2014 Super Bowl: Explaining Football, British Edition

hero-bkg-bridge
Why this computer generated image of what looks like the Manhattan Bridge has a football field super-imposed onto it, I have no idea. And I’m not even British!

In the midst of all of Dear Sports Fan’s Winter Olympics previews we’ve neglected to cover the big football game coming up this Sunday, the Super Bowl! Luckily, the game between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks has received a lot of coverage from other sources. Some of the coverage has been focused on explaining football to the layperson! And for some reason a lot of it has been focused on British people — maybe because they are a group of people who can safely be assumed to be free of knowledge about football without insult. Here’s a few of the most humorous or most helpful highlights.

From Buzzfeed, found on Deadspin, a group of British people making vague guesses and comments about the nature of the Super Bowl and football in general. My favorite is the description of football as being “like the Matrix but in padding.”

There’s also a wonderful and totally fake (and even more hilarious for being so) impression of what a football game would sound like if announced by a British person who has no idea what’s going on. My favorite line in this one is the droll description of a kick return: “A lucky fullback catches it, runs a bit, gets tired, fallls over.”

This video is written from the perspective of an American American Football fan who tries to explain football to “Liberals, Ladies, and Limeys.” “Limeys” is of course a slang term for Brits which derives (apocryphally?) from the British Navy’s practice of adding lime juice to sailor’s ration of rum to prevent scurvy. The tone of this video is a little obnoxious (we on this site don’t think ladies, liberals, or the British are necessarily ignorant about football) but it’s extremely well animated and manages to cover a lot in just a couple minutes. It’s a fine companion piece to our posts about football, most of which you can find here, including positional descriptions and answers to questions like Why Do People Like FootballHow do I Begin to Enjoy FootballHow Does Scoring Work in Football, and What’s a Down in Football.

Finally, for the design lovers or soccer people out there, there’s this brilliant website, Football as Football, which re-imagines NFL football teams’ logos as European soccer logos. Each team has a logo in the style of a Spanish, English, German, or Italian football club. If the Super Bowl were being played between the German soccer version of the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, this is what it would look like:

Broncos GermanSeahawks German

 

 

Why are Bowl Games Called Bowl Games?

Dear Sports Fan,

Why are college football bowl games called bowl games? Is it because of the Super Bowl?

Thanks,
Bill

— — —

Dear Bill,

College bowl games actually pre-date the Super Bowl by many years so if one was named after the other, it was the Super Bowl that was named after college football bowl games. Why college bowl games are named bowl games is another question entirely. The simple answer is that they are called bowl games because they are the biggest and most festive football games of the year, and as such are played in the biggest and most festive stadiums — which have historically almost all been shaped like bowls.

According to Wikipedia, the “history of the bowl game” began in 1902 when the “Tournament of Roses Association” sponsored a football game on New Year’s Day that was supposed to match the best college football team from the Eastern half of the country against the best in the West. As would become a tradition for this type of game, it didn’t quite match expectations. The game was a joke with Michigan beating Stanford 49-0 before Stanford quit with eight minutes left! Its lack of competitiveness left an impression on the organizers though and “for the next 13 years, the Tournament of Roses officials ran chariot races, ostrich races, and other various events instead of football.” They brought back football in 1916 and by 1921 it was so popular that a new stadium was commissioned that could hold the 40,000 plus spectators. Architect Myron Hunt copied his design from that of the Yale football stadium called the Yale Bowl because of its distinctive smooth, continuous, bowl-like shape. (A quick aside — the word bowl goes all the way back to Proto-Indo-European when it meant “rounded or swollen.”) The stadium was complete by 1923 and the Tournament of the Roses game that year between Penn State and USC was the first to be called the Rose Bowl.

The Rose Bowl stood alone for many years until the mid-thirties when four southern cities decided to emulate the successful tourist attraction by creating their own bowl games. The Sugar, Cotton, Orange, and Sun bowls sprouted between 1935 and 1937. This number has continued to grow throughout the years with a total of eight in 1950, 11 in 1970, 15 in 1980, 19 in 1990, 25 in 2000, and 35 today. The increasing number has created a dispersal of the interest and reverence felt for the original bowl games. It’s just not that big of a deal when 70 of the 120 college football teams play in a bowl game. Even the names of the bowl games feel less important now than they used to. It’s hard to blame the organizers of these games for selling the naming rights to them but one wishes the sponsors would be a little less parochial: San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia bowl, Franklin American Mortgage Music City bowl, BBVA Compass bowl. It’s little wonder that the clever website sellingout.com recommends selling the phrase “bowl game” short in the imaginary stock market of words.

