Monday, November 27, 2006

The Classic Position, by Sara Hatch

When I was a kid, I loved pinball. It’s one of the oldest and simplest arcade games, but also one of the most fun. I was once reading a book where a father was describing the experience of playing pinball in a Paris café with his son. It was marvelous. It’s one of those classic games. I think my love of pinball is also the reason why I love running backs the most of any position in football. Watching the running game is like watching a game of human pinball.

If you asked me ten times whether I prefer offense or defense, nine and probably even ten times I’d say that I like defense more. A good sack of the opposing quarterback is one of the most thrilling things to see in football. But defense is a team effort. A safety can get a sack just as easily as a defensive end. And one player alone rarely accomplishes stopping a running back at the line of scrimmage. There are true defensive stars on all of the best defensive teams, like Brian Urlacher for the Bears and Michael Strahan for the Giants, but without a well-built defense around them they’d just be getting good tackles every few plays while mostly getting scored on from here till Monday. So, I find it hard to say that I love one position on the defense more than the other.

But running backs are pure pleasure to watch in action. A good running back will be supported by his offensive line, but he must also have the uncanny ability to see the holes that develop on the field. When I say that the run is like human pinball, I mean it. It’s a series of repetitive tasks: running towards objects that are trying to push you in the opposite direction. Most gains are little snippets, 5 or 6 yards here or there, constantly pushing closer to the goal line as boundaries are whizzed past. And then every once in a while there’s a brilliant convergence where all the pathways open up and it’s a clear line ahead. The goal is achieved. The touchdown is scored and you’re back at the beginning, ready to do it all again — to rack up more points.

The running game is fundamental and incredibly lethal. Indianapolis is 10-1 at this point but one key reason many fans don’t buy them as a Super Bowl favorite is their inability to defend against the run. It’s the running game that turns an offense from good to amazing, that gives the quarterback the ability to make throws on plays that look good, to set them up beautifully. So while the quarterbacks stand on the field ready to deliver those few laser strikes when coverage opens up, the running backs are there, bouncing off on down after down, relentlessly driving towards the goal.

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At 8:44 PM , Blogger Charles said...

nice post. the connection of pinball and running backs is right on.


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