Every August coaches attempt to teach kids the game of football, but they generally fail at teaching them the three fundamental basics. Before we get to those basics, let’s be really clear about why football is different from other team sports.
In baseball, the defense has the ball, which is why pitching dominates. In basketball, you can score on every play. It takes years of practice before players develop the skills necessary to play either sport at a competitive level. Not so football. I have seen a foreign exchange student from Finland, knowing nothing about the sport, become one of the best cornerbacks in the state after just two months of practice.
Football requires the same thing other sports require— speed, strength, agility—but the game is structured such that athletes apply them with far less physical restriction and specialty. In baseball, your job is divided into specific categories, your defense restricted to the field, your offense to the plate, your speed to the base paths. In basketball you have to dribble to move.
Raw athleticism matters more in football. Are you tough, smart, agile, and aggressive? Because if you are, and you learn your job, you will excel.
Football starts with two jobs, not skills—JOBS—and you better learn to work these jobs with enthusiasm and grit. Those jobs are blocking and tackling. We tend to focus on players who throw the ball, run the ball, or catch the ball. We even focus on players that kick the ball more than we do the players that block and tackle, especially in the trenches.
Gee, I wonder why Winner and Gregory are so dominant in football…because they block and tackle, and to get good at both, they get strong and physical, they play you as hard as they can even if they never touch the ball the entire game. They drive you away from the ball carrier. That’s called a block. They wrap you up tight and force you to the turf. That’s called a tackle.
Why can’t Indian teams generally beat corn-fed teams? Because Indian teams don’t like to block and tackle. Their linemen don’t beef up in the weight room. The fans don’t cheer blocking and tackling.
Years back, up in North Dakota, a bruising fullback burst through the line, behind a great block, and nothing stood between him and a game-winning romp but a scrawny safety. The safety did not forget the game was about the ball, but the fullback did. The safety plucked that ball from the fullback’s hands, and then his quarterback took a knees and ran out the clock.
Block, tackle, but stay focused on the ball, keep your head in the game. That’s the third fundamental truth. The team that generally wins is the team that keeps the football and wears the other team’s defense out.
(James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)