"There is validity in what some people say, because sometimes the coaches don't have a clue. I've seen high school games where my mother could call better plays."
Chicago Bear Report
Men develop an unshakable sense that they know better. It's fourth and inches and we're calling out the plays in our living rooms, praying Bill Parcells hears us through the miles and wires. If the coach calls a different play and it doesn't work, 9 out of 10 times we're cursing him for not doing it our way. "We would have gotten the first down and scored.
Sportswriters and sports talk show hosts from coast to coast devote barrels of ink and hours of air time to dissecting wrong choices, "what if" and "if only" strategies straight through till late Wednesday, when they start previewing the next game.
"I remember a friend of mine who was one of the greatest fans of Oklahoma football," Volney Meece says. "He was a fanatic but also a pure fan. In 1957, when Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak was snapped by Notre Dame, 7-0 at Norman, my friend walked out of the stadium behind a guy who was really getting on Bud Wilkinson for losing that game. The guy said, 'Don't you think maybe Bud Wilkinson's spending too much time on his TV show and we're not getting the coaching we used to?' Wilkinson won 47 straight and lost one and the guy wants to get on him!"
God love the Monday morning quarterback. Tolerate him, anyway.
When we know the players, study the depth charts or just listen to endless hours of analysis and debate over the relative merits and potential of certain players, men feel empowered. Knowledge builds kings, but it creates a good number of sports idiot savants, too.
The popularity of sports radio call-in shows, which give fans a forum for sounding off, encouraged many newspapers to establish separate letters to the editor columns in their sports pages. Meece hates them. "You get nothing but the lunatic fringe writing in," he says. "Coaches have enough problems nowadays with kids having changed so much individually. You have enough discipline problems without having some fan write in and say that the coach isn't doing a good job."
Fans might question whether Meece, a retired sportswriter, isn't just protecting his turf; until recently, the only guys with a forum to blast coaches were sportswriters.
Sometimes the only joy a fan gets out of seeing his team lose is getting mad at the coach and second-guessing him. It's fun, a sport in and of itself.
"When your team loses," Larry Mayer says, "the first thing people complain about is the play-calling. That's the one thing everybody has an opinion about."
Because the game's action is frequently interrupted, fans -- like coaches -- have several moments to plot the team's next play or series. In that way, men can fantasize about being involved in the game. They can call the play and, if they're right, take great satisfaction in being geniuses. Or morons, if the opposition intercepts, forces a fumble or shuts the offense down some other way.
Monday morning quarterbacking is one of the major gratifications of football. In hockey and soccer the action is continuous. Strategies evolve during games, but fans don't feel the same involvement. It deny us a chance to participate. In football, the clock and action stops on every play.
An interesting phenomena: the fan whose team can do no wrong. The players, anyway. The coaches earn no loyalty; they're all idiots. Management? Where did those guys ever play ball? And team owners draw more derision than anybody short of game officials. The guys at the top of the 28 NFL franchises are usually the most disliked figures in town. Spoiled brats who earned their money and teams the old-fashioned way: They inherited it.
It's easier to direct resentment toward management, coaches and the owners because they are the ones who are supposed to be putting the team together. They're supposed to be getting the best available material. It's also the "American Way" to be able to second guess, to question and say, "I know better. Why did you make that move? What did you hire this coach for?"
There's no denying that some fans might actually know more than the coaches or the owners. There are guys who consume every magazine, newspaper article, book, TV and radio show on football. Coaches have their hands full just keeping up with their own team's day-to-day operations. But the fans study for drafts as if the teams might actually be call late one night to ask their learned recommendations. Fantasy football leaguers do draft players, so they probably do know a thing or two.
"I tend to critique the coach non-stop about play-calling and personnel decisions," Jeff Spear says. "I love watching the draft and thinking about where my team is going to pick. It's a whole separate strategy. What are their weaknesses? Long range goals are important; you have to be thinking a few years down the road. The thinking process that you can put on the game attracts me to it. I'm a baseball fan. People say that's the thinking man's game. I see football that way also."
Game strategy is an important lure for men who put themselves above the violence and aggression that's commonplace in football. Can the offense anticipate the defense? Or can the D throw the offense off?
Proponents insist football is more than three yards and a cloud of dust. There is strategy and a certain appreciation of thinking in the planning and the organization behind the game. It leads to very different views.
• "I like the well-placed defensive schemes, the well-executed plays," Andrew Spear -- Jeff's brother -- says. "One year, the Redskins kept repeating the same play to the left. When it came down to it against the Giants late in the season, they ran it to the right. For me, it's not the hits, it's the aesthetics. The well-executed offensive or defensive play, as opposed to one guy taking somebody's head off -- I enjoy that as much as anybody, but I enjoy the beauty of the game much more."
• "I don't know the buzz words," hospitality management consultant Mark von Dwingelo says. "I can talk about pulling guards and off-tackles, bombs and screens. I also like 290-pound guys who run the 100 in nine seconds. It's become more of a science. The play-action pass? Joe Montana used to do that. He'd feint the hand-off, throw the defense off and throw the other way."
• "When I go to Tampa Stadium," Dr. Rick Weinberg says, "I don't like to sit on the 20-, 30-, 40- or 50-yard line. I sit in the end zone with my son and bring a pair of binoculars. We can see the defensive scheme and the offensive scheme. I certainly can appreciate the different plays and how the defensive backs cover the receivers as they go out. The play starts and you see the quarterback going on a pass-play. In the binoculars you can see the ends or the wide receivers go out and criss-cross or do their various patterns. It all comes together in that picture like clockwork. I find our end zone view really adds to the appeal of the game."
Copyright 1993 Bob Andelman. Click here for copyright permissions!