I had been reading "Remembrance of Things Past" on weekends for it seemed like years. And then suddenly I came to the end of it. I was finished. I couldn't believe it.
What was I going to do with my Sunday afternoons?
This particular Sunday it was raining, so I turned on the TV thinking maybe there would be a good "Blondie" movie or something.
What I got was the Redskins.
Not only did I watch that first hopelessly lost game down to the last second, but I also picked it up again on the Highlights and read all about it yet again in Monday's paper. I watched every game that season, and the next season I even went to a game on a gift ticket that was in the first row, and every 40 seconds the Redskin bench would jump to its feet and I couldn't see a thing except a lot of burgundy and gold blankets draped around shoulders.
I decided TV is better because with instant replay of every single play you get to see the game twice.
So here it is starting time 1982 and I am lying in front of the set with a glass of wine on the floor and an old Times Literary Supplement for a coaster.
There is only one thing.
It is harder than Proust.
What am I supposed to believe when some TV announcer talks about a nose guard making a key tackle? Come on. A nose guard is a piece of equipment.
And what is this nickel defense? I used to know a guy named Floyd Nickel. Pretty good athlete. You don't suppose . . . ? No, no. He went into insurance.
The main thing to remember about football jargon is that you are probably trying too hard to understand it. These terms have very little meaning. They mean so little that all you have to do is think back to your first simple-minded thought about them, and that's what they mean.
Like nickel defense. It means a five-man defensive backfield instead of four. Nickel. Five. Get it? Ingenious.
The nose guard -- there is also a nose tackle -- is nothing more or less than a guard or tackle who stands in front of the center in certain defense formations, literally nose to nose with his opposite number. So what are they calling that thing he wears on his face now?
The quarterback draw vs. the quarterback sneak: In the draw, the quarterback, who stands directly behind the center, takes the ball from him, makes one step to the rear as though planning to flee to his own goal, but then spins around and charges the line. (Does this really fool anybody? I can't believe it.) In the sneak, the quarterback simply slips around the flank of the center.
The wishbone offense, seen in college play, is nothing more than a bent T formation. The quarterback stands behind the center and the fullback behind him, with the two halfbacks on either side between them, forming a sort of diamond. The QB can then pass the ball or hand it -- we now say "hand off": inflation, you know.
It appears that modern football, like Kabuki, is rigidly controlled down to the last gesture. There are certain ways to tackle a player, certain places you can touch him, and special rules for the various positions. It is only natural that every slightest departure from the usual, every infinitesimal innovation, would have a name. (In the church of St. Clement Dane in London there is a plaque memorializing the day a football player first took the ball and ran with it.)
Hangtime: a living statistic. Hangtime is the time a kicked ball hangs in the air, allowing the kicker and his mates to rush forward and overwhelm the receivers before the thing comes down. The big thing now is not how far you can kick it but how long it stays up.
Bump and run. When you are following a would-be pass receiver down the field, you can't tackle him before he gets the ball, but you are allowed one bump, hoping to knock him off balance. So you bump him and if he doesn't go down, you have to run alongside him trying to keep him from catching the ball. If he does catch it, you tackle him.
Keying. Sheer jargon. The defense keys on the player they think will get the ball. Meaning they watch him.
Dog. The dog is the defensive player who tries to blitz the quarterback, or overrun him before he can do anything with the ball. When the QB goes down in a blitz, that is a sack. As in the Sack of Rome.
The Bomb is the longest pass you ever saw, usually a desperation tactic. Turnovers are "footballese" for losing possession of the ball through a fumble or interception. If a team has a lot of turnovers they'll probably lose. Or it is raining.
Man-in-motion. This one always got me. While the signals are being called, a back trots along just behind the line of scrimmage clear past the end and then turns around and trots back. If this happened once in a season it might delude the opposition, but they do it every play. How could anyone possibly be deceived or even seriously distracted?
Tight end. The ends are the guys who catch the passes. Reading from left to right of an offensive line, you usually have the left end, left tackle, left guard, center, right guard, right tackle -- and tight end. Not right, tight. Because traditionally he stands tight in there next to the tackle.
What used to be the halfback has become the flanker, the third end. But he is technically a back and so must stand one step behind the line of scrimmage. The flanker and left end may stand several yards out from the others, where they are also known as wide receivers.
I have no trouble with this. I am not confused. Sometimes when you are trying to punch a few yards through the middle for a first down, you replace a wide receiver with a second tight end. That makes sense. Sometimes you replace the other wide receiver with an extra running back. Right. Good tactics.
I can handle all this. I am learning. Still working on crackback block and weak-side and combination man-zone, but I'm not worried. I just Zen it. Zen is very good for understanding the game. It disengages the mind. Before a game I simply sit down (or lie down) and meditate on this basic fact:
In football, a line has three ends.