This week's column is all about something we all do. Some only do it casually, just to be social and fit in. Some do it better and in more detail than others. Some have been doing it for years, while others are relatively new to the game. Men do it as often as they can, and they love women who do it seriously and intelligently. It is the reason why we're all here and what this column is all about. And if you're lucky, you can get paid for it.
No, I'm not talking about that, I'm talking about that honored American tradition and skill of watching football!
From August to January, there's no better way to spend the weekend than watching football. It's our national pastime. If you're reading this column, chances are that watching Stanford or Pac-10 football is your passion. And if you want the ultimate experience in watching football, do what I had a chance to do last weekend in South Bend: act as a spotter for a TV or radio broadcast.
For those that don't know what a spotter is, it's someone whose job it is to spot whatever is happening in the game. Literally. It's the spotter's job to pick up exactly who is in the game at any given time, who made the tackle, catch, or key block, to pick up anything else that might be happening on the field or on the sidelines, and to relay all of that info to the announcers. But when it's boiled down to its most basic element, the spotter basically gets paid to watch the game. Literally. Doesn't get much better than that, does it?
I walked into the Stanford radio booth at Notre Dame Stadium about 90 minutes before Saturday's game, and I hadn't been there more than thirty seconds when Stanford sports information director Gary Migdol walked in and told me that NBC needed a spotter. They needed someone who knew the Stanford team well. They said it would be a paying gig. They had asked Gary if he could track someone down who met the criterion, and Gary wanted to know if I would be interested.
Now, based on the very nature of the job, spotters need to be very alert and have their eagle eyes ready at all times. Given that I had only gotten a half-hour of sleep on the plane to Chicago, landed at O'Hare at about 4:45 Saturday morning and immediately drove straight to South Bend (the sound of my friends snoring in the car kept me awake) and hadn't slept at all since, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to go. But since working with NBC didn't interfere with my pregame and postgame shows (more on last week's postgame in a bit), and since I know the Stanford team well, and since I like watching football, and since one of the few things I enjoy more than watching football is getting paid, I had but one response: "Which way to NBC's booth?"
I actually had spotted one time before, for the TV broadcast of last year's Big Game. Of all the time I've spent in the Stanford Stadium press box, it was the first time I had ever been in the TV booth. It was cool working with Larry Beil and my longtime pal Martin Wyatt. It was also cool seeing how things work on the TV side (the booth is actually pretty quiet and serene, which has to contrast sharply with the chaos and mayhem going on down in the production truck).
But the coolest thing about that experience was that it taught me to watch football in a different way. Before that game, I had always watched football in terms of formations and matchups. I generally paid attention to who was in the game at any given time, where they lined up, and whom they were matched up against, but I never really paid attention to the substitution patterns and rotations. So as I pointed out to Larry who was in the backfield and what receivers were in the game, it taught me to think about the game more in terms of personnel packages. Instead of focusing on just the individual matchups, I learned to look a little more at the big picture.
So despite the very real possibility that I could either a) see Stanford's #54 and look for Nicodemus Watts's name on the board, or b) pass out on Pat Haden's telestrator, I walked next door to NBC's booth, met some folks and got a quick briefing on what was going on. After going back to our booth to do my pregame show, I went next door to the TV side, and there I was in NBC's booth at Notre Dame Stadium at kickoff. To my left sat veteran play-by-play man Tom Hammond. To my right stood analyst and former U$C quarterback Pat Haden (now, if you're an Irish fan, doesn't it just seem kind of wrong to have a former Trojan — who was a big part of "The Comeback" in 1974, no less — handling your TV broadcasts? Wouldn't that be like Marques Tuiasosopo or Kevin Moen or Chuck Muncie working Stanford broadcasts? I'm just saying…).
Tom's setup was standard among football announcers. He made two big boards with three-deeps of both Stanford and Notre Dame, with the offense on one side of the board and the defense on the other. If Stanford was on offense, I'd find the player who carried the ball or made the catch and I'd point out his name on Tom's board. When the Card went on defense the board would be flipped over and I'd point out who made the tackle, who was in coverage, or who pressured Notre Dame QB Pat Dillingham. I was also responsible for keeping track of who was in the game by inserting pushpins by their name on the board (it pained me to momentarily remove Kwame Harris's pushpin in the second half…good thing I was able to put it back in minutes later).
