Last night I watched Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, a documentary by Kevin Rafferty, about a single extraordinary college football game that occurred in 1968. I highly recommend this movie to anyone interested in the art of documenting the play of games, of any sort.
The film interweaves footage of the game - which exists as a single, no-frills, televised tape - with interviews of its players, who have been living with its memory for 40 years. The subtext is how profoundly a single game affected them that they could remember it so vividly; Rafferty frequently juxtaposes their memories with the filmed footage of the events they describe to prove this (as well as to display a couple of notable exceptions).
Structurally, it inevitably reminded me of our own Diplomacy episode, with the notable absence of any hovering narrator explaining the game's rules. The voice of the 1968's game's TV announcer is preserved, though, and becomes invested with an unusual poignancy when put into this film's context.
I assert that this picture is worth watching even if you don't care about - or don't know anything about - American football, but feel free to read Zarf's Guide to Watching the Football first if you wish (noting that it's optimized for professional playoff games happening four decades apart from this one).
Since I am American, I watched the football last night.
This is a lie. I did watch the football last night, but it was only the second time I have watched the football on the Football Sunday. I was an American all the previous times, but I didn't care about the football. I still don't care about it, but I had a good time anyway. I write this article to explain how you too can have a good time watching the football that you care about not.
Since I am an American, I am explaining about American football. European football doesn't need any explaining. The ball is round, it runs up and down the field, and the people all follow it. If the ball makes it all the way to one end, everybody yells. It's very obvious once you see it.
(The trick to American football is, it works exactly the same way. The ball is pointy but it's really the same otherwise. Now you know. The rest of this article is about how to enjoy watching the football.)
Locate a bunch of friends who plan to watch the football. Ask if you can join them. They might ask first.
There will be lots of food. Bring more food. Everybody likes it.
And beer. Explaining how to enjoy beer is beyond the scope of this article. (I don't.) Beer is such a complicated subject that, at several points during the evening, even the television will express an opinion on it. Ignore this.
Okay, ads. Some groups of people gather to watch the football, but secretly they're there to watch the football ads. With other groups, it's the other way around. You don't have to worry which group is which.
Find out which team your friends are going to cheer for. Cheering for that team is not mandatory. Cheering for the other team should be negotiated in advance.
Do not ask how the game works. This is a common mistake. Your friends will start by saying, "The offensive team has four tries to move the ball ten yards." You will nod, because that's straightforward, and then your friends will continue with ten minutes of uninterrupted High Martian gabblespeak.
This is perfectly normal. It's like Vancian spellcasting: you are a first-level football watcher, and so your brain can only retain one sentence of football. Once you work your way up to third level, you will be able to understand the second sentence, which is this: "Galanzaghire zel felvnic nil combustavlio der panta zel infeild flie rule."
Whenever anything happens, you can ask "What just happened?" All of your friends will immediately start explaining it. It's no bother. Really, you'll have more trouble making them stop.
Don't try to cross-reference the explanations with the rules you just heard. The critical point will always turn out to be what some guy did halfway across the field from where the ball was, or where some guy's knee touched the ground, or which way some other guy's elbow was moving.
Really. His elbow.
If you're really, really lucky, you will find a group of friends who can explain why stuff is cool. For example: that guy who ran the entire length of the football field? His job is to be a concrete wall. Sprinting a hundred yards is not his job. That was like watching a Formula One race accidentally won by the Hoover Dam. If you find a group of friends who can tell you that, stick with them. Get them to watch an actual Formula One race with you. Those are cool too.
That clock in the corner counting down? It's to the game being one-quarter over, not completely over. Also, it runs in football seconds, which are different. Pace yourself on the snacks; there's plenty of time.
Yes, those fans are waving yellow towels. I don't want to talk about it.
(I am an adoptive Pittsburgher now living in Boston, for all the sense that makes. This forced me to learn some things even before I started watching the football. I'll spare you.)
I don't want to talk about Springsteen's crotch either.
Speaking of crotches: yes, everybody knows how homoerotic this whole football performance is. You are among your own friends; only you can decide whether comments on this phenomenon will be greeted by enthusiastic agreement or sullen opacity. The men in shiny tight pants will be up on screen either way.
Jokes about "tight ends" are taken for granted, not spoken aloud. This is a token of solemn respect to the memory of George Carlin.
You may talk during the game, although people may interrupt you to scream at the television. You may not talk during the ads.
You are allowed to applaud a clever Coke ad even if you're drinking Pepsi. (The converse case would also be allowed, if it were possible.) You are allowed to applaud an ad for a product you despise. You are allowed to cheer a trailer for a movie that you know will suck.
That Land of the Lost trailer? Will Ferrell hates everything I ever loved.