Pigskin primer for first-time fans

Football 101

January 28, 2001|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,SUN STAFF

The Ravens are a first-time Super Bowl team, which means there will be a lot of first-time fans tuning into tonight's game against the -- anyone? anyone? -- New York Giants. So with the help of a few football journalists and other experts, we've put together this primer to help make Super Bowl XXXV make sense to you:

First, a little background ...

What got the Ravens to the Super Bowl?

"Without question, the Ravens are here because they have the best and most dominating defense in the league. Not only do they physically beat you, but they also take away your will to play. This group has perhaps the best front seven in football, and the most notable characteristic of this team is that the players all can run and tackle. It is a solid group." (Mike Preston, The Sun)

What got the Giants to the Super Bowl?

"A coach's guarantee, a quarterback's renaissance, a defense's brilliance and just plain, dumb luck. It was the Giants' turn to be the ridiculous team to make it to the Super Bowl." (Bob Glauber, Newsday)

Key factors

What makes Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis so good?

"He has a will and a determination to be the best to ever play the game at his position. He was bent on taking this team to the Super Bowl after his controversial off-season, and he stepped up his game to another level in the playoffs. His will and God-given abilities are a special combination." (Mike Preston)

Will the "genius" of Ravens coach Brian Billick be on display in the Super Bowl?

Actually, Billick's true genius may have been on display earlier this season, when he managed to keep his team together despite Lewis' murder trial and a demoralizing five-game touchdown drought.

How big a role do the officials play in the Super Bowl?

"The NFL officials are graded each week during the season. The top official in each position [there are seven] is selected to work the Super Bowl. The system of instant replay will also be used, as it is in every NFL game." (Leslie Hammond, NFL director of media services)

Penalties look like stupid mistakes made by players who should know better. Are they?

There are more than 100 kinds of penalties or rule violations, from violations of the game "dress code" (towels can be "only 8 inches long and 6 inches wide and must be tucked into the front waist of the pants," for instance) to intentionally hurting the quarterback, so it makes sense that plenty would be broken in the heat of a game. ("Football for Dummies," by former player Howie Long)

Watching the game

On the TV broadcast, how do they get that yellow line to show up on the field at the first-down mark? Can the players see it?

"The yellow line is a computer-generated graphic that `overlays' on the playing field. It is visible only to the television viewing audience and only when the action is shot from [certain] cameras on [one] side of the field." (Dan Masonson, AFC spokesman)

Explain instant replay to me.

Replay allows a disputed play to be reviewed on videotape to determine if it happened the way the officials on the field saw it. "Replay is applicable only on scoring plays, possession [of the ball] and sidelines, for the most part. Coaches can challenge up to two plays per game. In the final two minutes of each half, a replay assistant watching from a press box booth determines if a play should be reviewed." (Dan Masonson)

Does all this stuff make the game even longer? How can a 60-minute game take almost four hours to watch?

The typical NFL game takes about three hours to play, once commercials and breaks at the quarters and halftime are figured in. If the Super Bowl seems to last longer, it is probably because of all the fancy commercials that debut during the game.

"The Super Bowl, after all, has become equally renowned as a showcase for the 30-second commercials advertisers pay more than $2 million to place during the broadcast. Television breaks will be front-loaded into the game to diminish the repercussions of a lopsided outcome, which has given us the annoying pattern of having a commercial break, the kickoff, and then another commercial break, as if viewers needed a chance to catch their breath after those riveting seven seconds." (Brian Lowry, TV columnist, Los Angeles Times)

Why has Super Bowl Sunday become a virtual national holiday?

"I think it's the way that the NFL and the networks have promoted the sport for the last 25 years, and made it the most-watched spectacle on television. They have brought pro football into everyone's living room. The NFL has done the job with the product on the field, too. Parity has kept competition keen. But more important, they have worked with TV to make it a spectacle. The game is great, but the spectacle came from the marriage of football and TV." (Dave Motts, vice president, Pro Football Hall of Fame)

Final thoughts

What do the Ravens have to do to win?

Big defense. No turnovers.

What do the Giants have to do to win?

Big defense. No turnovers.

What can I say in front of my friends to look like I'm savvy on Super Bowl Sunday?

"It's gonna be a close game." (Paul McMullen, The Sun)

"Say, `You know there is a lot of parity in the NFL when the Ravens are in the Super Bowl.' Use the `p' word whenever you can." (John Eisenberg, The Sun)

"Try to use the phrase `X's and O's' a lot. That refers to the symbols used to diagram complicated football plays, but you don't have to know anything about the plays themselves. If you're standing near the buffet spread, for example, you could just casually say: `I don't really care about X's and O's, it's the intensity of the game that separates football from other sports.'

"Trust us on this. You won't get an argument from any of the Orioles fans in the room." (Peter Schmuck, The Sun)

"That Jason Sehorn needs to make big plays to get Angie Harmon on camera and enhance his own future in Hollywood." (Dave Goldberg, Associated Press).

"Are there any more jalapeno poppers?"

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