Spotters can tell who's been busy by the number of times they've pointed to a player or by the number of pushpin holes they've made by someone's name. I pointed to Stanley Wilson and Leigh Torrence a lot, as they made plenty of tackles. In the first half, I pointed to Amon Gordon and Matt Leonard to signal quarterback pressures several times. On offense I didn't point to Teyo quite as much as I would have liked, but it was my pleasure to put my finger next to his name when he scored Stanford's only points late in the first quarter.
Thanks to my lack of sleep I kinda zoned out a couple times during the third quarter (right along with, unfortunately, the Stanford offense), but I was alert enough to get the job done. I noted to Hammond that on one first-quarter play Kerry Carter had lined up in the slot, and at the snap he and the receiver on that side ran upfield to clear out space underneath, allowing a wide-open Casey Moore to take the pass in the flat. That play gained 14 yards, and I told Hammond and Haden to watch out for the next time Carter lined up in the slot.
Sure enough, early in the second quarter Carter went slot right. I pointed it out to Hammond, who picked up Carter's position immediately. When Moore took the pass in the flat and ran for a 22-yard pickup, Hammond was able to note the previous success of the play. Even cooler, Haden was able to diagram it. Good stuff. That's what spotting is all about, if I say so myself.
Watching football is a skill, but how you watch is largely determined by where you watch. There's no question that no sports translates more perfectly to television than football. Unlike hockey, the ball is easy to see at all times. Unlike baseball, there is plenty of action during every single play. But as good as football is on TV, I also don't think there's any question that it's best to watch football in person.
Amazingly enough, the sidelines are the worst place to watch a football game. Some folks would say that the best place to be in the stadium is on the sidelines, and I think everyone should experience a college or pro football game on the sidelines at least once in their lives. Even though there's always the possibility of getting vomited on or run over by the players (the faint of heart had best stay in the stands), there's no better place to get a sense of all the emotion that goes into this great sport. The sights, the sounds, and the intensity on the football sidelines is not comparable to any other place in sports. It's a real rush.
There's just one problem: it's almost impossible to see the game! Unless you're standing on the endzone line or the play is coming right at you, it's very tough to watch football on the ground floor and get a full grasp of what's going on. If people could see everything they needed to see from the sidelines, there wouldn't be a need for coaches in the press box.
I would say the best place to watch football is on TV, right from the comforts of your own couch or at your friendly neighborhood watering hole, but you can't get the whole perspective of the game. You're totally at the mercy of the director. You see the game through his eyes, not yours.
Good luck to you if you want to look at what's going on downfield when the quarterback has the ball. Depending on the shot the director chooses to show, you sometimes can't even see what the receivers are doing, much less where the safeties are. And if you're watching a passing-oriented team, that really leaves you in the dark. Unless the director is nice enough to give you an isolation replay of what the receiver does, you never know exactly how Teyo — known in this column as "The Big Nickel" — got so wide open (which hasn't happened a lot this year, but just stay with me here).
And while watching football at the sports bar is nice (especially if you're checking out the Broncos dismantling the Chargers as we did from Murphy's Bleachers right across the street from Wrigley Field), you're generally doing too much eating and drinking and trash-talking and dart-throwing and pool-playing to really pay any serious attention to the game. Especially if you're dividing your time equally between the TV and the beer tap. We've all been there before.
But if you want to get the big picture, the best thing to do is to go see a football game in person. And sit between the goal lines if you can. As those endzone-seat veterans know, the action gets to be a bit two-dimensional the further away it gets. If you're between the goal lines, you can see everything and watch anything you want. If you're in the press box, you can also probably snag a free chili cheese dog and grab Pepsi after Pepsi after Pepsi.
Of course, if you can get paid to watch football for your friendly neighborhood TV network or radio outlet, it is truly the best of all worlds.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
At the start of the season, you didn't know quite what Stanford's defense and special teams would be all about, but you just knew the offense would be something special. Who knew that the defense would be the known quantity and that the offense would be the unit that is struggling?
