadium, a team name, mascot picture, or some other message for the faithful.
Some colleges are famous for their halftime performances. The Stanford band, for example, often puts on a comic show. At a show during Stanford’s annual game against arch-rival California, the band dressed one member in a California band uniform and had him march around looking extremely confused during the Stanford performance.
Keeping Up with Your Favorite Teams
The fun of football doesn’t end when the last seconds of the fourth quarter tick away. Diehard fans love to analyze the statistics of today’s games and find out all about the upcoming ones. You can get this type of information from a wide variety of sources; I list some of my favorites in the next sections.
The NFL Network and the NFL Redzone Channel
The NFL Network offers non-stop, continuous coverage of professional football. It’s available on most cable and satellite providers in the United States. In addition to game highlights, in-depth analysis, and news coverage of teams and players, the NFL Network broadcasts half of the Thursday night games each season and also shows replays of the most interesting games from the previous weekend.
The NFL Redzone Channel broadcasts on Sundays during the regular season. Its goal is to provide instant coverage and highlights of every game taking place. If you’re watching the Redzone Channel, you’ll see every touchdown from every game. It’s a great way to follow all the games every Sunday during the season.
Internet sports sites
You can find more football-related information on the Internet than you could read in a whole season — everything from who’s being traded and who’s injured to who’s predicted to go to the playoffs and more. The following websites are great sources of up-to-the-minute football info:
· CBS Sports ( www.cbssports.com): This site covers the NFL and college football. It’s is an excellent source for information, such as team updates, schedules, injury reports, and statistics.
· ESPN ( espn.go.com): This online version of ESPN offers in-depth information about the NFL and college football. At espn3.com, you can watch Web casts of college football games (if your Internet connection is good enough).
· Deadspin ( www.deadspin.com): This popular site made a name for itself by breaking news on the more salacious and scandalous side of sports. Its columns and blog posts tend to be irreverent and humorous.
· FOX Sports ( www.foxsports.com): This website covers college football and the NFL. If you’re interested in knowing what’s going on with your favorite NFL team during the off-season, check out the Teams area. You get full coverage of the signings, trades, and contract negotiations for each team.
· NBC Sports ( www.nbcsports.com): This easy-to-navigate site covers both the NFL and college football.
· NFL.com ( www.nfl.com): This is the official site of the NFL. In addition to scores, statistics, and news, it gives in-depth team coverage, including audio and video clips. The individual team pages offer links to your favorite teams’ official websites.
· Sports Illustrated ( www.si.com): This website includes comprehensive coverage of the NFL and college football.
· Sporting News ( www.sportingnews.com): This site, which is the online version of the magazine, provides an abundance of information about NFL and college football. You can customize this site so that it displays your favorite sports and teams.
· Yahoo Sports ( sports.yahoo.com): This sports site is one of the most visited on the Internet. In addition to football scores, news, and stats, it offers commentary from multiple columnists.
Fantasy football sites
Many of the major sports web sites listed in the preceding section (CBS, ESPN, FOX, NFL, Yahoo) offer free fantasy football leagues that you and your friends can join. They are all full-featured and provide up-to-date stats and scoring.
If you need advice on fantasy strategy, you’re a simple web search away. Countless sites offer tips, stats, and picks for fantasy enthusiasts. If you’re into fantasy football, you’re probably visiting multiple sites per week looking for any tidbit of information that might give you an advantage over your opponent.
I offer some information on fantasy football in Chapter 18.
It seems like everyone is tweeting these days, even if very few people have anything meaningful to say. Sports figures are no exception. Many football players in both the NFL and college tweet regularly. Sometimes they offer interesting observations; other times they accidentally send inappropriate pictures of themselves to thousands of fans. And a few players use their Twitter accounts to connect with fans and their community. Choose wisely when deciding whom to follow.
Sports columnists as well as radio and television personalities also use Twitter to communicate with fans. Many live tweet a game, meaning that they use their Twitter account to provide a running commentary during a live football game. Some of these tweeting marathons can be hilarious, and that’s one of the reasons why so many people watch games with one eye on their phone, tablet, or laptop. In addition to following scores and fantasy stats, they’re also reading Twitter and sending out tweets of their own. For some, this instant interactivity is a lot of fun. But it’s also nice to occasionally put down all the gadgets and just watch the game. (I hope that doesn’t make me sound too old.)
Smartphones and tablets give football fans multiple tools for following their teams. NFL Mobile is a great app for checking scores and viewing highlights as the games are going on. You can also watch NFL games (after paying a subscription fee) using the NFL Sunday Ticket app. NFL Game Rewind, which also requires a paid subscription, gives you the ability to watch full replays of every NFL game.
Visiting the Football Halls of Fame
Visiting one of the football halls of fame — there’s one for college and one for professional football — is a terrific way to find out more about how football became what it is today. Both are filled with memorabilia from players and teams from the turn of the 19th century to the present. The many exhibits include uniforms and pictures of Hall of Famers in action and screening rooms in which you can enjoy films of legendary players and teams. Following is the contact information for both halls of fame:
College Football Hall of Fame
250 Marietta Street NW
Atlanta, GA 30313
Pro Football Hall of Fame
2121 George Halas Drive NW