When he was calling the shots for the San Jose Bees of the California League, Rocky Bridges noted the three things the average man believes he can do better than anybody else: build a fire, run a hotel and manage a baseball team.
Bridges pointed this out in 1964, when baseball still was regarded as America’s national pastime. An updated version of Rocky’s Three Things quotation would replace “manage a baseball team” with “draw up plays for a football team.”
It’s not against the law to second-guess football strategy. For that matter — thinking here of two prominent instances involving fourth down, short yardage and the Seattle Seahawks — it’s not against the law to first-guess strategy, either.
A case could be made that second-guessing play calling is a natural way for fans to become engaged with the team they follow. Before the NFL emerged from the Dark Ages — which is to say, before the league recanted its policy of blacking out home games in local markets — criticism entailed a few grumps dialing up a lone postgame radio host with minimal appetite for controversy.
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Caller: “Hello, Roy? That quarterback out there today sure was lousy. He looked like he was trying to throw the ball to the other team. What do you think, Roy?”
Roy: “I really don’t think he was trying to throw the ball to the other team. I think he was doing the best he could.”
With few exceptions — most prominently, Cleveland’s Pete Franklin, whose acerbic takes broke ground in 1972 — football analysis on the radio was as vanilla as the ice cream on apple pie.
Fast forward to 2015. Thanks to social media and Internet chat rooms, everybody on the field is subject to an immediate performance review. If a guard whiffs on a block, if a linebacker misses a tackle, the world knows about it before the play is whistled dead.
Such scrutiny finds offensive coordinators under a microscope nobody could have imagined during that era when the most anticipated perk of Monday Night Football was watching the halftime highlight package of some of the games played the previous afternoon. The OC now is held responsible for just about anything that goes awry between the snap and the spot, and Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles has heard enough.
Referring to the complexity of play calling the other day, Bortles suggested armchair critics were akin to “a kindergartner saying something to a college kid.”
While the words seemed harsh and a bit arrogant for a second-year quarterback who has yet to establish himself as an efficient passer, the analogy was accurate: Those of us with no idea of the how and why behind an offensive scheme must sound like toddlers to the geniuses who assemble game plans.
But what’s the alternative? What would Blake Bortles prefer football fans talk about? Concussions associated with permanent brain injuries? Body-building drugs more advanced than the methods implemented to test for them? The violent behavior that draws ejections from games and arrests after them?
All these are pressing issues that demand attention, but some levity also is needed. Critiquing plays that don’t work, it seems to me, fulfills any definition of levity.
As does the Facebook message posted Monday by Marshawn Lynch’s mother, Delisa, who described Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell as “the worst play-caller ever.”
Another man might have been angry, another might have been hurt, but Bevell is a pro who understands the pitfalls of his high-profile job.
“I’m glad we have passionate fans,” he said. “It comes with the territory.”
Bevell realized there was nothing to gain by using an insult as a response to an insult, and turned the page.
If passionate Seahawks ever are tempted to cut Bevell some slack, another observation by the late Rocky Bridges comes to mind. It’s about devising a strategy, and the flawed execution of the strategy.
“I managed good,” Bridges insisted after a tough defeat, “but boy, did they play bad.”