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Thursday, 07 September
I Like To Watch

It is a blessed time for me, and a cursed time for the wife. For you see, tonight marked the beginning of the NFL season (hated Steelers versus "let's try this!" Dolphins), which also intersects with the late playoff run to the MLB postseason.
So the poor woman has to deal with me flipping around constantly between varying sports events that she manifestly does not care about. Though she is, I must confess, a truly great woman; she tries to manufacture interest: for instance, she not only now knows who David Ortiz is, she finds him adorable. She also thinks that Johnny Damon is rather a looker. And the other night, after I fell into a nap during a game, she left it on, only to report to me when I awoke, "That Sanchez guy threw a no-hitter."

She's a peach, of course, and it makes me happy, but it also makes me a little sad, because really? I'm the world's crappiest sports fan. Because I don't know any fucking thing at all.

Take baseball, for instance. It's not really surprising that I'm an embarrassing dunce: I never cared even a tiny bit about baseball until 1995, when I was living alone and cableless, and found myself inexplicably sucked into the astonishingly awesome Mariners September blaze of glory, and the tiebreaker with the Angels, and the shit-yer-pants Martinez double that won them the ALDS over the fucking Yankees, etc., etc. So I missed out on a lot of baseball lore, and am still catching up. I only last year learned what a "Baltimore Chop" was--a delicious steak enjoyed by fat players, such as Ron Cey and John Kruk, with a fried egg on top.

But the NFL is a little different. I spent much of my Sunday and Monday youth watching NFL games with my dad; his team was the LA Rams, and mine was the Raiders. I don't know why. I remember the Iron Curtain (Lynn Swann was my favorite player, and still is); Kenny Stabler, the Snake; the soul-crushing Dallas years; San Francisco when they were terrifying instead of remedial clown college; the upsetting teeth of John Elway. I've been watching NFL football all my life.

What a suprise, then, when I think about it, to realize that I don't know the first thing about the game.

I mean, I know some things. Dumb things. I know what a screen pass looks like, and a draw play, or a bootleg. Anyone can probably figure out what a "quarterback sneak" is. (Oh, all right: for the totally uninitiated, it's when a quarterback is tackled, and he takes the opportunity to fondle Brian Urlacher's nuts.)

But there's an awful lot that I have no idea about. For example, a commonly bandied-about term is "West Coast Offense." I've been hearing this phrase for years. I've been watching football for years. And it kind of hit me like a bolt from the blue: What the fuck is the West Coast Offense? I realized I had no idea, because you know what? I don't give a shit. NFL football might be the most mystifying sport of all time, because its intricacies and game theory-like strategies are the most fucking impenetrable set of cryptic say-what? since the Kabbalah; and plus, I just like watching these blood-mad brutes smash the fuck out of each other.

Let's get back to the West Coast Offense. It's a simple name! So it must be explicable, right? Let's check our good friend Wikipedia.

The actual term "West Coast Offense" is derived from a 1993 Bernie Kosar quote, which was publicized by Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman, aka "Dr. Z". It meant the offense popularized by two west coast teams (the Chargers and Raiders), not the 1980s-era 49ers attack. A reporter mistakenly grouped these and the name stuck in association with the offense of Bill Walsh. Walsh formulated what has become most widely known as the West Coast Offense during his tenure as assistant coach for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1968-75 while working primarily with All-Pro quarterback Ken Anderson and under the tutelage of mentor Paul Brown. From there, Walsh took it to the San Francisco 49ers, where it was implemented with great effectiveness by Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana. The majority of casual football fans perceive this version to be the "West Coast Offense".

Clear? Let's continue.

The popular term "West Coast Offense" as a general concept is more of a philosophy and an approach to the game than it is a set of plays or formations. "Traditional" offensive thinking argues that a team must establish their running game first, which will draw the defense in and open up vertical passing lanes downfield (passing lanes that run perpendicular to the line of scrimmage). Walsh's "West Coast Offense", on the contrary, stipulates that a defense must first be stretched with a short, horizontal passing attack that features sharp, precisely-run pass patterns by the receivers and quick, 3-step and 5-step drops by the quarterback.

Now we're getting somewhere! The term was misapplied to a coach whose approach to the game precisely unmirrored what was attributed to him as a philosophical strategy. Let's wrap this all up, for you (and me!), the crappy fan:

Throughout the years, coaches have added to, adjusted, modified, simplified, and enhanced Bill Walsh's original adaptation of the Paul Brown offense. Formations and plays vary greatly, as does play calling.

Is there any other way to interpret this paragraph other than, "The West Coast Offense is a meaningless jumble of stuff that has been fucked with for years, assuming it ever meant anything at all in the first place"? You might as well call it the "Huh?" offense, or the "Sentient Banana Offense." Or, really, whatever you like.