 Using the word “bowl” to describe a sporting event has spread far and wide. As you noted in your question, the championship game of the NFL is called the Super Bowl. Other professional American Football leagues have used the moniker. The European Football League calls their championship game the Eurobowl. There is a Mermaid Bowl in Denmark and a Maple Bowl in Finland. In Canada there is the Banjo Bowl which is not a championship game but instead is used to label a rivalry game between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Other rivalry games, even American college football games, have bowl names, like the Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama or the amusingly named Egg Bowl between Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Sometimes the word bowl will be used to retroactively refer to a notable game like the Ice Bowl played in Green Bay, Wisconsin at -15 degrees Fahrenheit. 

A historical theme that I find interesting is the transition from having the word “bowl” convey a sense of exhibition (and therefore inconclusiveness if not unimportance in terms of league standings) to almost the exact opposite meaning where “bowl” conveys that a game is of the utmost importance to standings. In todayifoundout.com’s post, Why Championship Football Games are Called Bowls, Daven Hiskey writes that the NFL first stole the word “bowl” for its end-of-year all-star exhibition game, the Pro Bowl. This suggests the earlier, tourist attraction, exhibition meaning. Years later, after the NFL had merged with the AFL, and now had a championship game to name, the league chose to copy Major League Baseball and name it the “World Championship Game.” Nonetheless, the phrase Super Bowl soon overtook World Championship, and by the second or third year of the league, was the de facto name for the final game, and soon after became official.

That’s probably more than you reckoned for about bowls! Thanks for the question,
Ezra Fischer

Why Does Vladimir Putin Have a Super Bowl Ring?

From the how-weird-can-it-get files, this story is about whether or not the Russian politician Vladimir Putin stole an NFL Championship ring from the owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft.

The story begins in the summer of 2005 when Robert Kraft went on a trip to Russia. The New England Patriots, then (as now) one of the best teams in the National Football League, had just won their third Super Bowl in four years. Vladimir Putin’s record was almost as good as Kraft’s. Elected in 2000 after his predecessor Boris Yeltsin resigned unexpectedly, Putin had just been reelected in 2004 with 71% of the vote. At the end of a day of meetings between Putin, Kraft, and other American businessmen, something happened and Putin ended up with Kraft’s Super Bowl ring.

What’s in a ring? Most team sports leagues, including the NFL, give out a trophy to the championship team. There is also a tradition that the winning organization rewards its own players and coaches with gaudy championship rings as a celebration of the winning season. These rings have become a sort of jockish short-hand representing the championships themselves. One common factor in arguments about how to rate a player is “how many rings does he or she have?” Athletes use the word like this too, as in the famous rejoinder, ““I can’t hear what Jeremy says, because I’ve got my two Stanley Cup rings plugging my ears” by hockey goalie Patrick Roy when taunted by Jeremy Roenick, a good player but one who had never won championships like Roy had.

The exact series of events that led to Putin possessing Kraft’s ring was never completely clear, even in 2005. In the Boston Globe article Donovan Slack wrote that it could be “an international incident of sorts, a misunderstanding of Super Bowl proportions. Or it could be a very, very generous gift.” Despite Kraft’s statement a few days later that he, “decided to give him the ring as a symbol of the respect and admiration that I have for the Russian people and the leadership of President Putin.” there was always a certain mystery around the incident.

In a wonderful profile of Kraft’s wife Myra in 2007, the New York Times reported her version of the story which involved an off-color remark by Putin that he could “kill someone” with the ring before more or less walking off with it, to her husband’s dismay. The story of the ring being a gift was a cover-up to avoid an international incident, she said.

The story resurfaced this week when Robert Kraft finally confirmed his now deceased wife’s version of the story, even adding some henchmen into the mix: “I put my hand out and he put it in his pocket, and three KGB guys got around him and walked out.”

