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Sunday, 31 December 2023


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I have a hate-love relationship to American football, whether it is played by 6 year olds or 26 year olds. I confess to watching an occasional game but as I do, I realize I'm quietly encouraging unfettered violence not all that different than the events of the Roman gladiators. Gladiators died suddenly by weapon or lion, football players die slowly by orthopedic injury or CTE.

American football is an intrinsically violent game. Violence is at the core of the sport. It is not a contact sport, it is a collision sport. Other sports can be rough, but in no other sport is goal of everyone on the field, except the ball carrier, to take down another player. Think about it; basketball- the goal is to make a basket; soccer/hockey-the goal is to score a goal. Yes, in all these sports there is blocking and various forms of violence, but in no other sport is the job of most of the people on the field to take out another player, the ball be damned.

When I worked as a pediatrician (now retired) I had many frustrating encounters with parents who wanted their smaller than average child to play. I'd point out the growth chart that showed that those at the top of the chart were often double the weight of their child and that the collisions would put their child at serious risk of serious injury to say nothing of the concussion risks just now being fully understood.

There are many ways for children to get exercise and learn sportsmanship, many ways for excellent older athletes to demonstrate their prowess but American football is a poor choice.

And yes, that's really how I feel!

I used to follow football regularly. A combinations of things led me to give up following it a number of years ago. But, I still think it's the most interesting sport to watch--a combination of chess, ballet, and war. I loved watching plays develop and seeing how different player positions were being used to get matchup advantages. A completed long pass downfield caught in stride is genuinely a thing of beauty.

What you call a "scrum" is a "ruck" in rugby union. A scrum is rugby parlance is a formal set-piece, with two groups of forwards pushing against one another in a highly-regulated manner, usually after the ball has been accidentally knocked forward. A ruck, by contrast, forms spontaneously with players pushing as you describe.

Football, properly speaking, is, of course the sport you call "soccer".

Apologies, I’m a Brit - I don’t think I understood 10% of this post. I don’t mind, but I’m amazed at my own ignorance…

It was the Lions, not Dolphins, that got robbed against the Cowboys. The Ravens pummeled the Dolphins 56-19 today to clinch the AFC TOP seed (see what I did there).

[I did see!

Thanks for the correction. All season long I have conflated the Dolphins with the Lions. The two teams seem to occupy the same space in my conception of things. Anyway, fixed now. --Mike]

As a non-American in non-America, my understanding of gridiron lacks nuance, but I have enjoyed it on TV since the 80s. Characters like Riggins, Diesel and Sanders, Barry and Rice, Jerry were features, along with fun nicknames like Perry, Refrigerator. The first NFL player to weigh over 300 pounds would not even rate a mention today.

Which brings me to my point regarding your bemusement at defensive players being beaten so easily today. We tend to underestimate how much more physically capable is the modern player. They can do ‘moves’ (and are coached to learn more options) that players in the 80s could not do. Hence the proactive player, be it ballcarrier or rusher, has the advantage more than before, and the reactive player, still limited by human reaction times, has to wait and see what transpires, by which time it can already be too late.

The main rule change I would like to see would be a ban on kicking the ball outside of the 100-yard playing field after a score. Penalty: place the ball at the 50.

The rule changes on violence are excellent and I think will do the job re player safety. I would like to see the new helmets that are being used in training made mandatory in games. They greatly reduce head trauma. Fans will get used to the look.

I'll be the contrarian on this subject. I hate football (and most organized sports) and can't understand the almost cult-like worship of this activity. In the most obese country, people will spend hours watching others move their bodies while eating the equivalent amount of calories that many people would consume in a week in other countries. So called amateur sports in college generate revenue that exceeds many commercial buisness corporations, with basically slave labor putting their bodies at risk for the fat-cats that prosper from their sacrifice.

Lastly, during Thanksgiving and Christmas, football preempted active multi-game tournament play on Jeopardy with no way to see who won since for some reason the cerebral game of Jeopardy doesn't get put on demand, and those game will never be seen... because of almighty football.

