Before I started paying much attention to football, I thought it was a brainless game played by brainless people to entertain brainless fans. But I’ve learned a little in the last few years, and I’m starting to see that it is a game of wits played by men who may appear witless simply because they’re so big (and the rest of us are so insecure that we need to feel superior). But really those big guys on the field are processing information faster than a computer. The strategy played out on every down is equivalent to the plan on a field of battle.
Where I once viewed a football game as little more than a bunch of big guys knocking the sense out of each other, the moves and counter moves and strategy now remind me of chess more than anything else. Well, chess with consequences. Like in the Wizard’s Chess of the Harry Potter world, if your player is in the wrong place at the wrong time, he gets destroyed rather spectacularly. Because there is still that element of big men knocking the sense out of each other. I wasn’t wrong about it—I was just missing half of the picture. There is an intense strategy involved in deciding where to place and how to move the men on the field before they knock the sense out of each other. There are so many options, in fact, that even the commentators on a PBS talk show were discussing football strategy the last time I turned to the local channel. PBS. No opera, purple dinosaurs or evaluations of esoteric antiques. They were discussing football just like ESPN.
So I was wrong about football and I was also wrong about football players, or at least some of them. Back in high school, I thought football players were dumb jocks who swaggered around with an overpowering confidence they did not deserve. My opinion about that didn’t change until a few years ago when one of my son’s close friends went out for the football team. Since I’d known him for years, I knew he was a very intelligent guy and a terrific student. And he was about as far from over-confident as could be. He wasn’t even all that big. But he made the team and has played a lot because he understood the game and knew where he was supposed to be on that chessboard/field and what he was supposed to be doing. And I suppose he must not have been afraid of getting blown up if something went wrong.
Friends who knew me in high school would be shocked to know how much I enjoy watching this game of exploding chess known as football. But they’re just jealous because their team didn’t make it to the Superbowl this year.
Enjoy the game or the counter-programming or whatever else you choose to do this Sundaye evening. My heart will be in New Orleans with the Ravens. I just hope too many of them don’t explode.
When I started looking for an image for this blog, it immediately became apparent that I am not the first person to spot similarities between chess and football. The game in the image I used, “Official Football Chess,” came out in 1967. It’s available online through http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/49158/official-football-chess.