Just to make things even more scandalous, Putin responded to the story today through spokesperson and witness Dmitry Peskov, who said that “what Mr. Kraft is saying now is weird.” As reported by CNN, the metric system-obsessed spokesman remembered that he “was standing 20 centimeters away from him and Mr. Putin and saw and heard how Mr. Kraft gave this ring as a gift.”

What will happen next? Who knows! But it’s truly a great world that creates the headline “Putin denies stealing Kraft’s Super Bowl ring” and puts it on the front page of ESPN.

Super Bowl Prep Talk, Part Three: A Beginner's Guide to Football Betting

In this series, Dear Sports Fan will try to prepare non-sports fans and sports fans alike to converse knowledgeably during this Sunday’s Super Bowl parties. Super Bowl Sunday is probably the day when the most non-sports fans gather in front of televisions and mingle with their sport loving friends and family. In Part One-A and One-B of this series, we covered some of the key story-lines and plot points around the game. We also had a special post on Super Bowl party behavior written by one non-fan for others. This post will cover a few of the most common ways people gamble on the Super Bowl.


As Lisa wrote in her post on Super Bowl party behavior, Super Bowl Sunday is the day when the most people who don’t normally watch football watch a football game. Likewise it is a day when many, many people who don’t normally gamble on football have at least a few dollars riding on the game. Even if you don’t choose to gamble today, many of your friends and family will. There is likely to be almost 100 million dollars bet on the game legally in Vegas, and that’s just if you want to be legal about it. Here’s a quick explanation of the four most common types of bets that they’ll be making.

Betting the Line

This is the most common form of football betting. You’ve probably heard someone say that a football team is “favored by three points” or is a “ten point underdog.” This is where those phrases and figures come from. A sports book in Vegas will “set a line” for a game and then bettors will gamble on either side of that line. The easiest way to think of a line is to remember that for an actual sports game, the line is ALWAYS at zero. Whichever team wins by even as little as one point wins the game. In the world of the bet, that’s not the case. The betting line is adjusted in favor of one team or the other so that in order to win the bet, you need a team to win by more than a certain number of points. We’ll get to why the line is set where it is in a few paragraphs.

In today’s game, San Fransisco is favored by four points (somewhat confusingly expressed as “San Fransisco -4.”) This means that people who bet on San Fransisco need them to win by more than four points to win (also called “cover”) their bet. People who bet on Baltimore can cover even if Baltimore loses by up to three points. Knowing this may help you make sense of why people will sometimes seem incredibly engaged in the game at odd times.

Betting the Over/Under

This is a very common form of football line betting. When someone bets the over/under they are making a prediction about what the combined scores of the two teams will be. Basically, you need to predict whether the game will be high or low scoring. The over/under for today’s game is 48 points. If you bet on the over, you’re predicting that the combined score of the two teams will add up to more than 48; the under, less.

A quick note on lines (because the over/under is another form of line betting) and the logic of how they are set. The underlying principle of any type of gambling, is that the “house” (the entity that people bet against,) because they take a small fee on every transaction will always make money if they can balance the amount bet on both sides of a line (half on the under, half on the over; half on San Fransisco -4, half on Baltimore +4.) The house effectively pays the winners of a bet with the money they get from the losers. The only time the house can lose is if they take more winning bets than losing bets.

As you might expect, Vegas is freakishly good at balancing the bets. So, you would think that the combined score of the game is most likely to be what the line says it is, 48, but there are two things that qualify this. First — some bets are more “fun” than others — the public tends to enjoy betting an over more than an under, so the over/under will often be a little bit higher than Vegas thinks the combined scores will be. Second, well, the people who set the lines have chosen to work in Vegas. Sometimes they like to gamble a bit too.

Buying a Super Bowl Box

The Super Bowl Box is the most casual form of Super Bowl betting. You’ve probably taken part in one yourself! You make a ten by ten grid, put your name in a box, and pay someone a few bucks. After all hundred boxes are filled out someone randomly assigns a number from 0 to 9 to each row and column on the chart. Each box therefore represents a pair of one digit numbers like 4 and 7. These numbers correspond to the ones digit of the score of the teams at particular moments of the game — usually at the end of each quarter. If your numbers come up, say San Fransisco 14, Baltimore 7 (or 27) at halftime, you win a bunch of money.

This is gambling at it’s most pure. Unlike the previous two forms of betting, you don’t get to make any decisions at all. When you scribble your name on a box and put in your money, you are spending 1/100 of all the money involved for a 1/100 chance to win. As soon as they assign numbers to boxes, your chances have either gone up or down as you can see from this awesome “sucky box-o-meter.”

