Monday, February 06, 2006

The NFL Is A Thing of Beauty

The Super Bowl is, on its own, a great event. It is not without good reason that millions of viewers the world over will tune in to the Super Bowl, possibly even staying up red-eyed into the night, to watch a sport they are not particularly interested in and know little about.

To many people, the game itself is of little consequence; the sense of a shared experience, and the extravanganza of the entertainment, not to mention the excuse to have a huge party, are more than enough. How much greater that occasion is when you can truly appreciate the centerpiece!

Yesterday, during the fourth quarter, the Pittsburgh Steelers ran a play whose mere memory is enough to keep me happy for a long time to come. The real beauty of the play is that its appeal works on so many different levels.

To start off with, you see what appears to be a pretty bog-standard rushing play. The quarterback hands off to the running back, who takes a step, but then moves towards the wide receiver, who is running sideways across the field in an end-around. Taking the ball at quite some pace, it appears that he is about to run straight ahead down the field for a fairly impressive gain of yardage.

This is no ordinary wide receiver, however. Antwaan Randle El only moved to the position after he became a professional. He was a college quarterback, and so while on the move he throws a long pass to the other wide receiver, Hines Ward, who steps in to the endzone for an easy touchdown.

Then, on the replay, you realise the quality of the blocking on the play, and not just from the guys you would expect it from. Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback, puts in an excellent block that allows Randle El the time to make it to the other side of the pitch. One of the O-linemen, meanwhile, has pulverised a Seattle defender so that Randle El has all the time in the world to make the pass without the fear of a tackle.

The sheer execution of the play on its own was a delight to watch. Yet to truly appreciate the full beauty of the play, you have to have remembered what happened before that in the game. In the first half, a fairly similar end-around had been run by the Steelers. On that play, the main aim for defenders is to get up the field as quickly as possible to make the tackle. On the fourth quarter play, of course, as all the Seattle players are vainly running towards Randle El, Hines Ward is sauntering across the field waiting for the catch. Without the previous end-around, it's certainly possible Ward would have been paid just a little more attention.

Additionally, the formation that the Steelers lined up in was exactly the same as that used two plays earlier, when they had thrown a play known as a WR screen to Randle El. It's known as one of the Steelers' favourite plays, so the repetition of the formation automatically made the Seattle players prepare for that play - when in fact, the real action was to take place on completely the opposite side of the pitch.

The intricacies of the play made it a genuine thing of beauty. Pure artistry, in the way that to understand the play in all its glory you have to appreciate what has gone before in the match. Sheer brilliance in the execution as well. And so, I've just spent 600 words explaining one single play in an NFL match. I told you the play made me happy!