“I don’t know much about football, but I know it has something to do with touchdowns and steroids,” my wife said yesterday as she scraped up a fork-full of cheese enchilada.
I put down my tortilla-wrapped fajita meat and said, “The championship game is on this Sunday. You should watch it with me.”
Actually, I didn’t say “championship game.” I didn’t call it by its official name either, because no one can call it that without an NFL lawyer climbing up his rectum. I didn’t say the “Big Game,” since that makes it sound like an old movie where Ronald Reagan and Mickey Rooney play football to save some tiny, segregated college. I called it the “Stupid Bowl.” I know that sounds demeaning, but since its fans will spend more money on Doritos than was spent on cancer research last year, I’m standing by that name.
My wife shrugged and said, “I don’t know. It looks confusing. How do you play?”
I wiped my hands and considered how to answer that question in one sentence. “You get the ball, and your team carries it or throws it down the field with a lot of rest breaks, until you carry, throw, or kick it across the goal unless the other team stops you first.”
“Sounds pretty easy if you get a lot of rest breaks.”
I saw that I needed to explain a little more. “No, it’s really a tough game. There’s a lot of strategy. For example, there are two different ways to score points. You can run or pass the ball across the goal line. That’s a touchdown worth seven points. Or, you can kick the ball through the goal. That’s a field goal worth three points.”
“Is there anybody guarding the goal?”
“No, it’s too high.”
“Well if nobody’s guarding it, just kick the ball through it all day. Hasn’t anybody figured that out?”
“It’s not that simple. You may have to kick it from far away sometimes, and that can be hard.”
“When you kick it from farther away, do you get more points?”
I shook my head. “No, it’s always three points.”
“There’s a lot more strategy besides that. You have to know when to throw the ball and when to run with it.”
“You only have two choices?”
“Yeah, but a lot of different players on your side can run with the ball or catch it.”
“How many?” she said before sipping her sweet tea.
“Um… six. And eleven players are trying to stop you.”
“Okay. Have all your guys except one grab all the guys on the other side and hang on.”
I shook my head. “No, that’s against the rules.”
“That’s dumb. Well, how do you get going?”
“You have a lot of rehearsed attack plans called ‘plays.’ They start with the quarterback receiving the ball.” I began rolling another fajita.
“Why’s he called the quarterback? Is he the one who flips the quarter at the start of the game?”
“No, the area behind most of your players is called the ‘backfield,’ and historically the quarterback stood a fourth of the way back in the backfield.”
“How big is this backfield?”
“It’s not a set size.”
“That sounds pretty sloppy. How far back does the quarterback stand, then?”
“Usually he stands right behind the center, or the player in the center of the line of players. The center has the ball and snaps it back between his legs to start the play. The quarterback holds his hands between the center’s legs so he’s ready to get the ball.”
My wife stared for a moment. “The quarterback stands there with his hands on that other guy’s junk?”
“There’s nothing weird about it.”
“Whatever you say. So the quarterback has the ball. Does he run with it or throw it? Those are the choices, right?”
“Right. Mostly he doesn’t run with it. He either throws it, or he hands it off to someone else to run with it,” I said, assessing how much cheese was still on my plate.
“Wait! You said there were two choices, run or throw. What’s this handing off business?”
“It’s just another way of running. The quarterback hands the ball to somebody else and lets him run.”
“Now you’re just making shit up.”
“No, it’s true, I swear. Now, the quarterback has to be careful not to get tackled, or knocked to the ground in the backfield, because he only has four chances to go ten yards. And if he gets tackled behind his own goal line then the other team scores two points.”
“You said there were only two ways to score! What’s this two points all about?” she said, setting down her glass a little harder than strictly necessary.
“Oh, I forgot, that’s called a safety. And a touchdown is really only worth six points. After you score a touchdown you get a chance to score one extra point by kicking the ball through the goal.”
“That’s not worth three points? You’re kicking it through the goal.”
I smiled and wondered how the hell I’d gotten into this. “Not when it’s an extra point.”
“Are there any other ways to score? Like, do you get four points if something falls out of the blimp and hits a player on the other side?”
“They don’t usually have a blimp.”
“Too bad. I like blimps.” She looked at the last bite of enchilada and pushed it away. “What happens next?”
“Whoever has the ball runs down the field towards the other team’s goal until he gets hit and knocked to the ground.”
“Okay, what happens then?”
“Nothing,” I said, eyeing her enchilada and deciding against it. “The play’s over. Everybody gets up and goes back to the huddle for the next play.”
“You just let him get up? You can’t kick him in the knee or something? He’s just going to run with the ball again if you don’t.”
“No!” The waiter looked over at us, and I lowered my voice. “It’s against the rules.”
“The unsportsmanlike conduct rule.”
“How do they define unsportsmanlike?”
“It’s—” I stopped. I realized I’d never read a definition of it. “It’s whatever the referee says it is.”
My wife nodded. “Bribe the referee.”
“You can’t do that!”
“Blackmail him then.”
“You can’t do that either!”
My wife leaned back in the booth and crossed her arms. “You said football’s a tough game. I think my definition of a tough game and your definition of a tough game are different.”
I played with the straw in my Diet Coke for a moment and thought about all the years she’s lived with me without once stabbing me in the eye with an immersion blender, even though I’m sure I deserved it every day. She’s played a tough game.
“I may not watch the Stupid Bowl after all,” I said. “The games are usually lousy anyway. What do you want to do instead?”
“Let’s watch Downton Abbey.”
“Um, how about The Godfather?”
“Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” she said, taking the last tortilla chip.
“Predator—it’s a plan,” she said, smiling at the waiter as he set down the check.
Yeah, that’s probably closer to her definition of a tough game.
Photo by Damon J. Moritz
Photo from the 2005 Navy – Stanford college game and is in the Public Domain