Making a Prop Bet

Prop bets are another form of betting that thrives during the Super Bowl. Prop is short for proposition (as you probably know from The Wire) and these bets are all about answering questions that ask “will something happen today?” These are incredibly fun to bet on, and as you might imagine because of that, are usually difficult to win. Most of these are about the game, but a good number of them are about the spectacle surrounding the game. There are two good articles on Grantland.com about this, one by a football analyst and one by a gambling comedy writer. Here are just a few of the bets they cover:

Will there be overtime?
Will the largest lead of the game be more or less than 14 points?
Will Vonta Leach (a guy on the Ravens who almost never gets to touch the ball) score the first touchdown?
Will the opening coin toss be heads?
Will Alicia Keys’ rendition of the national anthem be longer than 2:15?

That last one is ridiculous but I’d be willing to bet that someone at your Super Bowl party has their eyes on their watch while she’s singing. Look around and let me know.

Enjoy the party and the game,
Ezra Fischer

 

How Not to Behave at a Super Bowl Party: From One Non-Fan to Another

If you are anything like me, the only thing worse than the football season is the one night a year when everyone gets together to celebrate the football season: Super Bowl Sunday.  And while I try to avoid it every year, I somehow always manage to get sucked into attending a party.  Attending a party in which you have zero interest in the main event can be rather tricky. To help you on your path to being the perfect Super Bowl party guest, I have compiled a list of behaviors to avoid at your party this year.


 

DON’T stand around repeatedly announcing to any and everyone how much you hate football. There are so many great reasons to hate football. It is needlessly violent and leads to serious life injuries for the players. They only play for about seven seconds before stopping for five minutes. One minute of football time is the equivalent of fifteen minutes of real life time. I could go on, but I won’t. As you can see, it gets pretty annoying pretty quickly.

DON’T stand (or sit) in the room with the TV and talk loudly through the whole entire game. Believe it or not, some people actually want to watch the football game. More than that, some people actually want to hear the inane announcers talk about the football game. If you are not one of them, there are so many better places for you to be than in the room with the TV. There is a perfectly good table full of food and booze somewhere else where you will find like-minded people which whom you can pass the evening discussing hockey.

DON’T ask 1,000 annoying questions to the person in the room who is the most interested in watching the game. Maybe you’ve decided that this year you are going to try to pay attention to the game, only to realize that you have absolutely no idea what is going on. It is ok to ask questions now and then, and there will definitely be people excited to familiarize you with their favorite sport. Just be conscientious about how many questions you ask and who you ask them to. There are people who are going to want to watch the game more than they want to educate you on what is going on.

DON’T loudly root for the team that no one else is rooting for, while maintaining that football is dumb. People take football very seriously. Drunk people take football even more seriously. Try not to piss off a bunch of drunk football fans, unless your date for the party happens to be large enough to defend your honor. If this is the case, by all means, instigate. Fights are the best part of sports.

DON’T end the evening with a loud exasperated sigh of “Thank Goodness Football is over!” When the game ends, try to keep your glee to a minimum, especially if the home team (i.e. the team that everyone at the party is rooting for) just lost. No one will appreciate your joy in the midst of their mourning.

DON’T show up empty handed. For all of my bad behavior at Super Bowl parties, even I know better than to show up at someone’s house empty handed. Super Bowl parties are as much about the food and beverages as anything else. If they weren’t, why would any of us non-fans even bother to show up? If you are going to be a football-naysayer, then make up for it by bringing a really amazing dish or a whole lot of beer. People will forgive just about anything given the right culinary incentive. But show up with nothing, consume all of the food and drinks, and complain through the whole game, and I promise you won’t be invited next year.

So now you know all the ways not to behave at a Super Bowl party. If you are interested in knowing how you should behave instead, well, you’ll have to ask someone else. I fully intend to break all of my own rules and maybe even discover some new ones come Sunday night.