What the hell would an alien race make of "sport"?

A reliable source told me that conservative people play sports because it gives them permission to be silly. When the rest of their life is bereft of whimsy and frivolity.

I don’t watch any sports until the last game where everything is on the line because I have things to do. But I like Larry David’s take on what should be changed in football. https://youtu.be/GbN0IOs8No0?si=JZAQ9XmI3tFP0U7z

Happy new year, Mike.

I have very little interest in professional sports in general and professional football in particular, but that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy televised sports. I very much enjoy NCAA basketball and lacrosse. For me, the appeal of televised sports in general is that it's just about the only true drama on TV. Nobody knows what's going to happen as the game unbfolds - not the viewers, not the players, not the commentators. We all share the excitement of the game in progress. Excitement is the key word here and on TV there is precious little of that.

A ruck in rugby union only occurs when the ball is on the ground (as Chris Bertram says, a spontaneous scrum) and the players are limited to controlling the ball with their feet until the ball exits the ruck (as in a scrum) - the referee will let the players know if the ball is ‘out’ and may be picked up and carried. If a player is carrying the ball, a maul is formed, which continues until the ball goes to ground (backwards only though, as a ball falling forward to the ground from the body or hand is a ‘knock-on’ and results in a scrum), in which case a ruck will be formed, or the ball is passed backwards out of the maul into open play, goes out of bounds, or the team with the ball scores a try.

Agree on the increase in missed or broken tackles, but have you noticed the increase in forced fumbles and strips? It may not be the entire explanation, but I still think these things are related.

I too have watched more football this year than I have in a long time. Rule and equipment changes to better protect players, and a rooting interest in a team that happens to be doing well are two reasons. And, as far as I can tell, adoption of analytics has made offenses more bold and creative--more teams are keeping the ball on 4th downs or utilizing trick plays in certain situations, for example--which makes the game more entertaining.

That said, more athleticism means that even routine contacts (or "collisions" as Eric Brody rightly points out) can be more brutal. Changes to the game are barely keeping pace, which is not good enough because, as others here point out, football is an activity in which head injuries are routine and common, and always have been.

There are social and economic issues, too, that others have touched on and I won't get into here. For the moment, though, the sum of my own mixed feelings about the sport seems to have crept toward the positive side again. However, I realize that nearly all of the positive feelings are rooted in my childhood, and most of the remainder has to do with missing the city I called home for most of my life. I'll have to think about what that means.

At the risk of being labeled persnickety I would note that what we call football in the USA can also be properly called gridiron football, and what we (and sometimes Englishmen) call soccer can be properly called association football. There’s also rugby football, which seems to have rules that are made up as they go along.

"Now nearly half of the QBs in the League are black."

Just as League received a capital L, Black should receive a capital B as it's a proper noun. Same with White in the next sentence.

[I'm afraid it's not as simple as that. I just stick to the old conventions, of not considering colors to be proper nouns when they refer, in their much oversimplified way, to human skin. That is, I use Asian instead of yellow, Native American instead of red, etc. "Black" (capitalized) is easy enough, but there is bitter disputation about the implications of white and White, with various parties reaching opposing conclusions. --Mike]

Jiskefet means waste bin. It’s from the Frisian language that is spoken in the north of the Netherlands. The word was used as name for a series of comedy sketches that ran from 1990 until 2005 on Dutch tv. Absurd satire in the footsteps of Monty Python, but much more brutal. I remember sending the link of that sport sketch once in a TOP comment, but can’t remember when or why. It refers of course to all those British games that are probably only well understood by the British themselves. Like bowls, croquet and cricket. The last one once very well described by Archbishop William Temple: “Personally, I have always looked on cricket as organized loafing.”
For those of you that understand Dutch here is the complete episodes of Jiskefet. https://jiskefet.nl/

Hi Mike, re kicks, one potential explanation is a trend for certain AFL (Australian Football League) players to move to NFL as they approach retirement, purely to do the kicking. Will let you research kicking in AFL.

