More nuanced than Rae Armantrout?

Who is the most important figure on a football field?

They are right there on the field during an NFL game, and yet they are invisible; they are equivalent to the “reader” who interprets the temporal unraveling of the “text;” how that text is read determines how the story ends, and how the game is won.

Who is this “reader?”

The typical football fan follows only the players and the coaches.

The astute football fan follows the refs as well.  They know the names of the refs.  They know, for instance, the official who reversed the Tom Brady fumble against Oakland in the snow, and changed the fate of the game forever: Walt Coleman.  They know other infamous refs, such as Bill Leavy and Jeff Triplett.

Most football fans would enjoy “the game” and let the refs be invisible.  These fans are like children who read a story only for the plot.  Football is a kind of bedtime story for them, with “winners and losers” defining their landscape.

Even the simpleton football fan, however, navigates a world that is actually more complex than fiction studied at college.  For the football fan, the “story” is never quite the same, and the “winner” might be “right,” or might be “wrong” on any given occasion, depending on the fan’s allegiance and the unique result of each contest.

Men (and increasingly women) are uncomfortable admitting how much the outcome of contest involving their favorite team means to them.  They know that it’s “only a game,” and yet for millions of obsessed fans, it’s a lot more.

There are two basic opinions on refs, and how ref calls on the field (was that a penalty, or not?) affect the game’s outcome.

First, there is the stoic fan (in this sense) who feels adamantly that refs do not decide a game’s outcome.   Bad calls are “part of the game.”  Bad calls in the long run “even out.”   Good teams always overcome bad calls.  Those who complain about bad calls are “crybabies” and “losers.”

Then there is the fan who isn’t afraid to beef.   I found the following on

Refs aide Steelers…again…

It wasn’t Bill Leavy this time, and it wasn’t the Super Bowl. But once again, the Steelers benefited from some over zealous officiating in a playoff win.

I believe ESPN columnist Gregg Easterbrook says it best:

“A ticky-tacky holding penalty wiped out a 55-yard punt return touchdown for Baltimore in the fourth quarter; the Ravens settled for a field goal. A ticky-tacky, and quite rare, holding penalty against a Baltimore defensive lineman converted a Steelers’ third-and-goal at the 3 into a first-and-goal at the 1 in the final moments. Both calls were the sort that could be made against any team on any snap of any game, and both went against the visitor in the fourth quarter of a postseason contest. On the defensive holding at the goal line, to me it seemed the Steelers, not the Ravens, were the ones holding. The punt call cost the Ravens four points and the goal-line call all but awarded the Steelers four points — had it gone against Pittsburgh, a field goal was the likely result of the possession. That’s eight fourth-quarter points for the home team in a game it won by seven points.”

I’ve said it countless times, let the players decide the outcome. Officials shouldn’t be throwing flags on marginal calls that could go either way, that could be called on most plays, and that directly impact the outcome of a game.

And they sure as hell shouldn’t be making such calls in the 4th quarter of a close playoff game.

Every story and every football game has a beginning, a middle and an end.
In both stories and football games the end is always more significant.
The beginning affects the middle and the middle affects the end, and this is true 1) in a story, even when the author writes without this flow, for the reader expects it and 2) in a football game, but in varying and sometimes inconclusive ways.

The refs do make a difference; by reversing plays (sometimes very significant plays) with toss of a flag, refs do influence the outcome of a contest, for as much as a story, every play in a football game is interlocking with the whole, and thus, with the final result, and the “stoic” fan, to the degree they ignore the input of the refs is like a reader who is unable to fully understand a text, even though they “see” that text.

Understanding the “text” of a football game is complex not only because “seeing” the whole text (game) is so difficult, and not only because we may suspect the motives of officials surrounding any particular contest, but also because the rules that must be understood and legislated in the context of the action of the game are also complex.  This is just a partial description of offensive holding:
  1. No player on offense may assist a runner except by blocking for him. There shall be no interlocking interference.
  2. A runner may ward off opponents with his hands and arms but no other player on offense may use hands or arms to obstruct an opponent by grasping with hands, pushing, or encircling any part of his body during a block. Hands (open or closed) can be thrust forward to initially contact an opponent on or outside the opponent’s frame, but the blocker immediately must work to bring his hands on or inside the frame.Note: Pass blocking: Hand(s) thrust forward that slip outside the body of the defender will be legal if blocker immediately worked to bring them back inside. Hand(s) or arm(s) that encircle a defender—i.e., hook an opponent—are to be considered illegal and officials are to call a foul for holding.Blocker cannot use his hands or arms to push from behind, hang onto, or encircle an opponent in a manner that restricts his movement as the play develops.
  3. Hands cannot be thrust forward above the frame to contact an opponent on the neck, face or head.

Note the ambiguity.  Did you know a blocker is not allowed to ever “push” his opponent with his arms or hands?   But blockers always do this.

Or that a blocker is allowed to do something “illegal” as long as he “works to bring” it into a move that is “legal” eventually—like in the 3-4 seconds it takes to run a play?

Or that blocking the shoulders is fine, but not the neck—as if one could tell the difference in a typical football player?

Subversive readings determine the outcome of every story in football and these readings are invisible precisely they are readings.  Yet these readings ultimately affect every single thing the football fan “sees.”  Ambiguity of interpretation trumps the merely physical.



  1. Noochness said,

    January 22, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    The refs are the gods,
    As in ancient drama.
    When they turn against your team,
    It’s quite the bummer.

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 22, 2011 at 2:04 pm

      The chorus = fans
      tragic hero = bill belicheat
      playwright = well-placed owners
      the gods = refs

      • Noochness said,

        January 22, 2011 at 2:20 pm

        The gods will have blood,
        that’s what Anatole France said.
        (I’ve got that book somewhere,
        I’ll prolly die before it’s read.)

  2. Poem support said,

    April 22, 2011 at 8:01 am

    The Referee

    I think that I shall never see
    A shy or modest referee;
    Whenever there’s a clipping call,
    He struts off yardage with the ball,
    Then prances out to face the stands
    And makes grand motions with his hands;
    I wonder what he’s like to see
    When working games not on TV.

    Frank Jacobs

  3. Poem support said,

    April 26, 2011 at 8:58 am

    John Masefield as a Pro Football Linebacker

    I must go out on the field again and play for the Green Bay Pack;
    And all I ask is a taped-up fist and a quarterback I can sack;
    And a head to twist, and some knees to bust, and a half-crazed coach to lead me;
    And some ribs to crack, and the grunts I make from the raw meat that they feed me.

    I must go out on the field again and play for my old team;
    Where I can hear the wondrous sound of a gang-tackled runner’s scream;
    And a nose to break, and an eye to gouge, and cleats to stomp a toe with;
    And the body’s thud, and the smell of blood, and the stats to make All-Pro with.

    Frank Jacobs

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: