This from the very readable Chuck Klosterman. I like the way he uses terms like conservative, liberal, and radical in ways that make sense politically and yet he is still describing football. It's not a super serious piece, but I still found it thoughtful and engaging. I don't know how much it will really generate discussion, but I thought some of you might enjoy it.
quote:As of this moment in 2008, the read option is by far the most pervasive offensive play in college football and an increasingly popular gadget play in pro football, especially for the Miami Dolphins (who run it by moving quarterback Chad Pennington to wide receiver and using running back Ronnie Brown at QB, a formation commonly called the Wildcat). If somebody makes a movie about American life a hundred years from now and wants to show a fictionalized image of what football looked like, this is the play they should try to cinematically replicate1. Every week of autumn, I watch between nine and fifteen hours of football; depending on who's playing, I probably see this play eighty to a hundred and fifty times a weekend. Michigan has just run it three times in succession. This play defines the relationship between football and modernity; it's What Interesting Football Teams Are Doing Now. And it's helped me rethink the relationship between football and conservatism, a premise I had long conceded but never adequately questioned.
Reading through this piece I realized how much I had forgotten about football, since I have not watched more than a couple of games a season for years. But it seems to me Klosterman exaggerates the innovative elements some, which work a lot better on the college level than in the NFL. The drawback to the read option, for example, is still what he intitially concluded; running a lot will eventually get your quarterback killed, in the figurative sense that he will likely suffer some disabling injury. That matters less for a college team, which starts with a fairly green quarterback and keeps him at most three or four years, but a top pro quarterback can potentially play for ten years or more, and continue to get better with experience. Risking such an asset by having him run a lot makes no sense on the pro level, so I suspect the read option will be a fad, or maybe a way for teams to win games with a quarterback with no future. Coaches win by making the most of what they have, and everyone would have liked to copy the perfect execution of the old Green Bay Packers, but very few coaches had the experienced players who could do it. So they did other things, to please their fans and win some games while doing so. Something often ignored is that football becomes more exciting when it has winners and losers, and watching some dominant team roll to its 147th consecutive victory tends to lack suspense - however much that pleases the home fans.
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I'm not sure it's an exaggeration, unless you only consider professional football to be football. The fact that many of these innovations start and work better at the high school and college levels doesn't really make them less innovative. It just means they take longer to get to the pro level and they often require different twists or mini-innovations to implement them. For instance, the Dolphins don't run this offense with a quarterback. They put a running back or backup into the game and let them take the hit to spare their starting QB.
I think your other point about winners and losers is well put. Klosterman spoke a little bit about the revenue sharing plan of Pete Rozelle and how that brought about more competitive balance in the game (and how anti-American or at least anti-capitalism that seems to be). It's no fun to play a game with the same winner every time, and I think it even takes a little bit of the joy for the winning team that 147th time if they haven't experienced loss at some point.
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quote:Originally posted by aupton15: The fact that many of these innovations start and work better at the high school and college levels doesn't really make them less innovative. It just means they take longer to get to the pro level and they often require different twists or mini-innovations to implement them.
Another factor is that the range of raw physical ability in the NFL is much smaller than in college football. At college level, a few outstanding star players can have a disproportionate impact, and coaches can design schemes focussed around them. The same players move to the NFL, and discover that everyone is as big, fast and strong as them (one of the more common sorts of first round bust is the guy who got by on pure physical talent at college, and who never learn the proper technique and discipline when they get to the pro game).
You are right, aupton15. As a casual viewer I watch mostly professional football on television, and was thinking of the article from that perspective. But for all I know more people in total may be watching high school and college games, and lots of those are loyal students and alumni who go in person to see their teams play. So how the game looks to them matters a lot too. Anyway I am glad you provided the link.