So who’s having the party??
Lisa Filipek

Super Bowl Prep Talk, Part One-B: Harbaugh Brothers and New Orleans

In this series, Dear Sports Fan will try to prepare non-sports fans and sports fans alike to converse knowledgeably during this Sunday’s Super Bowl parties. Super Bowl Sunday is probably the day when the most non-sports fans gather in front of televisions and mingle with their sport loving friends and family. In Part One-A of this series, we covered the many, many plot lines centered around Ray Lewis. In this post, we’ll cover two more story lines, the Harbaugh brothers and New Orleans, the host city.



The Harbaugh Brothers

Unlike the normal one-game-a-Sunday cadence of the football season over the past few months, there are two weeks between the semi-finals and the Super Bowl. This gives everyone time to take any interesting story and drive it into the ground. By the time the game comes around for those of us who watch and listen and read a lot about sports, the narrative of many stories will have shifted from this-is-an-interesting-story to this-story-is-going-to-kill-me-if-I-hear-it-one-more-time. Then, of course, that becomes the story!

The story of the Harbaugh brothers is one of those stories. It goes like this: the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, John Harbaugh, is the older brother of the head coach of the San Fransisco Forty-Niners, Jim Harbaugh. That’s pretty much the whole story. But what the hell… their father Jack was a football player and coach himself. There’s a pretty sweet story about the sons going out of their way to help him when he was struggling as the head coach of Western Kentucky University. Sweet, however, is not the emotion this family is most known for. The sons are intense — even for football coaches. Jim, the younger one, is particularly demonstrative.

Says the New York Times:

His San Francisco 49ers players love to imitate the cartoonish nature of their coach: the clenched teeth, the dropped jaw, the wide eyes, the narrowed brow. Each has their favorite Harbaugh face.

John had is own blog-ready moment. When he was asked about coaching against his brother, he responded by saying it was a “great moment for our country.” I don’t know if I’d go that far, but you know… even if it’s not an incredibly interesting story… it is kinda cool to think about two kids playing super bowl in their back yards years ago and then growing up to face each other in that exact situation.

New Orleans

The host of the Super Bowl this year is New Orleans.Usually it’s not interesting who’s hosting the Super Bowl. But this year, there’s some drama. If the NFL and New Orleans were Facebook friends, their relationship status would be, “It’s Complicated.” Here’s the timeline.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the Superdome became an emergency shelter for 20,000 plus people. The stadium, which had hosted football and basketball games, the pope and the Rolling Stones, quickly became a symbol of the desperate, tragic situation.

Then, a little more than a year later, the Superdome became a symbol for the rebirth of the city when the city’s beloved Saints returned, like so many New Orleans residents did, from San Antonio. Roger Goodell, now the commissioner of the NFL, then the assistant commissioner, played a big role in this, remembers NOLA.com:

Goodell worked with local leaders to rebuild the Superdome. He cleared bureaucratic hurdles in Washington D.C. to accelerate the construction process. And he was a constant motivator, sending local officials late-night emails for inspiration: “We’re winning! Don’t stop! We’re in this to win!”

Three years after the team returned to New Orleans, they won the Super Bowl. So, it’s a positive, feel good story, right? Well… not so fast.

This past summer, a scandal broke out (predictably Clintonized to “Bountygate”) when it was revealed that the New Orleans Saints had a bounty system set up to provide financial rewards for injuring opposing players, including targeting the heads of players with histories of concussions. Goodell, now commissioner, suspended several team coaches and players for the season. Goodell has widely been accused of everything from tyranny to hypocrisy to ineptitude. He was sued by a suspended player. He eventually had to ask his predecessor to step in and try to clean up some of the mess. Paul Tagliabue cleaned up the mess by essentially repealing as many of Goodell’s decisions as possible.

So, where do we stand today? My guess is that Goodell is more hated than he is loved but that the hate is mostly a good-natured, whaddayagonnado type of hate. My favorite story about this is the signs that have started appearing in the windows of New Orleans restaurants and bars: “Do Not Serve This Man,” they say.

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

Super Bowl Prep Talk, Part One-A

In this series, Dear Sports Fan will try to prepare non-sports fans and sports fans alike to converse knowledgeably during this Sunday’s Super Bowl parties. Super Bowl Sunday is probably the day when the most non-sports fans gather in front of televisions and mingle with their sport loving friends and family. In Part One-A of this series, we’ll cover some of the key story-lines and plot points around the game.