I was honestly stunned by the negativity directed towards Buddy Teevens during last week's postgame show. Some callers were all ready to pull the plug on Buddyball just four games into the season. Granted, last week's results and last week's opponents made it very easier to compare this year's regime to previous coaching staffs, so that probably fueled the emotion more than just a little bit. Bottom line is this: it is not even close to being the appropriate time to drop sweeping generalizations about this team and its coaching staff. After the season, yes. Four games in, no. Far too soon right now to call this season a disaster. I'm sure everyone remembers how 1996 ended, but does anyone remember how it started? On the flip side, does anyone remember how 1997 started and finished? Ease up on Buddy Teevens, folks. There's still plenty of football left this year…
Congrats to the Bears for beating the Huskies for the first time since 1976. I knew the Huskies' defense would be their downfall at some point this year…
Let's see…what did I say when I previewed last week's game between UCLA and Oregon State? Oh yeah: "Unless Bob Toledo has a secret weapon or two, it figures to be another long day for Cory Paus and the crew…" As it turned out, Toledo did have a secret weapon: he dug down and found redshirt freshman RB Tyler Ebell, who worked the Beavers to the tune of 203 yards…
On top of that, Oregon State's proud defense let Cory Paus torch them for 378 yards passing. Cory Paus? Man, that was a Mariah Carey-style breakdown for those guys…
Speaking of breakdowns, a bad special teams unit will cost you at least two games a season. U$C found this out the hard way last week when Ryan Killeen missed a late extra-point that would have put the Trojans up by four. As it was, the lead remained at three and left the door open for the Cougs to get the game-tying field goal and win it in OT…
Carson Palmer may have had the gaudy numbers (32-of-50 for 381 yards), but Jason Gesser is the man. Can Stanford please knock him off his throne this week?
Last week wasn't bad. It wasn't good, but it wasn't bad.
Washington State @ Stanford. The Stanford defense played valiantly last week against Notre Dame. They'll need more than that against the Cougars. You know about QB Jason Gesser. You probably know about Wazzu's three great receivers. You also probably know about Stanford's paper-thin defensive line. Despite all the stacked deck they face, now is the time for the Stanford defense to put forth its best effort yet. Now is also the time for the offense to wake up and take advantage of the Cougs' banged-up defense. If Stanford's offense finally lives up to its end of the bargain, we'll see a track meet. But still, I like Washington State by 13.
cal @ U$C. The Bears have pulled off two big wins on the road this year, so heading to the Coliseum shouldn't be a particularly intimidating experience. Heck, the Bears have played some of their best ball in LA over the past few years. But they haven't seen a defense like this yet. If Boller can beat U$C's blitz (if they even choose to do so, which they should), he might be able to pick apart the Trojans' relatively weak corners. However, I think U$C has more to play for right now. Wouldn't surprise me to see cal get an upset win, but I like U$C by 10.
Oregon @ UCLA. Will the real UCLA please stand up? If they beat the Ducks this week they will officially be the most unpredictable team in the Pac-10, which is saying something this year. The Bruins still can't stop the run, which means a steady diet of Onterrio Smith. But Jason Fife needs to step up to the plate and not make the mistakes Derek Anderson made last week. Oregon's a better team and they should win this one, but I've got a funny feeling about this one. A real funny feeling. I like UCLA by 2.
Arizona @ Washington. The Huskies were embarrassed last week, and now they get to take it out on the Wildcats. Cody Pickett has been masterful at throwing the ball so far this year. That should continue again this week. I like Washington by 14.
Oregon State @ Arizona State. The Beaver defense took it on the chin big time last week. Their offensive line is banged up, which isn't good news when you're facing Terrell Suggs. This game could come down to the QBs. Right now I like Andrew Walter more than I like Derek Anderson, soI guess that means I like Arizona State by 7.
Last week (straight up): 2-2, (against the spread): 3-1.
This year (straight up): 3-4, (against the spread): 4-3.
Got a thought on Stanford sports? Have any random Pac-10 thoughts of your own? Any cool plans or stories to tell about the Notre Dame trip? E-mail me!
Troy Clardy hosts Stanford football postgame call-in shows, as well as Stanford football road pregame shows, Stanford basketball pregame shows, the Buddy Teevens Show, the Mike Montgomery Show, and the Stanford Profile on Stanford radio network flagship station KTCT ("The Ticket 1050") in San Francisco. The Stanford Profile airs every Thursday evening at 7:00p and the Buddy Teevens Show airs every Friday morning at 7:20a on KTCT.