I'm calling this play's signals out of the shotgun. No, wait -- I see their lockdown corner is set for a corner blitz, and Sam, Mike and Will are in a 4-3 press coverage with their secondary in a cover-2. So I'll audible a pistol offense with a max protect and have my tight end try to work the seam or run a skinny post to beat the zone.
If you do not understand the smash-mouth locutions above, Super Bowl Sunday will be a mystery. You might as well jab away helplessly at the array of buttons on the handheld computer formerly called a clicker but which now orders up plasma transfusions to your monster screen or calls up images the size of a postage stamp on your cell phone.
For those whose football lingo is frozen in the past with game plan, the long bomb and even the Statue of Liberty play, lexical succor is here.
"If you're a quarterback," Tom Jolly, sports editor of the New York Times, informs me, "you're no longer expected to complete passes, you're also expected to manage the game. If you're a good running back, you want to get quickly to the point of attack."
What point is that in football? (In military lingo, it's the site selected for offensive action.)
"It's where blocking is focused for a running play. You'll hear `the tackle and the fullback cleared out the defensive linemen at the point of attack, and you could've walked through the hole for the touchdown,"' Jolly says.
And what defensive prisoner is in the lockdown corner? "It's a cornerback who the coaches are confident will be able to single-handedly defend any wide receiver," he says.
Who are the aforementioned Sam, Mike and Will? These are names whose first letters signify the position of the defending team's linebackers: strong, middle and weak. (The weak side has fewer offensive linemen on one side of the fellow who is pushing the ball between his legs to the game-managing quarterback.) The Mike who sticks to the area to which he is assigned is said to work well in space. (He began in grade school with a report card reading "works well with others.") The Sam or Will who recognizes the play and quickly gets to the man carrying the ball is said to "have excellent closing speed."
Some of these usages, my colleague Jolly cautions, reflect "coachspeak that hasn't yet risen to level of announcer jargon."
For a college-football term, I turn to Steven Lassan at ProFantasySports.com, who deciphers pistol offense thus: "This offense calls for a shorter shotgun snap, which allows more room for the quarterback to see, instead of being under the center, as well as more room in the backfield for running plays."
Both collegians and pros use the H-back, probably derived from halfback, a term fallen into gridiron desuetude. "An H-back is a tight end/fullback who blocks and catches like a tight end," Lassan says. It is where the player lines up that determines his description: "An H-back is a specialist who essentially plays two positions. Like a fullback, an H-back lines up in the backfield and does some blocking. But he'll also slip into the field to catch passes like a tight end. A tight end, however, lines up on the line of scrimmage."
Those of us familiar with old football slang recall the Hail Mary pass, thrown far down the field as if in prayer that it will be caught. Most announcers now refer to a more secular post pattern: "A typical deep post might be run by the receiver 30 or 40 years down the field," Eric Edholm of Pro Football Weekly tells me, "as he runs straight at the end zone then tilts in toward the goalpost, hence the name. But a skinny post is cut shorter and run more quickly, so it still can be used effectively when defenses blitz."