As is often the case with big sporting events, many fans will be following the Super Bowl for its dramatic, soap opera-esque stories. Although the game this year does not have any story half as inspiring as an athlete over-coming the twin deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend or half as bizarre as the revelation that that girlfriend never existed, this game has plenty of juicy stories orbiting it.


Ray Lewis is Everything

Ray Lewis is the starting middle linebacker of the Baltimore Ravens. He’s a very controversial figure. Some people love him, some people hate him, and some people will represent both sides of the issue while attacking the seven layer dip like a fiend. This playoff season has brought out the best, the worst, and the most dramatic elements of Lewis — let me tell you about some of it.

First, Lewis is undeniably great at his job. He’s been playing for the Baltimore Ravens since their inaugural season 17 years ago. He has been to 13 Pro Bowls, been the NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice, and was the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player in 2001 when the Ravens won last. Also… maybe he’s overrated.

We’re now done with the football side of Lewis. Before this year’s playoffs, he announced that he would be retiring at the end of the season. Boston area NESN wondered in early January (before the Ravens knocked the New England Patriots out of contention) whether or not this would inspire the Ravens to win the Super Bowl.

Lewis missed the final ten games of the regular season this year after he tore his triceps muscle. Now he’s back playing. Some say (and probably some at your super bowl party will say) that this has to be thanks to some serious performance enhancing drugs. Or even some kind of silly ones.

Lewis’ response to being asked about using deer antler spray shows another side of him — the religious crazy person side. He commented that the allegations were “the trick of the devil.” There is no question that if Lewis were not a football player, he might have been a charismatic preacher. He fires up his team before the game, cries dramatically during the national anthem, and answers post-game questions with mildly incoherent scripture.

Back in 2000, the year before Baltimore was last in the Super Bowl, Lewis was embroiled in a less goofy controversy. He was arrested for murder and aggravated assault in the stabbing death of two men outside a night club. Lewis cut a plea bargain where his charge was reduced to virtually nothing in return for testifying against his two friends. They were eventually acquitted.

Oh, and did I mention that he has a signature dance? It’s brilliant. Teach yourself it and impress your friends with an imitation. Like the mayor of Denver. Or Keenan Williams of SNL.

Good luck learning the dance! In the next two installments of this series, we’ll cover the two opposing head coaches being brothers and the complicated relationship of the host city, New Orleans, with the NFL.

Thanks for reading,
Ezra

What Happened on the Last Giants Touchdown?

Dear Sports Fan,

What the hell happened on the play where Ahmad Bradshaw scored?

Thanks,
Mary


Dear Mary,

Welcome to a situation where real life and video games collide. Anyone who’s played Madden football has done what the Patriots did in that situation and knew immediately it was the right call. To recap:

Giants are down 17-15 with only a few minutes on the clock. Either a touchdown OR a field goal wins the game for them. This is important to note.

After Eli Manning completed his absurd pass to Mario Manningham, and executed a few more mundane plays, it became clear that the Giants were going to score. They were in field goal range, and rapidly approaching the range where basically you or I could successfully kick a field goal.

At a certain point the Patriots had to make a decision: when do we accept the reality that they’re going to score, and how do we get the ball back as quickly as possible and with as many timeouts as possible (this is important to note), so that we can try to counter? Keep in mind the Patriots only had two timeouts left because they had used one to challenge whether or not Mario Manningham caught Eli Manning’s absurd pass which, absurdly enough, he did. The clock also stops at the two minute warning,[1] giving the Patriots three opportunities to stop the clock.

If you’re the Giants, the plan is simple: run as many safe plays as you can for as long as you can to draw the clock down and force the Patriots to use all of their timeouts. Then, when you’ve eaten up as much time as you can – they could have taken the clock down to around 20 seconds in this case – you line up and kick the field goal, taking the lead and giving the Patriots very little time to get the ball back and score.

Here’s where Madden football comes in: in video game world, the ONLY sensible thing to do in this situation is to let the other team score a touchdown immediately. If the choice is trailing by five or six with around a minute to go and a time out, or trailing by three with 20 seconds to go and no timeouts, it’s pretty much a no-brainer. So in Madden world, you call the most permissive (promiscuous?) defense you have and, as soon as the play starts, take control of as many players as possible and dive to the ground to avoid making a tackle.

