View Full Version : A reminder - good article

11-04-2004, 10:36 AM
This is an article from onmilwaukee.com, written by Steve Czaban, a sports talk radio host and sometimes author. It's a pretty good reminder to not take ourselves quite so seriously when condemning our players. I also love the second to last line about the "verdit from the couch". I'm going to have to use that one sometime.

Most don't recognize NFL's many complexities (http://onmilwaukee.com/sports/articles/mora.html)
By Steve Czaban (http://www.czabe.com)

I remember a classic Jim Mora tirade once when he was with the Saints. It followed a tough loss and, of course, featured some questions by reporters that Mora found either silly or naïve in their lack of understanding of the game of football.

As Mora's anger level rose steadily, like Mount Vesuvius before an eruption, the payoff line to the blast was a succinct explanation: "You don't know ... And you'll never know!"

Mora would go on to have several more classic eruptions in his day before finally exiting in a blaze of high-pitched, indignant glory with the Colts.

Playoffs? Did you say playoffs?

Somehow though, his scolding line of "You don't know, and you'll never know" has stuck with me over the years. And damn was he right about that.

I am reminded of this sad fact every time I sit down and watch a little bit of the awesome new NFL Network on DirecTV. There, you will see things and hear terms that give a hint at the complexity of the game we claim to know just because we watch SportsCenter and have a fantasy team. Ha.

Mora is right, we really don't know squat as football fans. Our grasp of the game and its myriad of complexities is far beyond our reach. Let's think for a moment. What percentage of NFL fans do you think actually played organized football at even the high school level? One percent? Maybe?

The rest of us know only what we glean from hours of watching the sport through a television tube. That and the vague recollections of what it felt like to be tackled by the biggest kid in your neighborhood on weekend pick-up games.

So how are we to understand that the reason why Clinton Portis didn't pick up a key third down, was not because he's a cutback runner stuck in a counter-oriented offense?

No, it was because the pulling guard failed to properly read the defensive end's shoulder angle and made the mistake of kicking out his block instead of turning it in. Plus, the center was late to engage the tackle who had slid down to "wham the nose" even though the rest of the line was supposed to be stunting. It was this combination of fluke coincidence by the defense, coupled with a subtle, but fatal mental error by a 315-pound guy named "Bubba" that rendered a perfectly drawn-up play as ineffective as a Mormon recruiter at a Phish concert.

And oh yeah, Portis didn't really run very hard either.

That's one play. A play where we as fans, will extrapolate what we think we saw (damn, why didn't Portis run over there where nobody was standing for a split second?) then filter it through our Playskool level of football understanding to spit out a wild conclusion that we'll then peddle as "fact" when we call (or in my case, host) our local sports talk radio show.

Joe from the Beltway, you're next: "Yeah, Portis can't run between the tackles, everybody knows that."

We don't know, and we'll never know.

The beauty of watching "The 212" (NFL Network) is that NFL Films' use of sideline mics, locker room post-game speeches, and coaches' game films, amplifies the total misunderstanding we have as fans.

I watched a Peyton Manning to Reggie Wayne TD a few weeks ago against the Titans. It looked like a garden variety, ho-hum, seven-yard slant. Until that is, they showed a clip of Manning and Wayne talking about it on the sideline afterward. Turns out it was a sight read of a blitz formation that both guys picked up correctly prior to the snap. Yet Wayne admitted that he had to break off his route several yards short, because the DB he was expecting was actually out of position. Manning's throw was both on time, and it was accurate despite the freelancing. And oh yeah, nobody slipped. Touchdown, Colts.

Titans fan conclusion: "Our corners suck."

We don't know, and we'll never know.

How many times do you think an NFL coaching staff has teed up a play that was perfect for the situation at hand, where the offense blocks it just like they practiced, and where the defense was in the exact formation the advance scouts had predicted after spending 12 hours running through game tape -- only to watch the tight end drop a pass that slams directly into his breadbasket?

We don't know, and we'll never know.

Sadly, despite the accumulated years of football experience that typically sits on an NFL pre-game set, or those who provide the so-called "color commentary" on TV, the average football discourse is dumbed down to the point of being a parody of itself. The phrases we recite as gospel, are no more sophisticated than what a pet store parrot might spit out.

Squak! Establish the run, to set up the pass! Squak! Get pressure with the front four! Squak! Polly wanna cracker! Squak!

For whatever reason, the ex-jocks in the booth seem unable or unwilling to actually shed light on what is happening in front of our eyes on television. I would think they could make many more of the finer points about strategies and techniques if they tried.

Instead, we get the Brian Baldingers of the world saying things like "He's just a guy who brings his lunchbox to the stadium every Sunday and goes to work."


The reason that Mora's warning about how "we don't know and we'll never know" is perhaps the truest thing ever uttered by a head coach, is because to truly understand what is happening with your team would require being on the coaching staff, itself. Even then, coaches are often flummoxed by why things aren't working.

Take my 2-5 Redskins. Gibbs is back running most of his "golden oldies" plays from circa 1988 and they are mostly getting blown up left and right. All the former magic of Riggo on a counter-trey, and Joey T. on a naked boot, just doesn't seem to impress anybody in the modern NFL.

Gibbs will insist that the whole team just has to work harder and "get through this" together. I sense he's just trying to buy a few weeks time so that even HE can noodle through what is and is not working.

Meanwhile, the verdict from the couch has already been rendered. "Brunell sucks, dude. He's the only guy who could have overthrown Saddam without us having to invade!"

Once again: "We don't know, and we'll never know."

11-04-2004, 04:24 PM
That is a very good article. There are some announcers who do a pretty good job of explaining what happened on each play.

It is a very complex game though and it does help to have a little experience with it because you get a feel for how much is going on during one play. I played football only in high school, played free safety a little but mainly cornerback all through my senior year. So I have a lot of sympathy for the defensive backs because I have a very small taste of how tough their job is. As a CB it is hard to stick with a WR. I always thought it was the toughest job on defense, because it's the most visible. Man to man coverage you have to make sure you don't get faked out by the WR, backpedal quickly or try and jam him which is harder than you'd think, turn when he turns, whatever route he runs stick with him, and jump at the right time to try and deflect if the pass comes his way or be in position to make the tackle. Zone coverage can make your head spin because the defense has to make sure everybody is covered and you pick up the right guy, and watch the QB carefully to see where he is checking, and sometimes the offense just does a good job of exploiting your coverage.

So when I see one of the DBs appear to get burned I just can't get too mad at them because it could be anything.

Anyway thanks for the article Josdin!