Saturday, December 05, 2009

The lesser-known heroes of a football game

I went to my third football game last night. It's kind of sad that the best place I ever went to see a football game was Ford Field in Detroit. Judging that the last two places I've been to were Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo and then the SkyDome in Toronto, I think the line of best fit is pointing to a fourth game in the parking lot of an abandoned Biway somewhere. Ford Field itself is actually a fantastic stadium, it just happens to house a great team, though you can't say that for Ralph Wilson.

Going to an NFL game at the SkyDome (listen, if you want me to promote your business on this blog, send me an email) is a lot like going to a Jays game at the SkyDome. The same over-cheerful but under-informed announcer tells us about the play that just happened, as well as shockingly embarrassing promotions, where you can answer a question like "how many nipples do you have?" for the chance to win a Quiznos prize pack. To the best of my knowledge, a Quiznos prize pack is really just a sandwich, but I could be wrong. Maybe there's an XL promotional t-shirt involved as well.

The crowd at a sporting event at the SkyDome is sort of a catch-22 for whoever organized the game. Toronto might have a reputation for being a staid, Protestant city that sits on its hands, but years of bad performances at the Dome have left us inured to sports and seeking new thrills. New thrills chiefly come in the form of drunken brawls. The problem, then, is that if nobody comes to the games, it looks bad on TV. If people do come to the games, then your problem is that all those idiots showed up at your game.

An NFL game is always good, even if you sat with a fantastic view of the goal line, the worst place to sit at a Bills game, like I did. The players are as fast as they are massive, and when the game is stripped of breathless commentators talking about their Thursday night meeting with the nickel back that just came into the game, you're better able to focus on the subtleties of the game. A deep ball is much more exciting when you can see it develop without having to wait for the camera, and doubly exciting when, as was the case last night, an obvious touchdown bounces off the hands of a receiver and then nearly bounces off his helmet before landing incomplete.

Anyway, here are some of the people and occupations you never really hear about or see when you watch the game on TV. I'd like to phrase these descriptions as responses to the question "so what do you do?"

"I'm a cable girl. I follow cameramen around and I hold excess cable that belongs to the camera. My responsibilities include winding and unwinding cable, laying cable down in a safe manner, and moving at the same speed and in the same direction as the cameraman."

"I'm an apprentice. I work with the cable girl to hold excess cable that maybe she can't hold. I also follow her for a season or two to see how she does the job before I'll be allowed to follow a cameraman around and hold his cable."

"I'm a driver. I drive the modified cherry picker-like contraption on which a camera is mounted. After large gains and changes in possession, I accelerate down the sideline to ensure that the camera is where it needs to be."

"I stand by the sideline and hold a shield." Why? Do you do anything? "It's not entirely clear. Maybe the idea is to see if players are hitting hard enough."

"I'm a fat guy that jogs laps around the field alongside the emergency golf cart to stay in shape."

"I'm a stadium security guard. My job is to stand with my back to football games and protect heavily padded, helmet-wearing, highly-trained 300-pound men from other, sedentary, drunk, fat middle-aged men. For merely existing, the boors in section 134D, row 6 yell death threats at me."

"I'm the kicker. I constantly practice kicking a football into a net so that if my team gets into field goal range, television networks will have an image of my menacing 5'10", 175-pound frame practicing kicks. It builds drama."

"I'm the long snapper. When not hurling a football ten yards between my legs, I practice this endlessly."

"I'm the punter. I catch snaps and then practice dropping the ball toward the ground, but not kicking it."

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