The Game is upon us. A sporting event so momentous it transcends definition, the Game enraptures even the population of Yale students who have spent a semester thinking Payne Whitney is a library annex. Remember, most college students tailgate and cheer for the home team every weekend. Savor this final opportunity to experience Yale Bowl inebriation, eat mediocre barbeque and scoff at bizarre alumni in baroque fur coats before returning home. That cloying family you’ve forgotten about will resurface shortly, and you’re going to have to face mom, dad, the grandparents, and probably 20 cousins (whose names you never remember) in just a few short days.
Enjoy your freedom while it lasts.
But try to remember, even in an inebriated stupor, you should be able to recount what happened in the game to those 20 cousins when they accost you, sparkling grape juice in hand, at Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps the time has come to apply those brains which got you into Yale in the first place to understanding the venerated game of football — a much more applicable knowledge than Heidegger. There’s more to football than recognizing the difference between crimson and navy blue uniforms. Football is a nuanced game of strategy and ruthless Americana. It’s up there with apple pie, reality TV and widespread obesity. Many Americans don’t even realize that the other six billion people on this planet think they’re idiots for confusing it with soccer. If you don’t want to be another one of those fans cheering when Harvard makes a good drive (and we’re not talking about golf), then read on.
Obviously, football teams want to get as many points as possible. The question is: how do teams go about doing that? First of all, moving the football to the end zone is called a “touchdown,” not a “goal.” A touchdown is worth six points, even though most think it’s worth seven. This is because once a touchdown is scored, the team has the opportunity to try for extra points. The ball starts on the three-yard line in both cases. Either teams can try and kick it through the uprights — towering metal posts — as an abbreviated field goal or go for a two point conversion.
Often overlooked, the two-point conversion is similar to a normal play in which the ball can be passed or ran to the end-zone, and the team earns (that’s right) two points. More difficult, but also more rewarding, it is a tactic used in a close game. In business terms, for those potential I-bankers (i.e. those who aren’t reading this article), it’s like investing in the more volatile Amazon.com rather than good, old General Electric.
But perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves. What are the most fundamental aspects of the game?
At four quarters, fifteen minutes each, it’s all about the numbers. Once a team starts off on offense, they have four “downs,” or chances, to move the ball ten yards. The quarterback can either throw the ball to a wide receiver, or hand it off to the running-back, who will maneuver through the masses of rather large men with no necks to advance himself as far as possible. It’s interesting to note, the quick and nimble running back probably weighs 100 pounds less than the players whose sole mission is to clobber him.
If the team completes the ten yards, they start again on the first down and the cycle continues until they (hopefully) score. If the team, however, gets to their fourth down without gaining ten yards, they have three options:
A) The “special team” comes onto the field (for the freshmen and other rookies who make up this squadron, this is their moment of glory), and they will punt (kick) the ball to the other team. After the opposing team “fields” the ball, they will advance as far as their draining testosterone allows, and then their offense will come on.
B) The team can forge ahead and try to complete the remainder of the 10 yards. This is a risky decision because if it fails, the team gives up the ball on downs. If the offensive team is deep in their own territory and can’t get the fourth down, the opposing team will start off their offense with an advantageous field position. However, if a team is desperate (a la the saccharine “Remember the Titans”), this might be their only option.
C) If the team is within the opposing team’s 30-yard-line, they also have the chance to kick a field-goal. Three team members are crucial for the field-goal attempt: A long snapper, extraordinarily gifted in the Byzantine art of snapping, tosses it a whole 7 yards back. A “holder,” in fact, holds the football for the place-kicker, who attempts to kick the ball through the uprights. For all the Ace Ventura fans out there, the key here is laces-out. Laces-out, mind you, lest Finkle is Einhorn and Einhorn is Finkle.
A team can disasterously lose possession of the ball with a fumble or interception at any time during their four offensive downs. A fumble is caused when the ball is knocked out of an offensive player’s hands and recovered by a member of the defensive team in a chaotic hustle — hence, the 40 car pile-ups on the field. An interception is when the quarterback accidentally throws the ball to the opposing team’s defense, self-evident if you know basic vocabulary.
On to the unsung heroes of our field of dreams. We’ll let you make your own corny joke about tight ends, but we assure you they have a real function on the field. Tight ends are versatile players who, in some plays, act as a third wide receiver and, in other plays, join the offensive line to protect the quarterback from a sack. Next question: what in fact is a sack? We’ve got you covered. A sack is when the defensive line beats the offense that are protecting the quarterback and tackle him before he has a chance to throw the ball — raucous fist-pumping will occur.
There’s one more tidbit of information to complete your new-found football erudition. “23, 41, 52!” This is not a geometric sequence (stop it math majors) but something called an “audible.” Most of the plays are decided in the huddle (15 more ass slaps!). But if the players line up and realize that the opposing defense is lined up exactly where the running back was supposed to run, then the quarterback will make a quick change to the plan. The new plan is transmitted through the numbers he calls out. Glorious.
You’ve just graduated Football 101, and when you’re forced by the New Haven Police Department to evacuate the tailgate premises when the second half begins, put your knowledge to use. Step through the Bowl gates, sit with your jubilant friends and dazzle them with your new brilliance. Whether or not the Bulldogs win this year, you’ve learned loads and they have school on Monday. At least over the turkey and stuffing you can chime in when your Patriots-obsessed uncle starts screaming at the TV over a fumble — you know what you’re talking about now.
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