Noting the ‘football’ in AFL is very different to the ‘football’ in NFL, and the world football game.

Which reminds me of this article on how the athleticism of grand final season grows year on year, and influences the athleticism of the players in the following year.

Disclosure - as an antipodean, I grew up following Rugby Union, which is different to the rugby league (NRL = National Rugby League), which of course is different to AFL, NRL (aka gridiron), and so on.
Since having a child, my time available for watching sport has reduced dramatically.

I also started watching football again this year and I’m finding the commercials and announcer blather/giddiness hard to take. I’ve found that the best way to avoid the hype and never ending booze and gambling commercials is to mute the TV and spin an album. If my brothers are over for the game, we naturally turn away from the TV when a commercial comes on to talk about the game or the album or whatever. Rant on: Gambling has always been a part of sport but now it’s so blatant that we have star players hawking the activity because…um…the NFL needs more money? Rant off.

This Christmas I went one step further and bought myself an over the air (OTA) DVR ($30), 500GB hard drive ($35) and flat, multi-directional, UHF oriented indoor antenna ($40) so I can start recording games. If I start the recording, pause it for 30 minutes and then resume playback I can skip over the commercials when I’m home alone. The 1080i picture of an OTA NFL broadcast on a big screen is really nice.

I’ve had an old set of VHF oriented rabbit ears sitting behind my TV for the last 20 years and because I live in a valley, it didn’t really matter much unless a storm rolled in. My OTA broadcast towers are all thousands of feet above me. When doing my research for the OTA DVR I realized I should be using a modern, flat, multi-directional UHF oriented antenna for digital broadcasts…d’oh! I used the signal meter in the new DVR to position the antenna perfectly and then mounted it to the wall using Command Strips. Everything works great and it was super cheap.

Mike, you forgot to mention hair. Players these days have some very wild and long hair styles. I’m assuming this is to make them stand out on the field where all players look pretty much alike.

At the end of the day, it is what it is.

First aid station at football stadium-

Canadian Football is a much more niche sport than American Football in the grand scheme of things, but this year I got myself accidentally sucked into the greatest comeback story for the Montréal Alouettes.

Although I'm a Québécois, I mostly watch NFL on CTV, because the CFL is on paid channels and I'm cheap. But I got a discount from my university to see the Alouettes play during (Canadian) Thanksgiving. So I thought it would be a fun day with the family, which it was. Then my father-in-law also got us tickets for another game, and it was another win. These were the first times I was seeing live football, and that was thoroughly enjoyable.

So the whole family ended up at a sports bar one Sunday evening, for the Grey Cup finale agains the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. They were a much stronger, better team, but the Alouettes stretched themselves to the max, and won a game that kept us on the edge of our seats until the end. I've never seen such a spontaneous amount of relief and pride at winning! A few weeks later, Université de Montréal won the Vanier Cup, which is a college-level national cup as well.

In Montréal, it's Habs all the way, but come on, they have not won a Stanley Cup since the 1990s (despite their final round with Tampa Bay during the pandemic). To have a Montréal team win two sports trophy of importance the same year was elating. And I was just happening to pass by, out of mild curiosity for Canadian Football!

I learned a new word today "jube".

I haven't watched Canadian or NFL football in decades. But when I did watch games, I also turned off/down the sound. Besides the boring announcers and commercials, the background white noise of the crowd buzz put me to sleep.

When Canada went metric, Canadian football didn't, and it still uses yards today. At the time I thought it should have moved to 10 metres to a first down and four downs instead of three. Canadian fields are 110 yards long so a change to 100 metre fields would have worked out fine.

The arrogant sanctimony of some announcers was too much for me to take. I remember late in an NFL playoff game in the late 1970s, a blowout that was over by the 4th quarter, there was a close shot of two players on the losing team on the bench sharing a laugh, I don't know over what. The CBS (I think) announcer made some caustic remark about not being so happy if your team is losing. I turned the TV off, who needs to be lectured by some goof whose job it is to sell me beer and cars.

