I have a dark secret to confess. Every once in a while I watch football, but only when Hallmark Hall of Fame isn’t on.
Okay, I’ll own up. I’m perversely attracted to the testosterone, the blood-lust, the violence, and the spectacle of 22 choreographed individuals who should be on death row strategically dismembering one another for our Sunday amusement.
Don’t let baseball fans tell you that trying to hit a fast ball or a breaking ball is the most difficult undertaking in sports. That makes sense only if you’re George Will. Anyone with two neurons to rub together knows that a star like A-Rod only has to worry about connecting his bat to the ball. He can focus on the task at hand without the distraction of 11 Pampalonian beasts trying to turn him into a broken crash test dummy.
See what would happen to A-Rod’s batting average if he knew that someone they call Tiny was about to buff-polish home plate with his face.
Enter the quarterback. It’s third and long. Everyone knows he has to throw a pass. Half of those lining up on the other side of the ball are committed to giving him no place to throw it to and the other half no time to throw it.
He lines up behind center and starts the countdown. Wait! Something’s wrong. The opposing weak-side linebacker is twitching his fingers in a funny way. Blitz? The strong safety is lined up a bit too close to the line of scrimmage. Nothing to worry about?
The chess pieces are arranged in a slightly different way, he knows, and he’s got one micro-second to figure it out and make the right adjustments. Suddenly, he breaks off his count. He yells to his linemen. He frantically hand-signals his backs and receivers. Hike!
Zen calm. He steps back and focusses on a spot 40 yards down-field where his primary receiver is scheduled to rendezvous with the ball. No go. The strong safety, he observes out of the corner of his eye, is waiting there like a center fielder, prepared to make him look very stupid. His slot receiver, he notices out of the other corner of his eye, is scooting on a sly diagonal beneath the coverage. Yes! He’s open!
Open, he knows, because that linebacker with the twitching fingers has not dropped back into coverage, but instead is blitzing, is locked in on him like a smart bomb just outside his peripheral vision. Hopefully, his running back has picked up the blitz and will offer up his body to shield him. Unfortunately, the running back’s nickname is Twiggy.
Something tells him to side-step. Three hundred pounds of zero body fat hurtle past the spot where his feet were formerly planted. His protective phalanx of blockers is collapsing about him. Flying projectiles of steroidally-enhanced muscle are converging on him from all points of the compass.
Zen calm. He steps forward, into the mayhem, with the studied focus of a lace-maker tatting a doily. He is about to launch the football like a Stinger missile and deliver it to a precise target at precise coordinates down the field with precise timing. His body is extended like the Statue of Liberty. Even with padding, he is exposed and vulnerable. He is about to be hit hard - very hard - without the benefit of curling into a protective crouch.
The second the ball leaves the tips of his fingers, his neck is snapping back at the impact of a head-on collision with a thousand pounds of red meat. Even before his head bounces off the Astro-turf, axonal neuronal extensions are twisting and shearing and taking parts of his brain off-line. For the time being, he merely feels like an anvil has dropped on his head. Ten years from now, he may forget where he placed his car keys.
From flat on his back, he is dimly aware of the roar of the crowd. He knows he has hit his slot receiver.
Time to get back on his feet. It’s late in the fourth quarter. His team is four points behind and the clock is running. He needs to shake off the pain. He needs to rally his troops. In another two minutes the world will regard him as a hero or a bum. But he is not thinking about that. Just prior to getting off his pass, out of still another corner of still another eye, he spotted an anomaly in the defensive array, one he may be able to exploit two plays from now.
The opposing lineman who slammed him to the ground helps him to his feet. “I’ll be back,” he jokes in his best Terminator voice that is clearly no joke. But already the quarterback is focused on something else - a fifth defensive back who is running in from the sidelines.
Nickel coverage! he exults. You guys are toast.
I appreciate that most of you watching the Super Bowl this Sunday will be more interested in the commercials than the game. But I do urge you to take time out from your socializing and finger food to watch what is going on with each team’s quarterback. Without doubt, this is by far the most difficult job by in all sports, in all the world. According to figures that I’m making up as I’m going along, there are more people on this planet who understand Einstein’s general theory of relativity than are competent to step into a pro quarterback’s shoes.
If this were a movie idea I was pitching, I would be saying this is where Kane’s teacher in Kung-Fu meets Godzilla.
You get the point. Enjoy your Sunday.
Published On: January 29, 2008
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