The Atlanta Falcons are 9-1, the Georgia Bulldogs are still in the national championship hunt, and both my sons are in the throes of their respective youth football seasons.
The fact that I can’t find my lost remote control doesn’t seem such a concern anymore.
Being in the midst of this glorious gridiron season reminds me of my oldest son’s first foray into football, and my attempt to teach him Football 101 about five years ago.
The physical part was relatively easy. We went out in the yard and worked on the basics, although he seemed much more interested in perfecting his touchdown dance than learning any blocking techniques, of which I know nothing about anyway.
Teaching him the rules and terminology of the game was, well, not so easy.
I discovered quickly that, to a five-year-old, Xs and Os on a chalkboard look just like… Xs and Os on a chalkboard. He couldn’t really imagine them being players. So, thinking myself clever, I got out some old football cards and placed them on the coffee table.
I then put the players in position according to their card – I put Lyle Alzado at one defensive end, Joe Klecko at the other. I had Ron Jaworski at quarterback and Bubba Bean at tailback and so on, 11 on each side, the offense lined up in the I-formation.
“See, you have 11 on each side of the line of scrimmage,” I said as we surveyed our mini-field in the living room. “There are 11 on offense and 11 on defense.”
“What’s a line of scribblage? I don’t see a line,” my son said, leaning over the imaginary playing field, looking for a line of some sort.
“Well, it’s not a real line. It’s sort of an invisible plane,” I said.
“A plane that’s invisible?! On the football field?!”
This got him very excited, and way off track.
“Just forget that. Let’s focus on the cards and their positions,” I said, trying to get his mind off an invisible plane.
“Hey, look, this guy plays for the Pirates,” he said, picking up the card of the Buccaneers’ Dewey Selmon.
“No, don’t touch the cards yet,” I said, seizing it from his hand. “We need to learn the positions.”
“Let’s start with offense, this side of the ball,” I said, pointing to the offensive side of the coffee table with my pointer – a broken-in-half pool cue. “Here you have your quarterback. He takes the snap from the center and he either throws or hands it off.”
“Why do they call him the quarterback?,” he said, very close to picking up John Hannah’s card and messing up the whole offensive line.
“Uh, hmm, I don’t really know,” I replied. “That’s just what they call him.”
“So, behind the quarterback is the fullback, and behind the fullback in the I-formation is the tailback,” I said, pointing to each with my cue.
“Why do they call them that?”
“Because, ah, well, I don’t know,” I stammered. “It doesn’t really matter. Anyway, in front of the backs are the offensive linemen. They block for the backs. Now, the one in the middle is the center and the ones…”
“I know why they call them that,” he said in an interruption of inspiration.
Pointing to the cards individually, he said, “They call him the quarterback cause he’s got a quarter on his back. They call this man a fool back cause he’s got a fool on his back. And they call this man a tail back because he has a tail coming out of his back.”
I chuckled, then said, “no, no, no, that’s not why. The fullback and tailback are running backs. They run with the ball. That’s why they call them that. The quarterback, well, he’s, they call him that, see, he’s… well, that’s something you can look up later. Let’s move to the wide receivers. They line up outside and catch passes thrown by the quarterback.”
“I gotta question,” my son offered, brow furrowed, pointing at Bubba Bean’s card. “Can you tackle that man by grabbing his tail?”
At that moment, I felt a close kinship with all the coaches in the history of the Atlanta Falcons football franchise.
“Yes, son, you can tackle him by grabbing his tail.”
© Len Robbins 2012