MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Adding science to the backs v forwards session

Don’t ask me why I never thought of this before, but at least I thought of it now, kind of, so that’s progress.

With my usual gift for timing, I only stumbled across the Freakonomics podcast on the Super Bowl this week, a handy fortnight after the actual event it was discussing.

The idea was a neat one - to get former American football players to discuss what people should watch for, whether they were settling down for their once-a-year fix of the sport or hard-core fans bringing a high level of appreciation to the event.

Among the points made was this, from John Urschel of the Baltimore Ravens, when host Stephen Dubner asked whether offensive linemen or defensive linemen get more fatigued in games (Urschel, it should be pointed out, is an offensive lineman.)

“Defensive linemen, certainly,” said Urschel,

“Because they have to run to the football. So an offensive lineman’s job is, ‘I’m blocking this man and I’m stopping him from either getting to the quarterback or getting to the running back’, and while his job is to get to the quarterback or the running back, you know I’m blocking him.

“Suppose the running back runs all the way to the other side - eventually he’s (the opponent, a defensive lineman) going to get off my block. He’s never going to get to the guy but he still has to start running in that direction. 

"If the quarterback throws the ball and a receiver catches it, well, I’m not much good downfield. I’m running downfield, but the defensive lineman has to sprint downfield to try to help to make the tackle. So they get tired much more quickly than we do.

“Also, I think there’s some fatigue involved in not knowing what’s happening. So we have to always be going, always be aggressive (but) whereas I know the play I know what’s going to happen, they have to figure this out.”

Dubner then chimed in: “That’s such an interesting point, because there’s a lot of social science research psychology, particularly, that shows that uncertainty is exhausting.

“And people make really poor decisions under uncertainty . . . for anyone on the defence I guess you’ve got that doubt all game long.”

That doubt, or what Urschel called “this constant uncertainty”, is something that never occurred to me, poor benighted fool that I am.

Granted, in American football, with its repeated set-ups, that becomes more of an issue when the opposition have the ball and the defensive players must try to work out the physics of stopping them on the fly, but it surely applies to all team sports with a defensive/ offensive element, which surely means all team sports.

It opens up any number of interesting avenues. 

For instance, team formations in field sports tend to be more positive and attacking early on in the sport’s evolution before becoming more defensive over the years: is there an intuitive drift towards taking the initiative in those early days because something tells us that Urschel’s “ constant uncertainty” wears away at an athlete’s mental stamina?

Then there’s the interesting comparison between the mentality of what you might term “the natural forward” - instinctive, creative, improvisational, decisive, free-thinking, individual, unpredictable - and “the natural defender” - solid, reactive, counterpunching, co-operative, logical, reasoning, dependable.

The compartmentalising of American football enables Urschel to make those generalisations about fatigue in defenders, but it’s a reasonable point with solid deduction behind it. 

Soccer, rugby, Gaelic games, hockey and so on may not have that kind of demarcation, but for this observer some of his points bear application in those sports also. 

By the way, it shouldn’t come as a surprise Urschel makes such a persuasive case. 

When he’s not bashing heads for the Ravens he’s studying for a PhD in applied maths at MIT.

When he says offensive linemen are clever, he has the evidence to back him up.

Kilkenny show class - off the field

Last weekend in Nowlan Park we were sitting in our eyrie when Kilkenny personnel handed out cards with the WiFi password and other details, including the note “no time restriction” on using an indoor heated workspace after the game.

I know the travails of the fourth estate are not what you need over that fruity scone and creamy coffee this morning, but I repeat that good news here to offer you a glimpse of what common sense looks like.

In other venues a chap often comes into the press area to say he’s shutting up shop, and sometimes volunteers the length of time he has been in the venue - from early morning, usually. 

When asked if another 20 minutes can be spared before the doors are locked, the reaction is not always benign.

County officials sometimes tell reporters such staff members are volunteers and it’s unfair to hold them there for an unfeasibly long time. 

Why another volunteer doesn’t come on board mid-afternoon to relieve the chap who’s there since the morning, I don’t know. But I do know in Kilkenny, for some reason, that having hacks around for an extra 20 minutes or half an hour doesn’t make the sky fall in.

Film noir and the Waterford connection

A clip of film has been found which supposedly shows the great Marcel Proust, his only appearance in moving pictures.

Which puts me in mind of the recent suggestion that a person in the movie Double Indemnity sitting outside Edward G. Robinson’s office is in fact Raymond Chandler, who co-wrote the screenplay - that being one of the Waterford man’s few appearances in moving pictures. 

If you thought that whole set-up was an excuse for me to write a sentence with the words ‘sitting outside Edward G. Robinson’s office’, then you know me too well.

Tom Brady and the art of talking nonsense

I don’t want to keep shooting fish in a barrel (though what else is a sports column for, you say) but only when NFL star Tom Brady stops talking nonsense will I take a break.

Until then, consider this from Brady, as quoted in Sports Illustrated: “That’s why I want to keep taking care of what I need to take care of. That’s what it comes down to. 

"I want to take care of Tom Brady. I want to make sure Tom is available to the team, Tom is playing at a high level, so the team wants to keep him.”

Presented without comment.


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