Watching football is much more meaningful if you have a lexicon to interpret the announcer’s comments. Without such help the viewer will be irretrievably lost:
- Offensive player: Almost all football players are offensive, particularly after losing a game … or even after they win one if you catch them in the locker room before they shower.
- Skill player: This term is very irritating to the three-hundred-and-thirty pound linemen who are not considered skill players. Sometimes they then become offensive players.
- Negative yardage: When yards are lost the runner is said to have gained negative yardage. This means that the running back really did run back. Running backs are supposed to run forward. No one knows why they are called running backs instead of running forwards.
- Pass interference: Your team is not supposed to let a player on the other team catch a pass. The defender is supposed to interfere with the opposing player’s early progress down the field, or try to knock the ball away at just the last minute; however, if he knocks his opponent to the ground or trips him, that is against the rules and is not allowed. Certain kinds of pass interference are just fine, other kinds are not; it all depends on which team gives the biggest tips to the referees.
- Roughing the quarterback: Defenders are supposed to be rough on their opponent’s quarterback. The whole idea is to scare him so badly that that he never wants to throw the ball, or if he does throw it he will throw it to somebody on your team. However, a three hundred-and-thirty-pound lineman is not allowed to grab the quarterback’s face mask, nor is he allowed to knock the quarterback down after he has thrown the ball. If this happens a major penalty is incurred. The lineman must be sure the referee is not looking when he commits these offenses. If he can do this and avoid getting caught his value to the team and his salary go up substantially.
- Roughing the kicker: If your team runs into the opponents’ kicker after he punts the ball that is roughing the kicker and it is a major no-no. Sometimes a player just comes close to the kicker who then falls to the ground grabbing his knee and writhing in pain. This convinces the referee who has been ogling the cheerleaders that a roughing penalty should be called. The better punters, in addition to being former soccer players, were also undergraduate drama majors.
- Two point conversion: This is not a religious experience, although it’s close. Once a touchdown has been scored the scoring team can elect to take the ball on the other team’s two yard line; if they can get it over the goal in one play they get two points.
- Tight end: This is a guy who can either block or run down the field to catch a pass. If he should catch the pass he usually gets hit by several opponents who hope that will make him drop the ball. Tight ends aren’t usually tight although a belt or two before the game greatly helps their outlook.
- Excessive celebration: Once a touchdown has been scored it is unseemly for the ball carrier to dance about, do the shimmy and then do more than two backflips; if he does he can be penalized for excessive celebration. If the scoring player politely hands the ball to an official, raises one hand in the air and cries, “Yeah team,” that highly improbable behavior will not be penalized.
- Eligible receiver: The eligibility of an eligible receiver has nothing whatever to do with his marital status; it has to do with being eligible, according to the rules, to catch the football.
- Nose guard: This is not a player whose job it is to guard noses. A nose guard is a defensive player who lines up opposite the offensive center. He is usually concerned only with guarding his own nose.
- Pooch kick: Relax SPCA members; no one is kicking a dog. A pooch kick is a low flat trajectory kick that bounces along the ground and is difficult to field.
- 30 love: Oops, that doesn’t belong here; that’s a tennis term. Love in tennis scoring means nothing, literally nothing. A score of 30 love means that one person has some points and the other person has nothing. Why they call that 30 or 40 love I cannot say. Perhaps some very early tennis player suffered a serious romantic rejection.
- Run out the clock: This doesn’t mean that someone runs onto the field with a clock; it means that a team which is ahead makes only very safe and time consuming plays thus leaving little time left for their opponents to get the ball back and score.
- Bootleg: A bootleg occurs when the quarterback pretends to hand the ball off to a running back but instead keeps it himself to deceive the defense. It has nothing to do with the repeal of prohibition.
- Touchdown: If the ball crosses the plane of the goal line that is called a touchdown and counts for six points. Whether the ball carrier is touched or not, or touches someone else, is irrelevant. There was a time very long ago when the ball actually had to be touched to the ground between the goalposts.
And finally – understand that backs are not scalable; four quarterbacks cannot be traded for a fullback.
Now enjoy the Super Bowl and may the nastiest Harbaugh lose!