Lesson on football terminology

Football is here. College and high school teams around the state have begun preparing for the season to come, which means we, as fans, should prepare, as well.

After all, the goal is to be in mid-season form in late August and early September, right? Right.

That means we need to bone up on football terminology. Let’s start with the most important body parts.

Now you may think that where defensive players are concerned the most important body parts are muscles that enable one to run fast and hit hard. You would think wrong.

Clearly, a linebacker’s most important body part is his nose. TV sportscasters remind us all the time that really proficient linebackers have a nose for the football. Furthermore, it helps if said linebackers are hard-nosed.

Patrick Willis, for example, had a nose for the football and he would knock the snot out of you. He was a hard-nosed linebacker. It helped that he stood six-feet-one and weighed 240 pounds and could run like the wind. But, boy, what a nose that guy had.

Noses are really critical for defensive players, period. They have to “smell out” the offense’s intentions. One of them is even called a nose tackle, so called because he lines up nose-to-nose with the offensive center. Noses are so important that it makes you wonder why it took football more than half a century to invent the facemask.

Enough about noses. You may think that the most important attribute of an offensive lineman is girth – just sheer physical size. That’s because most of them stand about six and a half feet tall and weigh well north of 300 pounds. Again, you would be wrong.

The most important body part of an offensive lineman? Feet. That’s right, feet. You hear coaches talking about it all the time. “He’s got good feet,” they’ll say of a really good offensive guard. That doesn’t mean that the guy wears a size 17EEE shoe, although he certainly might. What that means is that this 6-foot-6, 340-pounder can actually move his feet quickly enough to stay in front of another huge man, the one with the hard nose wearing a different colored jersey trying to maim the quarterback. Feet are important. This is football after all.

Feet are important for kickers, too. Back in the old days, before soccer players invaded football, toes were important because you kicked with your toes. One placekicker, who doubled as an offensive lineman (with good feet), was Lou “The Toe” Groza, so-called because he was so accurate as a kicker using his toes.

Then, along came Saint Tom Dempsey, who kicked a 63-yard field goal to win a game with no toes at all on his kicking foot. So much for toes, except for turf toe and we’ll get to that...

Now everybody just kicks, soccer-style, with their insteps. Somehow, Stephen “The Instep” Gostkowski just doesn’t have the same ring as Lou “The Toe” Groza.

Other body parts are of vital importance in football. You do want your quarterback to have a good head on his shoulders and ice water in his veins. It also helps if he has a good arm – or, as in Brett Favre’s case, a cannon.

For obvious reasons, you want your receivers to have good hands. For not so obvious reasons, you want your defensive ends to have good ears. Why, you ask? Because, as everyone knows, on third and long a defensive end must pin back his ears and get to the quarterback before he has a chance to use his cannon.

That just about does it for body parts, except for the ones that get hurt. If the coach says his All-Conference tackle “has an ankle” that’s bad because it usually means the guy’s ankle is sprained and he can’t play. If your star wide receiver “has a hamstring” it means he probably won’t play for weeks. If your defensive safety has loose hips, that’s good. He’s a limber guy and can change directions quickly. But if he has stiff hips, that’s bad. He’s a stiff. If he has a hip pointer, that’s worse. He can’t play.

And don’t laugh if your favorite coach says his star running back has turf toe. Turf toe may sound funny but it might sideline him for most of a season. You can’t play football well with stiff hips. You can’t play at all with turf toe. Hard nose, good. Turf toe, bad. That is all for today.

Email syndicated columnist Rick Cleveland at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

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