Sunday, August 31, 2014

Football from a different angle

Because of circumstances beyond my control, I covered a high school football game for The Dispatch Friday night from an unlikely (disad)vantage point:

The sidelines.

Normally, I'm safely perched in a press box, pen in one hand, binoculars in the other, jotting down yards gained, passes caught, penalties assessed.

It's what I've done for nearly 40 years on Friday nights in the fall.

On this particular night, however, the press box was full. I arrived about an hour before kickoff, fully expecting a large crowd in the stadium and wondering if I'd have a decent place to park my car.

It never occurred to me that I wouldn't have a place to sit. But the handful of seats generally reserved for the print media were being used by radio and Webcasters (a sign of the times?) instead.

So I used my fallback plan: walk the sidelines.

Some sports lend themselves to coverage outside of a press box: I've covered baseball, softball and basketball from the stands, or even standing courtside in SRO moments, happily (sort of) keeping up with my stats.

Football is not so easy. Try standing at the 18-yard line when the quarterback unleashes a 33-yard pass; try counting off the yards on a 36-yard punt while running from the line of scrimmage to the punt returner; try following the game when you are standing on one sideline and the action is going on at the far sideline of a crowned field (was he inbounds? I dunno). Then try doing all this when you're 63 years old and it's 85 degrees on a late August night and heavily armored football players are bearing down on you while you're trying to do addition and subtraction in your head and the band is blaring away in your left ear.

It's not the best way to cover a football game. I think it's why press boxes were invented. You know. For the press.

At any rate, there was one advantage to being on the sideline: I saw up-close just how huge these guys are. A player who is 6-foot-2 looks at least a foot taller when he's in his football gear. From the press box, these kids are chess pieces on a game board. From the sidelines, they're 17- and 18-year-old behemoths, many of whom are somehow college-ready players. It's awesome. And a revelation.

You also get to hear the sounds of the game — the crashing of pads, the grunts of gang tackles and the agony of leg cramps. It really adds depth and color to the game that you might not otherwise get from a press box.

Depth and color are nice, by the way. They help to make stories readable.

It's just that you better get the story in the first place.

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