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Book Review: A Sportscaster’s Guide to Watching Football: Decoding America’s Favorite Game by Mark Oristano

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Football isn’t my life but I do enjoy following it – to an extent. I’m not even sure if I could explain why I follow it at all – I didn’t go to college, I’ve never played the sport professionally. Of course, I was born in Texas. Football is big in Texas, you know. It’s in the air and in the blood. At any rate, the sport is a fun diversion on the weekend. And that’s where Mark Oristano’s book, A Sportscaster’s Guide to Watching Football, comes into play.

Here, let Mark tell you first who this is not for:

“If you’re a rabid follower of the NFL draft, go away. … If you live and die for the NFL Scouting Combine and you recap forty-yard dash times with your co-workers around the water cooler, find another book to read. … If you’re into fantasy football, you probably know ore than is healthy; go back to your virtual browser …”

You get the idea. Football experts (or those who are just convinced they are) need not waste time thumbing through Oristano’s small 146-page tome. For those with passing interest in the game or people who know a crazy fan and want to understand their obsession, this book could help.

Here’s why I wanted the book; perhaps that can help you decide whether it’s something you want. I’ve been a Dallas Cowboys fan since … well, as noted above I was born in Texas so being a fan of big D was basically a given. I also loved the Houston Oilers. So, I’ve always followed the Cowboys (even this year despite its horrendous embarrassment factor).

Their game is the only one I watch every week. I follow scores and updates on other teams that I’m slightly partial to and I’ll occasionally watch a Houston Texans game. I’ve gained some understanding over the years just by watching, but Oristano’s book promises some further, simple insights. Plus, Oristano spent time as a broadcaster for both the Cowboys and the Oilers.

He includes experiences and anecdotes from his 30 years of broadcasting. Some of these, for example an interchange between Charlie Waters and Charley Taylor in an endzone, shed some light on the attitude of players on the field.

In addition to those experiences,Oristano breaks down the positions on offense, defense and special teams and explains some of the basics about coverage. He even explains the numbering conventions for each position. And his information helps. It helped me learn to better identify man and zone coverage by watching one simple action on the part of the offense. I have more appreciation now for the sideline route and the geometry of football. And also for the quarterback – he’s got a lot of assignments to keep track of, to be sure. Oristano also talks about the ref’s and the rules.

Oristano keeps a conversational and humorous tone throughout the book. He emphasizes that this is, after all, a sport, a game. Don’t take it too seriously.

After reading this book – which should only take a couple of hours, really – I went to watch my weekly Dallas game. It was the November 7 Green Bay debacle, easily one of the most embarrassing games I’ve ever watched. It became apparent in the middle of the second quarter that Dallas was not going to pull this game out.

So I spent the rest of the game telling my friend about what I read in Mark’s book and trying to pay attention to the things he mentioned: how the offensive line acts after the snap, the man in motion, I watched for good or bad blocking. As is pointed out in the book, sometimes watching the big picture and looking for these various nuances can take a while, some practice. I was glad I had his exercises to keep me occupied during the game.

So his book can be useful, whether you’re team is winning or losing. It helps you appreciate their good job when winning and distracts you while they get pummeled. Maybe it’ll even help you impress that football fan in your life.

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About Gray Hunter

  • http://etierphotography.blogspot.com/ fcetier

    I hope Oristano did not use the term “lateral”. It’s often used by announcers and un-informed fans in place of “backwards pass”.
    “Lateral” is nowhere to be found in the rule book and it’s use is a bit of a pet peeve of mine.

    Was he at least neutral regarding officials?

  • Gray Hunter

    He defended the officials, actually. He points out that the game is fast, the players are big and violent and the ref’s deserve respect because they do the best they can with the imperfect human skills they have and maintain order on the field.
    “Lateral” is not in the glossary of the book and I don’t recall it in the rest of the book either.