by The Tattered Pennant Staff
As your friendly neighborhood sports historians, we like to think that we know a little something about athletics in America. We try to write articles you won’t find in other outlets, all in the pursuit of helping fans be better fans. To that end, we’ve decided to offer our brutally honest assessment of what we don’t know. That’s right: the sports world is a big place with language, rules, and norms that are honestly impossible to master completely. No one knows everything in every sport, and we’re no different in that respect.
Each of the editors has prepared a little summary of at least one deficiency in their sports knowledge. You can make fun of us or commiserate with our knowledge gaps. We chose to do this is in the hope that you fans look honestly about the things in sports you don’t know, even if they’re obvious and embarrassing. Being a thinking fan is about confronting what you don’t know as much as it is learning something new.
So, without further ado, the editors share their sports insecurities:
Alex Langer Struggles with Hockey, Generally:
Somehow, growing up, I never learned how to play, or watch, hockey. Sure, I knew the basics, (number of players on the ice, the goal of the game), and I learned what icing was somewhere along the line. But, bet on my knowledge regarding anything more complicated about the game of hockey, and you’ll win some money. Now, after watching multiple NHL games and playing the NHL video game, I can confidently tell you that I understand…offsides and icing. And that is it. Do I understand how or why the line changes work? Not at all. I assume they are a much quicker version of NBA teams playing their backups for much of the second quarter to rest starters. I understand that there are forwards and wingers and defensive players, and from my hours playing the video game, I learned that crossing in front of the goalie then attempting to shoot backhand is an effective strategy.
Does that mean I understand hockey and can be an intelligent fan? No, it does not. Am I, in the words of my father, “just knowledgeable enough to be dangerous?” Definitely. To be fair, I think that this is an important step in any sports fans’ life. The basic working knowledge of a sport, enough to be angry at perceived mistakes, lead to seeking out true knowledge, and eventually informed fandom. Hopefully I’ll get there in a few years of watching the sport.
Chris Foss Still Can’t Master Differences between College and Pro Football:
I’m ashamed to say that I don’t understand why, in college football, that a wide receiver only needs to come down with one foot inbounds on a catch. For the entire time that I’ve watched sports, college football has doggedly stuck with this rule, while the NFL has just as doggedly maintained that you have to have two feet touch inbounds. No commentator or analyst has ever questioned this difference between college and pro, and there has never been a serious push by any football governing power to make the rule consistent across the sport, from Pee Wee to pro.
The big issue here seems to indeed be consistency. It could be argued that it’s all a matter of subjectivity as to whether one foot or two feet is the “better” catch. My gut says it should be two feet down to be a true catch, but I have no real evidence to prove that’s the way it should be, beyond that I just think that two feet down is a more “pure” catch. A deeper case can be made, however, that it’s baffling that wide receivers are trained one way in college, then have to be retrained again in the NFL. Is it too much to ask for fairness and standardization across the sport?
On a semi-related note, until it was changed the rule that most baffled me was the force-out touchdown rule. The NFL used to have a rule that a receiver could make a catch if the referee judged that, in the act of trying to catch a ball, he was “forced out” by a defender before getting both feet down inbounds. College football never had such a rule. The NFL rule was patently absurd because it sometimes was unclear whether the receiver would have gotten his feet down even if he had not been contacted by a defender. It came into play when Arizona scored on a force-out TD on the final play of the 2003 regular season against Minnesota, denying the Vikings a playoff berth. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PS4Xt3-q0M
Keith Aksel Just Doesn’t Remember Basic Basketball Lingo:
I can’t seem to commit to memory basketball’s numbered positions, or the difference between the frontcourt and backcourt players. The term “two-guard” might as well be Mandarin for “dense fan,” as I can’t cement the label’s definition in my brain no matter how I try. I watch probably 20 full-length NBA games a year, and about 30-40 full length college games a season, and none of that seems to help. I regularly Google these concepts, learn them, then forget them again a week later without fail. I just now looked all of these concepts up, and they might actually stick, but I know better. For my own reference later, I’ll even write their descriptions here:
There, now I have an even easier reference for when I forget them by the time the first college games tip off. Does not remembering these concepts impair my viewing or enjoyment of the game? No. Does it keep me from following even not-so-high level basketball strategy discussions? Yes. Not getting these points to stick in my brain keeps me from feeling like I have an expert grasp of basketball as I might have with soccer, or the much more-complicated sport of football. Certainly, I’m not the only one who has issues remembering these things, but those people don’t run a sports website.
However you take our confessions, rest assured that we have more knowledge gaps than just what you see here. More than anything, these gaps represent challenges to our fandom. We don’t just want to rest on acknowledging that we have deficiencies; we want to improve on them. Improving and widening our understandings of how sports work should be a broader goal of fandom, even if it hurts a little bit to admit our weaknesses. Most fans probably don’t question what they don’t know- but they’re not you. Thinking fans like you want to take their understandings of sports to new places. What better place to start than your own embarrassing deficiencies?