NFL trying hard to score fans Football: The league is trying a different tack this year to increase its national fan base. It's using a little more TLC.

September 07, 1997|By MICHAEL GRAY

Those folks at the National Football League are no dummies. Not any more.

The past few years, the NFL has plopped franchises into every Southern town with at least one stoplight, but meanwhile ticked off millions of fans in the older cities it's abandoned. Net gain: about 13 fans.

So this year, the NFL is trying something different. It's going to "grow" its fan base using a little more TLC. This fall, there will be NFL-sponsored flag football (co-ed!) for kids. There will be a new line of NFL "leisure wear" specifically for women. Heck, if you asked, they'd probably send Deion Sanders over to baby-sit.

Its real stroke of genius, though, is something called "NFL 101 for Women," an introduction to pro football featuring game films, talks by coaches and referees, actual equipment to try on, and (I told you these guys were no dummies) actual players to touch and hug.

I have to applaud this new effort. But it turns out that NFL 101 will be offered in just 10 cities. That leaves thousands more potential fans unschooled in the basics of football NFL-style.

So for those of you, male or female, yearning to know a nickel back from a quarterback, here's a quick primer covering the kind of stuff any would-be NFL fan should know. (Touching and hugging, by the way, are entirely optional.)

What will I see if I go to an NFL game?

NFL football is incredibly fast-moving and exciting, so much so that four 15-minute "quarters" of action take three hours to play. In stadiums proudly named for cellular phones and computer networking equipment, two teams of speedy 300-pound men dressed in tight pants, earrings and colorful helmets line up on a synthetic plastic carpet. Over and over again, they slam into each other as violently as possible. This continues until one player manages to maneuver around the others to the "end zone," where he demonstrates his most creative dance - always making sure his shoe brand is clearly displayed. The team with the most dancers in the end zone before all the beer commercials have aired wins.

Meanwhile, in the stands, thousands of men who have carefully painted their faces and bodies in team colors drink heavily and sing along with the music of gay '70s rock groups Queen and the Village People.

Are the rules as confusing as baseball's?

NFL rules are much simpler. Here are the basics: A gain of 10 yards in four tries is a "first down." No blocking from behind. Any player may try to decapitate any other player - except the highly paid "quarterback," who may only be accidentally decapitated. However, "taunting" a player you have just decapitated is strictly forbidden. Also, no beer sold after the third quarter, so drink up!

How about some cool football terminology I can use?

Here's a helpful list:

* Touchdown: a score worth six points.

* Back judge: like a referee, only different.

* Groin: much-discussed area of player anatomy.

* ACL: devastating injury to player's knee; could end a career.

* PSL: devastating injury to fan's bank account; could keep Junior from going to college.

* "Boom!": all-purpose term shouted on every play by broadcaster John Madden.

* Favre: Last name of Green Bay quarterback who, even though no longer gobbling painkillers, still pronounces it "farv."

What is the difference between Monday Night Football and the Sunday version?

Sunday football games are played on the Fox network, meaning you don't have to change the channel to catch "The X-Files" after the game. Also, impish broadcasters Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long offer a poignant glimpse at careers gone tragically wrong.

Monday Night Football, meanwhile, is played in "prime time," meaning even more hilarious beer commercials per broadcast and star announcers like "crossover" celebrities O.J. Simpson and Frank Gifford.

How will I know when I am a real NFL fan?

That's easy. 1) You find every beer commercial and Terry and Howie's antics absolutely hysterical. 2) You buy a PSL. 3) You can say "Favre" without thinking twice.

So where can I see an NFL football game nearby?

Surprise: right here! Despite rumors to the contrary, the Baltimore Ravens are in fact an NFL team.

Michael Gray, features news editor of The Sun, is still nursing that nagging groin injury.

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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