Decoding America’s Favorite Game

Sundays used to be a tranquil time in the Barrett household. It was the one day of the week when my wife relinquished control of the TV remote. We have something like 100 channels, 97 of which are a complete anathema to me, I’d be happy with a package that only included CNN, Discovery, and The Food Channel! My idea of fun on a Sunday afternoon was watching Dirty Jobs as Mike Rowe tackles some awful task that inevitably involved animal or human waste.

This tranquil existence came to an abrupt end when my step son came to live with us. He is an avid, no, avid is not the word, rabid follower of football, particularly the Saints. Week after week I have lived through not just the TV commentary but also Joey’s. A seemingly endless and meaningless stream of statistics came my way. It seemed that there was a statistic for everything, the third down conversion rate based on if the Quarterback had bacon for breakfast! I jest, but that was what it seemed like to me. It was a flurry of Rushing yards, Passing yards, and some mystery about sacks (don’t they put potatoes in them?).

In an attempt to unravel all of these mysteries I read Mark Oristano’s new book  A Sportscaster’s Guide To  Watching Football. I liked his approach from the out set. He is up front about who this book is not aimed at:

If you’re a rabid follower of the NFL draft, go away.

If you live and die for the NFL Scouting Combine and
you recap forty-yard dash times with your co-workers
around the water cooler, find another book to read.

If you’re into fantasy football, you probably know more
than is healthy; go back to your virtual roster.

If you can’t be interested in a game unless you have a
bet on it, you’re not a football fan, you’re a gambling
addict. Get help.

None of these rules seemed to apply to me, in fact I did not even understand what he was talking about, so I continued my education in the sport.

Mark Oristano has done a great job of demystifying the game for this poor guy. In someways this is a strange book for him to write, he spent almost four decades as a sports broadcaster, and I am sure that he could have written a very scholarly tome on the in’s and out’s of football strategy. Instead he has written a book for me, and people like me.

I had always assumed that when the ball was ‘snapped’ (I now know what that means) it essentially created several seconds of disorganized chaos, if the players were wearing kilts and wielding sabers they could have been extras in Braveheart! I have discovered that that is not the case. It is more of a choreographed ballet, albeit performed by large and well armored dancers.

I learned so much by reading this book that I actually scored a point with Joey. I asked him to define what the Neutral Zone is. He said “well its the line of scrimmage”. I persisted, how wide is it? “Oh, something like 11 inches”. Ha, I had him! It is a line from the tip to the toe of the football!

Well, I am not quite ready to become an NFL coach or referee, but I certainly know a great deal more now having read this book.

Mark Oristano writes with great humor, his anecdotes are fabulous. He even gives a few phrases that us poor saps can use when around real football fans.

In fact Mark sparked an interest in me. I said to my step son, well, the Saints have had a good season, but that’s going to end when they meet the Chargers in the Superbowl. The Chargers being the only team that I have ever watched in an actual game. Although ‘watched’ is likely inaccurate, I was invited by a large phone and wireless company, I can’t remember the exact name, it was something like Another Telephony & Telcom. They had a sky box, and 40 of their closest friends had a very good time.  It was a playoff game, but I can honestly say that I have no idea who won. The food and drink though were top notch!

I enjoyed A Sportscaster’s Guide To Watching Football by Mark Oristano a great deal. To order your copy just use the Amazon link.

Simon Barrett

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