ESPN's Joe Theismann Explains The Science of Watching Football

THE national anthem has just finished and the coin toss will soon take place. You are all set for the kickoff, right?

Not if you are watching television with Joe Theismann, former Washington Redskins quarterback and commentator for ESPN.

Before the game comes on, Theismann is already out scouting - in the kitchen.

``I make sure I have the proper refreshments. This is important if you are going to watch a football game, because you don't want to run up at a key moment to get something else to drink or another bite of food, so you prepare yourself,'' he says.

Preparation means more than food. Theismann recommends watching the commentators (which means Joe) before the action begins.

Theismann, who owns a Super Bowl ring, claims there is a lot to be learned about the upcoming action. He personally spends about 30 hours a week studying films, talking to players and coaches, watching practice, and reading magazines and newspapers.

So, here's one early-season TV-watching suggestion from Theismann: Watch the kickoffs this year.

In the past, kickoffs were boring since 50 percent were booted so deep they were not returned. This year, the kickoffs have been moved back to the 30-yard line and the kickers can only use a 1-inch tee to get the ball off the turf. As a result, Theismann predicts 95 percent of the kickoffs will be returned ``so the opening kickoff of a football game can be a very exciting play.''

The first snap is about to begin. It's a pass play. Theismann's advice is to watch the number of steps the quarterback takes once he gets the ball. ``It tells me the depth of the route of the receivers,'' he explains. For example, if the quarterback only takes three steps, Theismann knows the wide receiver has only darted off the line about 5 or 6 yards to catch a quick pass. If the quarterback takes five steps, it is a 10- to 12- yard route, and if he takes a ``deep drop'' the quarterback will try to complete a bomb.

Maybe because he is a former quarterback with 12 years in the National Football League, Theismann watches the great quarterbacks like Joe Montana even on running plays. For example, he watches to see if the quarterback fakes after the hand-off to try to fool a defensive player.

If the call is a running play to the left side, Theismann concentrates on the defensive side away from the play to see if there is heavy pursuit of the runner. If the pursuit is hard, Theismann starts to anticipate a reverse play.

Throughout the game, Theismann says he is doing a little bit of coaching, along with millions of other fans.

``The great thing about what we do is that we are never wrong,'' he quips. ``On Monday morning no one is going to know I made a mistake.''

On the defensive side of the field, the former Notre Dame star watches to see how quickly the defensive linemen react to the snap. This may determine how much pressure they can put on the quarterback. And on some plays Theismann will ignore the play and just watch the defensive coverage of a great cornerback like Eric Allen of the Philadelphia Eagles. ``They're supposed to be good so show me,'' he says.

Assume the defenders are good and they stop the offense. Now, the special teams take the field. Theismann recommends just watching the player catching the punt. If there is a great run- back, he predicts, the action will be too fast to pick out individual blocks.

As the game progresses, Theismann starts to watch the sidelines. He calls that ``getting inside the game.'' For example, if an offensive line is playing badly, he watches to see if the coach is talking to the players. If there is no communication and things are bad, ``the guy's a lousy coach,'' he says.

Not only does Theismann sometimes disagree with coaches, he sometimes disagrees with other analysts. ``I'll say, `how can you guys say that, you are wimping out, the guy is really playing lousy,' '' Theismann says.

As the game draws to a conclusion, fan Theismann admits he loses any detachment he might have had if the game is close. ``I will jump up and down, scream and yell - go through all the emotions the players go through.'' Now that's the way to watch a football game.

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