WE ARE COMING UP ON the Super Bowl, which is by far the most important sporting event in the world as measured in total tons of free shrimp consumed by sportswriters.
This year, the Super Bowl will be broadcast to many foreign nations, which, almost by definition, contain numerous foreigners. These people are often puzzled by American football, a highly complex sport that requires a knowledge of many technical terms such as "run," "pass," "cornerbacker," "blitzkrieg," "Texas Leaguer," "ligament" and "Hank Stram." This complexity makes the game difficult for foreigners to grasp.
I know this because some years ago, while visiting Japan, I watched the Miami Dolphins and the Oakland Raiders play a demonstration game in a Tokyo stadium where, for a zesty snack, you could buy pieces of fried octopus on a stick. The fans were polite, but they had no clue what was going on. The only thing that aroused their interest was the Dolphins cheerleaders. The game would stop for a timeout, and the cheerleaders would start jumping around, and immediately the fans would go wild, cheering and thrusting their octopus nuggets into the air.
I'm not being critical here. I've been on the other side of this coin. While visiting Ireland, I watched an Irish sport called "hurling" (really) in which men who are not wearing helmets basically beat each other senseless with sticks. In terms of violence, this sport makes American football look like Pat the Bunny. I'd never seen this sport, so I relied on the fans around me to answer my questions ("Is that player dead?" "Did all that blood come out of his ear?" etc.).
So I know how hard it can be to understand a foreign sport, which is why today, to help you foreign persons follow the Super Bowl, I am presenting:
THE RULES OF AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL
Football is played on a field that is 100 yards (374 kilometers) long and is covered with lines called "hash marks" to indicate where players have lost their breakfasts. On either side of the field are the benches, where the 350 players who are not involved in the game sit and wave to their moms. Behind each bench is a big plastic jug of Gatorade. The object of the game is to be the first team to dump this on the "coach," a very angry man who hates everybody.
The game is divided into four 15-minute quarters, each of which lasts a little over three hours. Timeouts may be called by anybody at any time for any reason, including political unrest in Guatemala. Between the second and third quarters, there is a halftime musical extravaganza in which Neil Diamond, Toni Tennille, the Muppets and the late Al Hirt join with every human being who has ever auditioned for "Star Search" to perform "A Tribute to Medleys."
The game begins when a small man of foreign extraction kicks the pigskin, or "ball," as far as possible, then wisely scuttles off the field. The referee then places the ball on an imaginary "line of scrimmage," which is visible only to the referee and his imaginary friend, Mr. Pootywinkle. On either side of this line, the two teams form "huddles," where they decide who will perform the traditional celebratory dance when the upcoming "play" is over.
The "play" itself happens very quickly, so you foreign persons must not blink, or you'll miss it. Here's what happens:
1. A large player called the "center" squats over the ball, and then the "quarterdeck" touches him in a way that would get them both executed in the Middle East.
2. All the players run into each other and fall down.
3. Certain players leap to their feet and perform celebratory dances, while referees add to the festivity by hurling brightly colored flags into the air.
Now comes the heart and soul of football: watching slow-motion replays of the players falling down. You'll see this from every possible point of reference, including the Hubble telescope.
You'll see so many replays that at some point you'll swear that, in the background, you can see Mr. Pootywinkle.
When the replays are finally over, the referee formally announces that the play does not count. Then it's time for eight commercials featuring sport utility vehicles climbing Mount Everest, and it's back to the huddles for more nonstop action!
Yes, foreign persons, football is a complex sport, but you'll find that if you take the time to watch this year's Super Bowl, you will soon discover why every year so many millions of Americans are glued to their television sets. Watching rental videos.
(c) 2000 tribune media services