A week of travel and my first American Football game

November 15, 2009

An interesting and very busyweeks. I took the bus from New York to boston by way of experiment. A break down resulted in my being stranded somewhere north of Hartford for a couple of hours, but I think I would do it again in preference to train or plane. It takes about the same time door to door, is comfortable and has free wifi. I enjoyed the one day seminar in Boston (an excellent conference centre for anyone looking for one) and moved on for a night with Mary Boone working on our book (which will extend the HBR article). From there to West Point for two days work with the Company Command team on what will I think be a powerful and interesting project. Friday night and Saturday however were a first for me, in that I attended not one, but two games of American Football.

The first was a a high school game, held in White Plains under extreme weather conditions. In other words it rained (well rain is an inadequate description for the downpour). Our team (by host’s sun was quarter-back) lost 35-0 which I must admit I thought unfair. The other side had two players who were larger and heavier than anyone else and played a limited crash-ball game. Our team at least attempted to run, threw some wonderful passes and all in all were unlucky.

PB140029.JPG The second game was an all together grander affair at the West Point stadium with the Army predicted to win easily but in the end they scraped a victory as a result of a very dubious review of a referee’s decision. Even the Army supporters around me were embarrassed, if grateful!

it rained (but not as badly) and I still don’t understand why American Football stadiums are open, even the meanest rugby ground in the UK has some shelter. Aside from the game, we had a lot of entertainment and an impressive rolling out of a massive flag (see picture) by a large number of West Point cadets. Every time the Army scored the largely male cheer leaders had to do a press up for each point (cumulative so it got worse as the score mounted) and flags were run up and down the ground (see picture). All around me stood up and sang the Army song every time they scored, all the mugs and the score board had permanent Beat Navy slogans, the cadets stood throughout and the atmosphere was incredible.

Now I have seen American Football before, briefly on the television but this was the first time I was at a ground and watched the entire process. Comparisons with Rugby are inevitable, as Rugby was the original game before it was “rationalised” by US colleges. I should say that I enjoyed the experience and plan to go again when in the US. Peter Kilner and his family were a great hosts, both for the project, the football and a chance to meet and talk with some of the cadets. As a result I was educated in both the rules and the culture. Now I will go again. but it will not replace rugby in my affections. Some observations with implied comments as to the comparison with Rugby:

  • I knew about defense and offense teams, but I hadn’t realised that there were specialist punt teams or realised the sheer number of players. Multiple teams each with double cover for each specialist position. There seem to be few if any utility players, everyone is a specialist.
  • Its a very structured game, you can predict what play the other team will do most of the time.
  • Its non-adaptive, if you kick (sorry punt) the ball down pitch and it goes loose then you go back and start again.
  • There is no contest for possession, you depend on the other side making a mistake. Ok your defense can encourage them to do it, but a disciplined team just advances.
  • You don’t loose possession if you are adjudged guilty of a offense and a penalty is awarded against you, the only loss is one of territory.
  • Fatigue is not really a factor as the game draws to a close
  • Statistics appear to be all important
  • The sheer number of referees is incredible given that the game is fairly static. All decisions result in a mini-conference and even then it can be appealed.
  • This must be one of the few sports where there is not a league for women, which surprised me.

So onto San Jose for KM World and the Navy Post Graduate School. Dare I use this picture to introduce my talk?

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