In my view, all team sports are a simulation of warfare on one level or another. Some are just more explicit about it. All societies have the desire to compete (just as many individuals do) to be the best, to conquer the enemy. Team sports provide a way for us to pursue this without actually killing people or destroying stuff. We can scratch our itch for conquest and dominance every week, watching as our army invades an opposing city, or their army invades ours. When it’s over we can go back to work without worrying if our employer has been enslaved and our office reduced to rubble. It’s a good deal.
In all the dozens of professional team sports in the world, I can’t think of any that bears such a striking resemblance to actual warfare as American Football. In particular, it looks a lot (to me) like classic medieval war.
In no other sport is the taking and holding of territory an actual part of the game. While many sports (Basketball, Hockey, Soccer*, Baseball, et al.) are more or less continuous action, football has a very different flow. Consider that each war (football game) is divided into many distinct battles (plays) where your army (team) attempts to sieze terrritory (gain yardage) so that they may reach the opposing city (the end zone) and conquer it (score a touchdown). If you can’t breach the city (they stop the drive) then you lay siege (kick a field goal).
Instead of a bunch of people running all over the field, you have the soldiers line up and face each other on a skirmish line. Once the battle begins, it is the goal of both sides to break the enemy’s lines.
Downs have the effect of simulating attrittion. Like Napoleon (or Hitler) marching through Russia, if the enemy manages to dig in and stops your advance, then you’re screwed. You can’t sustain the attack forever. There is only one road to victory, and it leads through the gates of your opponent’s city.
The players wear armor and helmets, and mix it up with direct, deliberate physical contact. Sure, basketball has its share of elbows and pushing. Hockey has checking. Baseball has rude gestures that damage the self-esteem. But in football it is expected and inevitable that your players will use violence to advance your goals and frustrate the goals of the enemy.
Many other sports have key players and important positions, but I can’t think of one where a single althelete directly controls the rest of the team the way a quarterback does. The coach may decide overall strategy, but the per-play decisions are made by the man on the field. Injuring the quarterback (field general) is important not just for taking out a talented member of the team, but has the effect of crippling the leadership and damaging the morale of the enemy.
* Yes, I know Europeans get annoyed when we call their football “soccer”, but there is no other way to handle this without causing excess verbosity or confusion. Don’t be so thin-skinned.
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