True Freshmen

The football season is upon us, and, yes, I am a fan.  I know, I know, it is a brutal sport implicated in concussions and other injuries that will haunt the young men for a lifetime.  But, hey, what about soccer?  Hockey?  Boxing? (I don’t watch boxing anymore—too brutal. Now it is “mixed martial arts” in cages. I guess the “mixed” is the fact you can use your feet and fists.  Whoppee!). Anyway, I’ve been struck (no, not in the head), by some football lingo that has me puzzled, or at least reflective.

Take, for example, when the announcers note that the player is a “true Freshman”.  I take this to mean that the player came right out of high school and is in his first year of college.  I assume true Freshmen are 18 years old, except, maybe, those who went on a Mormon mission for a couple of years, and then went to college—many to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.  Then those true Freshmen would be, say, 21?  Are they, then, true Freshmen?  Inquiring minds want to know.  And what about the 25 year old that did a couple of tours of Iraq in the Army, then signed up for college on the G.I. Bill, and tried out for the team? Someone must know.

I think what really happens is they hook up the players to a lie detector before their first season of football.  If they pass, they are “true Freshmen”.  I assume if they do not, they are “false Freshmen”.  Can false Freshmen still play?  Probably, if they are good enough.   Or if they can kick well.  I note that many of the kickers are Australian who played soccer, known to the rest of the world as “football”.  If they are in their first year, are they “true Freshmen?”  Someone better check their green card.

And another thing. How did the positions get their names? Does a quarterback really have 1/4thof a back?  Or a halfback ½?   Or a full back have a complete back.? Note:  Very few full backs any more.  Now there are tail backs.  Do they have tails?

Let’s look at the offensive line:  The only positions that make sense are the center, who is the middle, and the ends, who are at the ends.  On either side of the center are the guards.  What are they guarding against?  I guess keeping the 1/4thback from getting “sacked”, which is another way of saying he gets tackled behind the line of scrimmage.  What is a scrimmage, and where did this name come from, anyway? On either side of the guards are the tackles.  Which makes no sense because they don’t tackle.  Their job is to prevent tackles.  Finally, there are the wide receivers, which also makes no sense, because they are not wide, but skinny and fast.

I won’t go into the defensive lineup, except for a couple of positions:  linebacker.  What line are they backing?  Maybe they should be called circle backer, because I’ve often seen them circle back to where they started depending on the play.  They are either backing up to cover the ball carrier or wide out who is going out for a pass, or crashing the line for a sack, but often getting held by the tackle who does not tackle.  Finally there is the safety.  I guess this is because he plays it safe by backing way up and not crashing the line or anything, unless it is a safety blitz, which is when he runs full out to the line to get a sack or a stop.  This is also called a dog, or a red dog.  I have no idea.

The dog is not to be confused with a pooch, which is a intentional short punt, a punt being a kicked ball by, you guessed it, the punter.  If he runs and kicks it low and long he is probably from Australia.  Or maybe he was an English rugby player.

On kicked balls the receiver can call for a fair catch by raising his hand, which means you can’t crash into him.  If he doesn’t call for a fair catch, then it is an unfair catch, and if he catches it you can crash into him, but nowadays you can’t lead with your head.  New rule—you must keep your head up when crashing into people.  This is to minimize brain injuries.  We’ll see if that works a few years from now when football players retire.

In the old days before football became sissified, a “gunner” would run pall mall (where did pall mall come from—not the cigarette) as fast as he could and crash into the receiver with great force.  Commentators would ooh and awe about how he almost took his head off.  Never saw anyone’s head go off, but often heard that someone “got his bell rung”.

Yes, football is a brutal sport, but fun to watch.  Even though now they’ve added 4,854 new rules, most to protect the 1/4thback, and every other play is a penalty.  They’ve also added a feature that allows a replay video to be viewed when and official reviews it and “goes under the hood”. Then he comes out and announces “upon further review…blah, blah, blah.” Penalties are called when someone in a striped shirt (a zebra) throws a yellow flag.  I think a true Freshman made a false start.

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