The celebrations by fans when their teams win seems way over the top to me. Getting caught up in a contest is easy to do, it's fun, but once the final whistle blows, the game is over. No need to dwell on it or run riot downtown, there will be a new season soon enough.

There's so much of this game I don't understand, and my boyfriend is sooo impatient with my questions.
When quarterbacks "spike" the ball... why isn't that intentional grounding?

[That is such a great question. I think your boyfriend should listen to you more. --Mike]

What else is there to sat? =)

Adding to things that are annoying, probably only to me, weekly now I see a team line up on fourth down and something, like 4th and 3, and then try to draw the other team offsides. I have seen that work exactly zero times in the last few years. Seems like a very tired and known play and should just be scrapped.

I think you are correct about greater skill level and I think that's why passing yards are down so much this year. Seems like there are a lot of these super quick edger rusher types (Von Miller) who can sprint around the slow poke offensive line men and the qb barely has time to set up before someone is in his face.

(I speculated to someone that maybe the NFL will go to a - Count to 2 before rushing rule, like we used to do in the pickup games in the park. Imagine refereeing that)

I don’t disagree with your take on the final plays of the Lions-Cowboys game, Mike. But a new overzealousness on the part of referees in the NFL seems to have come about at the same time that gambling on sports became legal in most of the country.

It seems to me that there isn’t any kind of major, game-changing play that isn’t brought back with a flag for “holding” or a “false start.”

Money seems to ruin everything and there’s so much money in sports betting these days that we have great potential for two consequences: corruption in officiating and an obsession with avoiding any mistakes lest moneyed interests become upset.

In baseball, great efforts have been made to keep games moving and running under three hours. And yet, those efforts are being undermined by every third play being reviewed.

It’s all enough to put me off most major-league sports.

"Players today seem better than players of old."

Well, with the salaries they're getting, they can afford to train year round. Back in the day, and even into the '70s perhaps, players had to take jobs during the off season. Certainly players are bigger and faster, but I think the training also plays a bigger part, compared to years gone by.

The referees seem to make bad calls with regularity. Not just once, but sometimes several times in the same game. Somehow, the referees can't tell if the ball has been fumbled. I don't mean with close plays. Very obvious "non-fumbles" are reviewed to (almost) no end. I'm afraid that allowing gambling will only make it worse.

Missed tackles: I think it's just sloppy play. The "old style" players would shorten their steps when nearing the ball carrier, in order to more easily change direction. I've lost count of the players who fly by the ball carrier at full speed and grab nothing but air. The old time players also knew tricks like watching the player's hips to see which way he was really going to go. Today's players seem to be faked by a nod of the helmet or hand gesture.

Faster and more nimble defensive linemen make it very difficult for offensive linemen to hold a block for several seconds. I'm surprised the offensive linemen are able to move their large bodies as quickly as they do when pulling toward one side during a running play.

Sports have been called romance novels for men.

"Now it's more of a meritocracy—depends on who plays best"

Sorry, but I've gotta disagree with this one. You're assuming that because there are more black quarterbacks that they were the best on offer. I'm sure some of them were, but all of them? I have my doubts. How many good white quarterbacks got passed by simply because the NFL has become more race conscious and is encouraging teams to draft black quarterbacks?

Same with head coaches. Are they really being hired because they are the best prospects? Or because the NFL wants to increase its number of black head coaches?

These doubts are the basis of one of Thomas Sowell's big complaints about affirmative action: With it in place, you never know whether a black person was advanced because they deserved it or because they checked a diversity box; as a result most people assume the latter, meaning that the blacks who are where they are because they've earned it end up being tarred by the same brush.

My wife and I just started watching the NFL again after about a 5 year break and the only two black quarterbacks I've seen play that have really impressed me as NFL level quarterbacks are Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. The rest, at least in the games I've seen, were "meh". Of course there are plenty of "meh" white quarterbacks too, but we'll see if the mediocre black ones find themselves on the second team or practice squad as quickly as an underperforming white one would. That will be the "tell".

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