In the NFL, this rarely happens – primarily because coaches and players always like to think there’s a chance of stopping someone or forcing a turnover, and letting the opponent score reeks of surrender, which is something football players are conditioned to never do; and second, because the other team is presumably smarter than the artificial intelligence in the Madden game and will refuse to cooperate.

How? It’s pretty simple: you fall down before you get in the end zone. Falling down – we do it all the time. It’s the easiest thing to do in the world, unless you’re Ahmad Bradshaw and the only thought in your mind is scoring the winning touchdown in a Super Bowl, and the defense miraculously melts away in front of you and you have a clear path to the end zone and it’s not until you’re at the one-foot line that you realize – either because you hear someone yelling or you hear your coach’s voice in your head – that you’re dancing on the very thin line between being a Super Bowl Hero or being The Greatest Super Bowl Goat of All Time,[2] but it’s too late and your momentum slowly topples you into the unknown. (footnote 3: In this case, the obscene run on sentence is an attempt to capture the running back’s stream of consciousness. It’s neither laziness nor an indictment of the writer’s high school English teachers)

So as it does in Madden football, the strategy worked for the Pats – or worked as well as it could have under the circumstances. That they weren’t able to complete an absurd Hail Mary pass in the end zone to win the game in the end isn’t an indictment of their strategy – the mere fact that they were a foot away from a Super Bowl winning catch validates what every video football game player has known for years.

Thanks for the question,
Dean Russell Bell

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. The 2 minute warning is an institution that no one really challenges. It’s unquestioningly accepted as part of the game, like tight pants – except the tight pants actually serve a purpose. There are 53 players and dozens of coaches on the sideline and there are scoreboards all over the stadium – do they really need to be warned that there are only 2 minutes left?
  2. The GOAT goat?

What Channel is the Super Bowl on? Who are the Patriots?

Dear Sports Fan,

Who are the Patriots? Is the Super Bowl today? Tell me what channel to watch — I guess I really should join the rest of the human race if only for a little bit.

Thanks,
Jim


 

Dear Jim,

Ha! Yes, today is the super bowl!

It’s on NBC (probably channel 4) at 6:30. The New England Patriots play the New York Giants.
This is a rematch of a Super Bowl a few years ago. Back then the Patriots were going into the game undefeated and were seen as massive favorites to win and become the second team ever to go undefeated the entire season. The Giants upset the Patriots, thanks in part to this incredible play to keep them alive with about a minute left in the fourth quarter.
The Giants this year were only so-so for most of the year, but towards the end of the year they got on a roll and have been playing very, very good football since then. Their strengths are defensive line-men (Justin Tuck, Usi Umenyiora, and Jason Pierre-Paul are probably three of the top ten defensive linemen in the league and they’re all on the Giants) and the chemistry between their quarterback, Eli Manning (a really great, really long article about him) and his three wide receivers Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Mario Manningham. Those last three might be particularly problematic for the Patriots since their weakness is definitely their defensive secondary (the guys who try to cover the wide receivers.) As commentators will probably remind us at least twenty times today, they are so weak at that position that Julian Edelman, who started the year as a wide receiver on offense, will be starting on defense. I think this is a little overstated. He’s actually pretty good on defense.
Starting an offensive player on defense is an incredibly unconventional idea… which is pretty much on par with the Patriot’s coach Bill Belichick. As Charles Pierce pointed out in this Grantland piece Belichick has been very successfully the NFL’s most anarchist coach for a long time. He’s one of the Patriots’ main (apparent at least) advantages. The other is definitely Tom Brady, their quarterback, who is playing in his fifth Super Bowl and has won three of four. The Patriots offense this year has been very heavy on short passes up the middle of the field to three targets — Wes Welker, a freakishly precise and quick 5’9″ slot receiver and two young tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Everything you need to know about Gronkowski you can learn from watching this play. He suffered a pretty brutal ankle sprain two weeks ago though and it’s unclear how much or how well he’ll be able to play today. My bet is that he’ll be fine.
Of course, the real star of the day is money. From betting on everything from the length of the national anthem to the color of the Gatorade dumped on the winning coach to covering the commercials as if they are their own sport money is front and center the whole time.
As for joining the rest of the human race, good luck! The NFL put together a fun infographic about what people will be doing today… let’s just say that 53.5 million pounds of avocado and 8 million pounds of popcorn are involved. 8 million pounds of popcorn!! What a great day.
Enjoy,
Ezra Fischer