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There are two ways to explain football
by Casey Corebit, 14 January 2002

"An aging actor on stage." Photo of Willie Hurst, courtesy of dawgman.com

Have you ever tried to explain football to someone who doesn't understand the game? In the past, I’ve used a soap-opera analogy to explain it to my wife. However, a coaching friend of mine, who views the game much differently, had much better success.

Let me set the stage. First of all, I’ve never played football, other than the sandlot variety when we used to draw up plays in the dirt. But thanks to guys like Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford and a whole litany of experts thereafter, I thought I knew a lot about football, until after the game with Texas. 

I'll cut to the chase.

My wife and I watched the Holiday Bowl on TV with a friend of mine who used to coach high school football. In an attempt to ward off questions during the game, I reviewed the basic terminology with my wife before he arrived. Like: first down, fair catch, extra point, fumble, huddle, incompletion, interception, kickoff, punt, line of scrimmage, offside, place kicker, snap, sack, defense, offense and so on.

“I understand, honey. You’ve explained it all before,” she smiled.

Well, the three of us watched the game, a game that the Huskies lost, 47-43. It was a disappointing loss; however, considering the Dawgs’ previous game, the one against Miami—a 65-7 debacle—it was a kind of moral victory, considering the Dawgs had come within 1:49 of winning. 

My pre-game explanations notwithstanding, my wife still seemed confused after the game.

“You’ve said that football was like a soap opera, Casey. What’s the purpose of the game? Why do they play it?”

“Er ah, Casey, why not let me try to explain it,” my coaching friend said.

“I’ll give it a shot and then you can have a try, Coach”

“Case, this is really a mistake,” he said, the brow of his forehead as furrowed as the winter farmland in the Las Posas valley.

Somewhat perplexed, I responded, “Look, I can handle it. You’ll get your turn.”

“Yes, each game or episode is like a soap opera,” I went on. “It is divided into four acts, packed with drama. Over the last two runs--the last two seasons--each Husky episode has had a cliffhanger. There are sets of actors, the players. There’s an orchestra, the band, and so on. Directors are called coaches and drama critics are called referees. The best troupe wins the Daytime Soap Awards, which, in most years, are held in Pasadena. That's the purpose of it.”

“Who was the star of the Huskies’ soap with Texas?” she asked.

“Willie Hurst, an aging actor on the stage, who apparently had seen his better days.”

“How so?”

I digressed to the previous season, recounting Hurst’s demotion to slot back. “During the 2000 spring tryouts, Hurst was cast off ‘like an old chewed-up piece of gum,’ as one of his fellow actors said.”

“Casey, please let me give it a try.”

“I’m almost finished, Coach. Actually, the directors cast Hurst in a “lesser” role, trying him out at slot receiver. It was a misguided role, much like casting Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing) in the role of a preacher. As a fan, I was appalled by the move, Hurst being one of my favorite tough-guy actors. I can understand the directors’ reasoning though. With two understudies emerging, apparently they needed a way to keep Hurst in the script. But he rose to the occasion again, became the star of the show, and closed out his career with a run that fans are sure to remember.”

“Who was the heroine, Casey?”

”Barbara Hedges, the producer/director who helped put this show together. She's our athletic director.”

“Who played the role of the villain?”

"Major Applewhite, the Texas quarterback."

“That’s a great name for an actor, Case. Did he change his name?”

“Casey, that’s enough,” the coach said, interrupting us. I guess I’d had gone too far, as he looked embarrassed for me. “Let me explain the game in terms of one play. This is for both of you. A picture is worth a thousand words. During the game, the Huskies had a lot of second and 8’s and many 3rd and 5’s, with even more to go.”

“Yes, I remember,” I said.

“Well, here’s what I would have done in those situations. If I had been Coach Neuheisel I would have gone with a ‘Split Rip Z Snug 60 China’ or a ‘Split Rip 93 Y Seam.’”

“Huh? You’d better draw that on paper.”  

"Is this a soap-opera or sewing explanation?" my wife asked. "You know, split seams."

"A little of both," he smiled, thinking she was being facetious. I knew better, however. He'd have had a better chance with a Luci Arnez.

I handed him a piece of paper, and he drew a schematic for the play. The “O’s” for the offense, while his nomenclature for the defense consisted a number of arrows and letters.  

Then he described the Texas defense and what Washington should have done on offense.

I can’t remember all of what he said, other than, “The strong defensive tackle was lined up in a 2 technique and attacked the 'A' gap. MIKE was lined up in a 2i technique and stunted through the strong side 'B' gap; whereas, WILL was lined up in a 1 technique and first of all protected the weak side 'A' gap, then the short middle zone. Meanwhile, SAM, in an 8 technique, was responsible for the tight end, making sure that nothing got outside of him. REB, aligned in a ghost 8 technique, drops back, taking away the quick slant from the weak side, instead of attacking the weak tackle one on one.”  

“That's a good explanation," my zany wife said, “better than Case's. WILL used to be on 'All My Children,' and there is a MIKE on 'Days of Our Lives.' As for MIKE's stunting, you're right, I believe he did his own stunts. And I believe there was a SAM who was a REB in 'Gone with the Wind.' My high school drama coach always told me that improvisation was a great acting technique, but I've never heard of a 2-technique."

"It's how a defensive player, I mean an actor, lines up."

"Sure, like the fall lineup. I understand," she smiled.

Coach's mouth dropped open, somewhat flummoxed, wondering if she was being coy or not. Finally, he went on.

“Meanwhile the strong cornerback was aligned in a 6-yard deep with inside slight leverage on ‘Z.’ He then locked up man-to-man on the ‘Z.’ I would have used a five-step pass with solid protection to get the ball away quickly. The 79-post swing 70 is the five-step drop 9 side of the field to attack. The split takes three hard strides up the field and cuts to the skinny post."

"Yes," she said. "Sam was played by a skinny actor named 'Post.'" 

He cleared his throat, lowering his voice by an octave. "The left halfback runs a swing route, the tight end a seam, and the flanker a ten-yard curl. 

"Like in sewing," she added. "You must keep your seams tight, lest they curl."

"The offensive line will gap protect to the call side." 

"Oh, gaps..."

Red faced, interrupting her before she used another sewing analogy, he added, "If the outside linebacker drops back into coverage, then the quarterback dumps the ball to the swing and he runs to daylight. If the linebacker sits or attacks the swing, the quarterback throws to the skinny post for big yardage.”

After the coach left, my wife turned to me and said, "That sure was good explanation. I love this game."

I’m back to sandlot football. I’ll never explain football to another soul.  

Editor's note:

Casey Corebit is a computer geek who writes for this site. Most of his submissions should be taken with a grain of salt.

The idea for this story was inspired by a defensive scheme and schematic devised by Coach Mark A. Johnson, the Head Coach at Nolan Catholic High School in Fort Worth, Texas. Some of the football terminology is a hodgepodge of terms gleaned from the various coaches’ responses submitted for the situation. Others Casey made up. See www.sportscombine.com/thezone/

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