Now that the Super Bowl has been put to sleep for another year, may I wax cranky for a minute? Pro football on television has become close to unbearable -- and that's not the sour grape juice of a Redskin fan, either.
Here, based on another season of twisting in irritation on the couch, are the reasons I may devote myself to leaf-raking full time next fall:
I'm sick of the endless sideline shots of superintense coaches. Is this coaching we're seeing? It looks more like aimless, frustrated stalking.
I'm sick of backup quarterbacks giving hand signals from the sidelines to their teammates in the huddle. It's more war-games mumbo-jumbo, of which pro football already has plenty. What's wrong with sending a substitute into the game and having him tell the quarterback which play to call next?
I'm sick of the "Hi, Mom" sideline shot after Joe Muscles scores a touchdown. Doesn't Joe have a father (wife? child?) who could use a Hi?
I'm sick of the way the officials treat each penalty as if the future of the Republic depended on it. Say an official calls a simple clipping penalty. Why does the referee always slow the game down by bringing in all the officials for an impassioned conference? Just say "Clipping on number 75" and get on with it.
I'm sick of the vocabulary of penalties. Holding used to be holding. Now it's "illegal use of the hands." Offside used to be offside. Now it's "encroachment," or "false start." What's next? "Misapplied meddling" instead of interference?
I'm sick of the way quarterbacks run off the field to confer with coaches during a timeout. The conference always looks the same -- whether the score is 27-0 or 27-26. Could this be the coach's way of getting his mug on TV? It sure seems so, especially since the conferences never seem to achieve anything that a messenger couldn't achieve by bringing coachly wisdom into the huddle.
I'm sick of what happens when a punt is about to roll dead. Nobody from the receiving team is within 40 yards of the ball. Yet at least six members of the kicking team surround the ball and stare at it with utmost itensity, as if it were a robin's egg about to hatch. Ease up, fellas. The ball will die just fine without all that attention.
I'm sick of men in motion. It seems that every team now sets a receiver way off to one side of the field. He starts running across the field before the ball is snapped. Sometimes he stops. Sometimes he turns around. Sometimes he stops and then turns around. Sometimes he turns around and then stops. But none of the time does anybody on the other team seem fooled, or even confused.
I'm sick of showboating after touchdowns. All those high-fives and spikes and on-your-knees shimmies are unsportsmanlike and unnecessary. Look at it this way: Touchdowns in football are about as common as runs in baseball. But you don't see all that whoopdedoo every time somebody crosses the plate, do you?
I'm sick of a defensive player congratulating a teammate by smacking him in the helmet with his open palm. If I wrote a good column, and somebody congratulated me by smacking me upside the head, I'd be dizzy, not delighted. What's wrong with a handshake, a backslap or an embrace?
I'm sick of measurements for a first down. First of all, they're almost always unnecessary, since any referee with 20/400 vision can usually see by a glance toward the sidelines whether a team has made it or not. Second, the measurements are usually requested by a team that knows it's short of a first down. The real purpose is to snatch a free, unfair deep breath. Third, it's always a disaster in TV terms. The referee squats down to take a close look -- and here come 22 behemoths crowding in for their own close look. All that beef blocks the camera and delays the process, every time.
I'm sick of the excuses made by field goal kickers. They're great at blaming the wind, the cold, the holder, the blockers, the stadium, the sun, the moon and the stars for their failures. In fact, kicking a football through uprights is one of the easiest jobs man has ever devised, especially when you practice as often as the pros do. When a kicker fluffs one, he should be big enough to admit it.
I'm sick of penalties that are obvious but never called. It looks to me as if kicking teams are offside on every kickoff. It looks to me as if quarterbacks do an illegal little jiggle-step just before they take the snap. It looks to me as if centers lift the ball off the ground before they snap it for a punt or field goal. But NFL referees seem to have adopted the maxim of basketball refs: No harm, no foul.
Most of all, I'm sick of overwrought terminology like "game plan," "execution" and "takeaway ratios." The simple fact is that the team that hits the hardest, runs the fastest and makes the fewest mistakes will almost always win -- and almost always has. You can dress up a chicken in oceans of anaylsis and gallons of jargon, but it's still a chicken. It's time for pro football to stop pretending it's just below computers in complexity and just below death in importance. The game is a pain to watch -- and it's getting more so, not less.