Heading into my 45th straight season as a football fan, while tossing and turning in bed last night, I started thinking about what are, definitively, the 10 best football words of all time. They all came flooding into my mind this morning like reports about Mark Sanchez's passing woes at Jets training camp.
One: Cornucopia. This is not a football word but I like the sound of it and have never known its meaning. What I don't know intrigues me. Maybe the word carries football connotations but I suspect, for the most part, not. The word looks weird and has the root "corn," and there is nothing more gross than creamed corn. Cornupopia conjures up memories of novels I didn't read all of but was supposed to for college English classes. The only people who know what this word means are college English professors, and they tend not to be the first group you think of when contemplating football.
Two: The Doomsday Defense. I know, it's three words thereby breaking the rules of this game. Still, what a dramatic name for a group accentuated with impeccable alliteration. John Facenda, the voice of NFL films during the 1970s and 80s, used to say "The Doomsday Defense" with such luster that you almost felt if you played offense against this group you would die right there on the field. The one nit have with this term is it referred to the Dallas Cowboy defense of that era featuring Charlie Waters and Bob Lilly. Lauding anything about the Cowboys isn't my style but the term rocks so much I had to include it.
Three: Alligator Arms. When a wide receiver runs a pass pattern over the middle of the field where angry and malicious linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties rage, they often fall prey to alligator arms. This means instead of extending their arms to catch a pass thrown ahead of them, they pull their arms in and don't really try to catch the pass. Instead, they protect themselves from being annihilated. Extend your arms and you are more vulnerable to a full-on crash. Pull your arms back and bend down a bit and you protect yourself from getting your ribs shattered. I don't know if alligators pull their arms back in a similar fashion but it really doesn't matter. Google it if you really need to know. What matters is the term tells a story, Metaphorically; it outs wimpy receivers who lack guts.
Four: Nickel defense. This refers to a defensive scheme in which five defensive backs are inserted into the game rather than the usual four. Teams employ the nickel defense when they expect the other team to pass. George Allen, who led the Washington Redskins to their first Super Bowl in 1972, created the term nickel defense, I like to believe. No, it wasn't Tom Landry, the Cowboys coach then whom everybody thinks created everything innovative about football during that era. Landry created the Doomsday Defense. I'll give him that. But Allen concocted the nickel defense.
Five: Brett Favre. Gosh I miss him. Two words and not a term but rather just a guy's name. But what a dude's dude. Favre should come back next year to play quarterback for some fledgling NFL team. Compared with the three straight full summers we got to watch him play hard to get and then return to play, this summer's NFL storylines are as dull as asphalt.
Six: 70 Chip. As you no doubt remember, this was the name of the play the Redskins ran to win their first Super Bowl. Running behind 490 pound offensive tackle Joe Jacoby, John Riggins took the ball from the quarterback and plowed around left end. Don McNeil grabbed his shirt but couldn't wrestle down the bulldog, who broke free and scampered some 40 yards for the winning touchdown the first of three Super Bowls for the Skins. Seventy Chip is remembered by football fans far and wide including one of my friends, a huge Dolphin fan, who when that final 70 Chip unfolded started searching for ways to find meaning in his life. It's a pursuit he's never fully realized and he blames 70 Chip.
Seven: Quarterback controversy. An overused term because it happens with many teams throughout many seasons. Once the starting QB throws three interceptions in a game, that team will have on its plate a quarterback controversy unless that team is the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos or Green Bay Packers, each of which start elite quarterbacks. The reason quarterback controversy continues to have currency is the New York Jets. They have another one brewing between Butt-Fumble Sanchez and rookie Geno Smith. Remember Gino's, the second tier and no doubt defunct fast food chain? Not a watermelons to watermelons comparison because Geno is spelled differently than Gino, but fast food is delicious so I wanted to slip it in even if irrelevant. The Jets QB controversy boils day and night in the New York area and will not stop until the final gun fires ceasing the team's dreadful season marked by 11 losses and only five victories.
Eight: Encroachment. Who says watching football is mindless and you would be better off reading a book, which would stimulate the mind more and make you more money? I don't know who says it but there's a perception out there that you don't learn much watching football. This encroachment word contradicts that notion. Encroachment is a 95 cent word that means a defensive player has stepped across the line of scrimmage before the ball gets snapped. Think of it as invading the offense's space. You could read ten books over the next year and never come across such a high-brow word as encroachment. I believe it really means off-sides and it's never been clear to me how encroachment differs. Maybe the referees want to come across as erudite as English professors so they created the term encroachment when really it just means off sides. Cue this blog's commentators filling my in-bag with serious reprimands about how the two are not the same but are entirely different penalties.
Nine: The Purple People Eaters. Once again a violation of the one word rule this list set out to compile. But it's just like The Doomsday Defense except more colorful. Alan Page, Carl Eller (now a lawyer), Jim Wright and some other guy formed the Minnesota Vikings Purple People Eater defensive line in the 1970s. They didn't really eat people but they wore purple jerseys for home games, which in December were often played in the snow. Minnesota is cold then. I could go on and on about The Purple People Eaters but I figure you aren't a Vikings fan and would rather move on to word number 10 because you have other blogs to scan.
Ten: The Second Quarter. Not a fancy term but a memorable one. In the second quarter in their Super Bowl against the Broncos, the Redskins posted 35 points putting the game out of reach. Quarterback Doug Williams hurled TD passes to Ricky Sanders and some other members of the Smurf/Fun Bunch. I could be mistaken-though I doubt it-in saying these were the most points ever scored by a team in a Super Bowl. As this happened, I thought about my early days in Earth in the late 1960s when the Redskins weren't very good and how far my team had risen. I thought about the gaggles of New York Giant fans who no doubt watched as their NFC East rivals snagged the Vince Lombardi trophy. I thought about Joe Gibbs and Art Monk and Gary Clark and Monte Coleman. I thought about one word, actually three: Super Bowl Champs.