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Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Evolution of Football

The sound of school children rushing to the bus stop joins the morning chorus.  A brisk, telltale wind pushes through the already yellowing leaves above.  Men of nearly mutant proportions line up in lightweight armor to hurl themselves headlong into one another with injurious velocity in a relentless attempt to move a semi-ovoid ball up and down a field.  Ah, autumn is here again.
it's really a game of strategy, though...

For some, this simply marks the end of the beach days and road trips, but for a large swath of our population it marks the end of a countdown that has been running in their heads since the Saints upset the Colts in February.  We speak of the greatest of American holidays, opening day.  And we speak of the greatest of American innovations, realizing that football is not a game played with the feet.  And we speak of the greatest of American traditions, gathering together at whoever’s house contains the most ostentatious television and screaming insults at men that could snap us in half while pretending to listen to what our wives are saying.

"What was that, honey?"
Extending a decade long tradition, the NFL granted their faithful fanatics with a single game on Thursday, a brief glimpse of the gridiron overdose that awaits on Sunday.  Like children who had successfully convinced their parents to let them open one present on Christmas Eve, my friends and I gathered together a few nights ago to inaugurate this most solemn of occasions.  We gathered the traditional sacraments of pizza, beer and chips and settled in for the game.

Amongst the attendees that night was one of my employees, a young man whose only fault seems to be reminding me of how old I am by being an adult despite the fact that he was born in the nineties.  I suppose I always knew I was going to be telling “when I was your age” stories at some point in my life, but I never realized that they would begin in my mid-thirties.  And, given the breakneck pace of every field of technological research except those that relate to jet-packs, my relatively recent when-I-was-your-age stories already draw some “holy crap how did you make it this far?” stares.


Glad you asked.  Adrian Peterson is busy chugging his way down the field, dragging two New Orleans defenders with him like burrs.  More gold and white jerseys pile onto him and finally he succumbs, dropping with the nose of the ball about two feet shy of the CGI yellow line that marks the first down.

“He got it,” I say confidently.

My young employee glances over to me as the refs bring out the chains.  “Looked short,” he said, because I’m his boss and it would be rude to say “Are you stupid?”

“Yellow line was off,” I assured him.  “He’s got it by half the ball.”
The yellow line is like the FBI
warning: safe to ignore

And several seconds later this was confirmed when the ref karate chopped the air in such a way as to signal a first down.  “I was watching football way before they dropped that yellow line in,” I said.  And he looked puzzled.  And I realized he hadn’t.

And that’s when the “when I was your age” story began.  It was not until I started explaining it to this guy that it occurred to me just how far watching football has come in the last couple of decades.  I’ve become so spoiled by the flash-graphics and green screen technology that I’d nearly forgotten exactly how much attention we used to have to pay to this game.

Remember when you had to wait until the commercial to find out what the score was?  Too much pizza, beer and chips left you in the lav for a little longer than you expected and when you came back, you weren’t really sure what happened in your absence.  Had there been a field goal?  A touchdown?  Was it still the third quarter or had they reached the waning minutes of the game.  Come to think of it, when you went to the restroom, was it 17 to 14 or 20 to 14?  Who the hell knows?  Not you.  Not until a commercial break.

What’s the down and distance?  Well you don’t know.  It’s not that your not paying attention, it’s just that the stupid cameraman won’t pan passed the Dial-A-Down and there’s too much snow to see the little orange arrow.  And wait… do they have any time outs left?  Seems like the play clock might be running down but you can only guess.  And stats?  You want to know stats Poindexter?  Well we’ll show them to you once at the half and if we want to impart them on you again, we’ll do it... but don't hold your breath.

What the hell's going on?

But look at the freaking heads-up-display you get with a football game now!  I remember when Fox first introduced the little box in the corner that would keep you up to speed with all the vital info.  We knew then that we were moving into a new era of laziness, a level of vegetation that could not have been achieved during such a complex sport before.  Everyone except my grandfather loved it.  Now at a glance we could know the score, the down and distance, the number of time-outs, the time left in the game, the time left on the play clock and what the teams logo looks like when only a small portion of it is was cropped out. 

But wait, there’s more.  Along the bottom of the screen there’s a rolling banner that gives you game stats on not only the game you’re watching, but every game in the NFL, keeping you constantly abreast of the developments around the league.  Updated second by second, this little distraction will make you miss whole drives in the game you’re actually watching, but that’s okay.  You’ll still know the score, time, down and distance!

But wait, there’s more.  Too busy to go glancing all over the screen to find the pertinent information?  On a big screen that can take nano-seconds and you might not have them to spare.  That’s okay too, because we’ve dropped all the information right there on the field as well.  The yellow line we were talking about?  Oh yeah.  And it’s red if they go for it on fourth down just to add a cool air of suspense.  Oh, and there’s another line to represent the line of scrimmage.  And before the play there’s a computer animated arrow that reminds you the down and distance even though this information already appears elsewhere on the screen.  And you can see the yellow line.  And there’s still a Dial-A-Down and an orange arrow for the sake of the live audience.

Watching football in the future will
require rigorous training.
But wait, there’s more.  Not enough for you?  How about hopping online and watching multiple games in multiple screens with control over instant replays and slow-mos?  Your choice of camera angles and play-by-play graphical representations of every drive from every game for the entire season?  Need more?  How about services that automatically update you anywhere in the world?  We’re not just talking scores here, we’re talking trades, injury updates, real time credit ratings of your favorite players… all delivered to you anywhere in the world instantly for free.

But wait, there’s more.  Okay, actually, there’s not more.  That’s pretty much it.  But that’s plenty.  It’s hard too imagine where this might go in the future, but you can be just as assured that they’re working on it as you can be that they’re not working on that freaking jetpack they promised us back in the eighties.
We're waiting...

So as you crack open your beer, sit down and go over your list of new insults for the referees this year, take a moment to thank all of the football watchers that came before you.  Think of all the grainy, crappy, fuzzy, score and statless football they had to watch to get us this far.  Think of all the 'what’s-the-score?'s, 'was-that-second-down-or-third?'s and 'holy-crap-is-this-quarter-almost-over-or-should-I-just-go-pee-now?'s that these technological advances have spared you and then go about warming up your vocal chords.  There's screaming to do.

Aaron Davies

(If you enjoyed the blog, please read the one below.  It’s way better.  Like, this one pales in comparison.  Seriously.  The last one would totally win in a fight.  It would be like Epic Beard Man going against Strawberry Shortcake.  Trust me.)

1 comment:

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