About Footballs

Football is a game filled with deception.

If you watch any game, you’ll see the offence make fake handoffs, reverse plays, trap blocking, and all kinds of misdirection.  The goal is to trick the defence to stop a play that looks like it’s going in direction when in reality, it’s going in another.

You’ll also see the defence faking blitzes or a defensive scheme to get the offence to react one way and be stopped in the other.

These tactics, and more, are practised all the time.  Without a creative approach to the game, you’re easily beaten.  I recall many of the plays that we had when coached the offence at my secondary school.  Yes, we had some straight forward plays but the majority of the plays involved some misdirection with the hopes of out thinking the defence that we would be playing.

I also remember the advice from one of the head coaches that I worked for.  Every week, you should had some more plays added to keep everyone’s interest and to surprise the upcoming opponent who undoubtedly would be scouting us.  It was really important when we’d play at Windsor Stadium since there was always a coach’s meeting across the street after the games.

One of the conventional wisdoms of coaching the offence was that you didn’t do a whole lot fancy with the centre because he had to be a major part of every play.  One week, I did introduce a play where we pulled the centre to lead a reverse down the field.  It’s a dangerous play because it leaves the middle of the offensive line open.  But, nobody plans for that and we ran it once.  The centre did it perfectly and led the play down the field and he made a key block on a safety about 50 yards down the field.  If you can picture the relative size between a centre and a safety, you probably can picture what happened when the two of them met.

The key to all of this deception, of course, is that they have to be run within the rules of the game.  That’s why they call it a game.

Yesterday, I was watching the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona when the race was interrupted by the Boston channel to talk about the storm that was about to hit the region.  This interruption was interrupted because Bill Belichick was giving a press conference about “DeflateGate“, the ongoing saga of the under inflated footballs that were found in the New England Patriots / Indianapolis Colts playoff game.

This is big.  I left the tab open after typing the preceding paragraph and there have been 22 new Twitter messages since I typed that paragraph alone.

This was the second time, that I know of, that Boston channels were interrupted by members of the Patriots to talk about the situation.  In all cases, it was to plead the case that “we didn’t do anything wrong” and that “we played by rules”.

The whole thing with footballs was a surprise to me.  I had always thought that professional football was like professional baseball.  The officials received brand new balls and guarded them until they were used and then carefully monitored.  In baseball, you’ll see an umpire take a ball out of play if there’s any kind of scuff to it.  An experienced pitcher can take that scuff and make the baseball do amazing things with it.  You’ll have heard of cheating attempts like emery boards on their person used to customize the balls during the game and it’s immediate ejection if you’re caught doctoring the ball.

I just assumed that football was like that.  In fact, it isn’t.  If you believe the news conferences fully, the teams provide the footballs and the quarterback will test the proposed balls to decide which ones he likes before the game.  Footballs are ushered in and out during the game.  This past season was the first time that I noticed, for example, that there is a special kicking football.  I guess I was naive enough to think that you started the game with a football and you continued to use it just like we did in high school.  I would have thought that the quarterback, unlike a pitcher, would want to discard a less than perfect football because he wants it to be thrown perfectly and not dip or curve because of any imperfection.  A very good summary of the situation can be found at “Some Things to Know as NFL Investigates Patriots’ Football“.

It’s been an education to me.

What I find particularly bizarre about his is that the National Football League has been quiet about this, except to say that they’re investigating it.  Instead, the New England Patriots are on the offensive trying to deflect the blame.  I’m reminded of a Shakespeare quote “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”.  Shouldn’t they be more concerned about preparing for the Super Bowl and leave any media opportunity to the NFL or their public relations department?

The latest round of information is an insult to anyone who watched.  “Scientific studies have proved that the air pressure goes down in cold weather.”  I might be willing to buy that logic if the balls were inflated to the proper temperature in a sauna and then taken out to the cold football field.  The NFL claims that they test the ball pressure of the submitted footballs before the game.  I would hope that they don’t test them in a sauna!  I would hope that it’s done on the sidelines as the two teams are warming up so that they’re true to the weather conditions.  The telling point though, is that the Patriots’ balls were found to be less inflated; the Colts’ balls weren’t.  Same procedure?  Same weather conditions?

Something really doesn’t add up here.  Like any organization, the NFL is only as good as its weakest link.  Someone has “dropped the ball” – literally or figuratively and the lustre of the game has been tarnished.  What message does this send to youth who look to professional athletes as role models?  Is it OK to win at all costs?

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