Who knows? I may have this all wrong. To reiterate: I don't really know, and to be honest, I don't much care. I suppose it's very male to see these gigantic cavemen crush each other all the time, and then see cutovers to delirious cheerleaders freezing in their spandex. I can't be bothered to learn. I don't know what a "cover two" is, other than, "I assume there are at least two people covering . . . well, I guess two other people." Let Gregg Easterbrook handle that deathless crap, in between his rhapsodizing over his son's unearthly football picks and his bizarre rants about teams that blitz too much. I don't fucking care.

This is sort of what I love about sports. I don't really have to know. If only that were applicable to life in general, but maybe that's why I love these fucking weird games. I don't really have to know.

Why does the wife like David Ortiz? Why do I just hate the Steelers and wish them ill this season, just because they knocked us out of last year's Super Bowl? What is the West Coast Offense, really?

I don't really have to know.


Note: Comments are closed on old entries.

Comments

I don't know either; but being a contrarian, and a Steelers fan, I'll just cling to one little piece of that whole mish-mash of explanation: "Traditional" offensive thinking argues that a team must establish their running game first, which will draw the defense in and open up vertical passing lanes downfield (passing lanes that run perpendicular to the line of scrimmage.)

So it's the opposite of that. And since the Steelers are a great running team, and they're on the east coast, it's called "West Coast" because it's not what the Steelers do, and everyone else is just jealous.

That's what I think.

Comment number: 008193   Posted by: i, squub on September 8, 2006 05:51 AM from IP: 216.207.65.61

Wasn't that '95 Mariners' season the best? I've been a Mariners fan since we moved to Seattle in the 80's, but I was living in NC at the time. I sat, almost alone, in a very quiet sports bar to watch the tie breaker with the Angels. Then, all during the playoffs, which could only be viewed at bars with satellite tv, I dragged my friends out to watch with me.

Once, when Junior hit a home run against the Yankees, I stood up to cheer. A stranger sneered at me, "Why are you a Mariners' fan? Are you from Seattle?"

Like you'd have to be from Seattle to like the Mariners! Crazy.

Comment number: 008194   Posted by: jamy on September 8, 2006 06:44 AM from IP: 170.97.167.61

Easterbrook has long since jumped the shark. He's got about a half dozen shticks that he relentlessly drives into the ground. It's the same column every week, just rearranged slightly.

Comment number: 008195   Posted by: FS on September 8, 2006 09:17 AM from IP: 65.244.148.222

Remedial clown college... I think I have an ex-boyfriend who attended one.

Comment number: 008197   Posted by: Amanda on September 8, 2006 12:02 PM from IP: 69.8.148.130

My God, man. I am exactly the same type of sports fan as you. Fucking pathetic, isn't it? Let me ask: don't you feel like something of a twit when watching a game with some stat-head who'll reel off the ERAs of the 1967 Mets while you just sort of nod in pseudo-agreement?

Comment number: 008198   Posted by: Joe on September 8, 2006 01:52 PM from IP: 67.101.199.98

All statheads are looking for is someone who will pretend to listen to their prattle and nod in pseudo-agreement.

Comment number: 008199   Posted by: beige on September 8, 2006 02:28 PM from IP: 128.95.169.36

I'm not a stat head, but I am a football junky and baseball sucks.

In the simplest of terms traditional offenses run on first down, run on second down, run on third down, and then punt if necessary. Oh sure, sometimes you will see a pass on third down if they need to make more than 10 yards, but that is as likely as finding a Seattle fan not whining about the officiating during the Superbowl. West Coast offense may run or pass on any down with most of the passes being less than 10 yards. That is it. Oh and ............ GO STEELERS!!!!

Comment number: 008201   Posted by: Todd on September 8, 2006 06:28 PM from IP: 24.22.108.67

"West Coast Offense" has, over the course of time, become a meaningless term, like "Head On! Apply Directly to Forehead!" or "Mission Accomplished!" In its purest form, it involves lots of short passing routes. Instead of either running the ball or passing it downfield 30 yards (ala your beloved Raiders), the WCO relies on throwing short crossing routes to somebody like Jerry Rice or Terrell Owens and letting them run for 30 yards. The difficuly is that it relies on perfect timing and the QBs ability to throw pinpoint pass after pinpoint pass. Thus, the way to beat it is to wait until the QB screws up, which, unless you're Joe Montana, happens after a dozen plays or so.

As for baseball, I'm a lifelong Cubs fan, so baseball to me involves not stats, but pain. Lots and lots of pain.

Comment number: 008202   Posted by: Andrew on September 8, 2006 09:36 PM from IP: 70.98.245.33

Pressing the ESC key after typing in a character or part of a word while in iChat, Mail, TextEdit, etc. will reveal a drop down menu. This menu contains all the words your computer knows that begin with that combination of letters! Pretty neat, and a great time saver!!

Comment number: 008390   Posted by: Johanson on September 20, 2006 12:14 AM from IP: 80.77.80.82

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