Checkers is a simple game. Football is not.
Why then, do so many want to say it is?
You know the ones. These so-called "expert" analysts on TV will stare into the camera and state without an ounce of irony or doubt that, indeed, in their minds "football is a simple game ..."
If you stopped the tape at that point, I could bet $1,000 a pop at the next phrase out of their mouths, and win money time after time.
Usually, it's something along the lines of "winning the line of scrimmage" or "physically dominating your opponent" or some other empty macho crap like that.
OK, then. May I ask a question?
If football is such a simple game, how come it takes upwards of 20 coaches to patrol an NFL sideline?
When counting the Redskins coaching staff that includes two "quality control" coaches -- one each for offense and defense, because you don't want "quality" getting away from you in football - they have 18 full time men in charge of making this "simple game" happen smoothly on Sundays.
It's not enough to have just one "strength and conditioning" coach, he must have an assistant. Because telling the fellas to "hit the weight room" and "do an extra set" is more complicated than you would expect.
Rennie Simmons is the Redskins "tight ends coach." This is all he does. Tight ends.
"Hey Rennie, can you help us over here with the wide receivers?"
"Ohhh. Sorry. Sorta swamped here. We've got three guys on the roster I'm responsible for. Only so many hours in the day."
If football today is so "simple" then how come nobody can come up with a single, easily summarized explanation of the "West Coast Offense."
If football is so "simple" then how come playbooks now are routinely loaded into laptop computers, so you can not only look at the plays in X-and-O format, but you can call up every time you (or your opponent) ran that play and look at the video?
The NFL rule book is a bloated monstrosity of partially contradictory terms, conditions, exceptions, and trumping violations that often require lengthy meetings by the referees to sort out.
And they sometimes still get it wrong.
Here's a sample paragraph from the 132-page NFL rulebook.
Intentional grounding will not be called when a passer, while out of the pocket and facing an imminent loss of yardage, throws a pass that lands at or beyond the line of scrimmage, even if no offensive player(s) have a realistic chance to catch the ball (including if the ball lands out of bounds over the sideline or end line).
But what if the QB hands off to a running back, who decides to throw, while still in the pocket, but not facing "imminent" loss of yardage only a "possible" loss of yardage, and inadvertently hits a lineman in the back who had traveled too far off the line of scrimmage so as to be "illegally downfield?"
Is this "illegal touching" or "a really stupid play?"
Al Saunders was the offensive coordinator for my Redskins a few years back, and he let it slip in pre-season that they had a "700-page playbook." It was the biggest gaffe of his tenure. Sure, he was just being honest, but when his offense looked like it had only made it to page 46 and then fell asleep on the couch, it became a running joke.
And that's a bad sort of "it's embarrassing" joke, not a "funny ha-ha" joke.
In the NFL, they issue a "Gamebook" -- a BOOK! -- that is 10 pages long. For every game! It contains more data than the stock report of a mutual fund.
In the NFL today, you can't even be certain about WHY a play worked or did not work, even after watching the replay from 6 different angles.
A team runs a simple off-tackle dive on 2nd and 4. The back cuts into an open lane and runs 45 yards for a touchdown. Great play?
What was actually called? How do we know the back didn't just ignore the intended gap because he saw a flash of daylight somewhere else? What if the defense knew that exact play was coming, and had the perfect call set up for it? But instead of their weak side linebacker using a "chuck technique" to shed his block and slide down the line of scrimmage, he used a "bull technique" and unwittingly tied himself up in the gap the back was no longer attacking?
It might not be until Tuesday that after watching the film, the team itself realizes that they got caught in a wrong personnel package and were short an intended cornerback, forcing their safety to retreat into a middle zone for a tight end pattern that never materialized.
On Monday callers will just say: "Our run defense sucks!"
To quote an irate Jim Mora, responding to a reporter trying to get some hard answers to certain things after a particularly hard loss: "You don't know... and you'll never know!"
He's right. The NFL is an unknowable beast that drains gamblers of their money like a sump pump year after year.
Yeah, sure. Back in the ‘40's. You had three coaches and the quarterback called the plays in the huddle. Which were almost always runs. Run, run, run. Muddy pants. Bloody nose. Let's go have a beer.
Today? Good luck making too much sense of it. Just grab a theory, pick up the phone, call your local sports radio station and get it off your chest.
You won't really increase anybody's collective understanding of the game, but you will feel much better and what you don't know.
Steve is a native Washingtonian and has worked in sports talk radio for the last 11 years. He worked at WTEM in 1993 anchoring Team Tickers before he took a full time job with national radio network One-on-One Sports.
A graduate of UC Santa Barbara, Steve has worked for WFNZ in Charlotte where his afternoon show was named "Best Radio Show." Steve continues to serve as a sports personality for WLZR in Milwaukee and does fill-in hosting for Fox Sports Radio.