There Aren’t Enough Words to Describe Football

Share via

The people on the screen are gyrating, sweating, getting physical, putting on a show.

“Silky smooth,” says one admiring voice.

“There’s a tail-dragger,” someone else says.

“See that explosion!” the first voice says again.

“Got to hunker down!”

“Got to be efficient down here!”

“Now watch this: Make ‘em miss. Little jiggle joints here. Gives him a limp leg. Looked like his knee touched, but he stayed up.”

Surprisingly, the people on the screen are all fully clothed.

“He’s got tremendous quicks.”

“Trips at the top of the picture.”

“When they get into crunch area, they’re not delivering it.”

Surprisingly, the people doing the talking are not speaking in tongues.

The people on the screen are trying to win a football game for the universities of Washington and Michigan.

The people behind the microphones are trying to explain to the audience what is happening on the field below.


Not surprisingly, the people on the screen are having greater success.

The people behind the microphones are talking football--not to be confused with “Talkin’ Baseball,” and, of course, it never will. Lyrically speaking, talking football is infinitely more fascinating and entertaining, provided you first sent away for the requisite decoder ring.

Also, it helps to have at least a loose grasp of the fundamentals.

Fundamental No. 1: Football is essentially a bunch of very large humans leaning on one another, but it likes to pretend it is quantum physics. Football is a very simple game of grunting and punting, and deep down it knows that. But many years ago, football searched long and hard for a way to lure some of the swooning intellectuals away from Fenway Park, so it decided to camouflage the basic acts of running, blocking and tackling in codified clouds of misdirection verbiage.

Which, when you think about it, makes Dennis Miller the perfect football broadcaster.

That wide receiver running a sideline route and pulling away from the secondary isn’t running fast. No, listen up: He’s “getting good separation.” Watch him closely as he “separates.” Remarkably, he arrives in the end zone with all four limbs intact. No left arm and right leg left strewn back at the 20.

That quarterback dropping three steps into the pocket isn’t about to throw the ball. No, he’s getting ready to “execute the passing game.” Which sounds like a pretty major penalty for a wide receiver who fails to separate.

The home team can’t punch it in from inside the opposition’s 10-yard line, has to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown? “They’re struggling in the red zone.” This little nugget is brought to you by the same kind of thinking that turned basketball from a free-flowing game of centers, point guards and power forwards into dry mathematics: He’s a “2” but he can also play the “1,” although he sometimes has trouble getting the ball to the “5” when he’s being doubled by a “3” and a “4”.

Fundamental No. 2: Repetition is all-important. Never say something in three words that can’t be said in eight or 10. Never lose track of where you are or who you’re talking about: “You knew this was going to be a real football game.” “We’ve got ourselves a football game now!” “He’s the best football player playing football today in the National Football League.”


You could say the Notre Dame football team has an impressive looking collection of young athletes and leave it at that. Or, if you’re Lee Corso, you can milk the clock:

“I didn’t think I’d say this in a long time. I think Notre Dame, physically, when you look at them, is the best-looking physical football team I’ve seen at Notre Dame in the last seven, eight years. I just walked out among ‘em. They’ve got some big guys out there. They’re nice and lean. They’ve got some mean guys who are fast. They’re a better-looking physical football team, right now, than Nebraska is.”

And then, physically speaking, Notre Dame went out and got out-physicaled by Nebraska, at Nebraska, by a football score of 27-10.

Talk about struggling in the red zone.

Fundamental No. 3: Assume, at all times, that everyone listening is up on the current terminology. Assume, at all times, that no piece of information is too inside for the casual viewer. This is America’s Game we’re talking about.

Corso, setting up a highlights package of Fresno State’s upset victory over Wisconsin: “There were a lot of intangibles going against Fresno State.”

Kirk Herbstreit, sitting next to Corso, agreed that “the intangibles were a key in this game,” but disagreed that the intangibles had gone against Fresno.


The Bulldogs, Herbstreit said, have “the intangibles that coaches only hope for. They’re something special.”

And what kind of intangible would that be?

My best guess: The Bulldogs live in Fresno. They had to be excited about a weekend pass to Madison.

As for what ABC was doing showing a tape of Regis Philbin interviewing Notre Dame Coach Bob Davie before the Notre Dame-Nebraska game, who can say? A pilot for a new game show, “Who Wants To Be Hung In Effigy In South Bend?”

Regis, arms waving wildly above his head, stared Davie in the eye and demanded to know:


When Davie mumbled something about establishing the running game, Regis jumped up in his chair, waved his arms some more, and began madly chanting:




No one watching, and especially Davie, could make heads or tails out of what Philbin was getting at. But, then, that’s football.