Wednesday, January 26, 2000

Facts prepare once-a-year football fans




BY MIKE LOPRESTI
Gannett News Service

        You are steeling yourself to watch the only football game you turn on all year. To you, the NFL is the Super Bowl, and all the other games on television are less appealing than Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.

        You look at football, and the terminology mystifies you. The strategy befuddles you. The language confuses you.

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        I share your pain. Not about football, but every time I look under the hood of my car.

        I am here to try to help.

        The Super Bowl is coming, and it's St. Louis against Tennessee, which happens to be in Nashville, but the team officials didn't want to tick off ticket buyers in Knoxville or Chattanooga.

        A few items that may come up as you watch the game:

        • The Tennessee Titans uniforms. Two-tone blue and white, and maybe you like them and maybe you don't. But here's the thing. The Titans changed to new uniforms this year — not to mention changing their nickname and stadium — and that makes it the fifth straight time an NFL franchise has debuted in new uniforms and made the playoffs that year. Clothes make the team.

        • Dick Vermeil. He's the 63-year-old St. Louis Rams coach. Took 14 years off from coaching when he burned out by doing things like sleeping on a cot in his office. His first two years back with the Rams were rocky, but now he is Missouri's favorite grandfather.

        • Quarterbacks. You know the position, but the men in this game are the best stories. Kurt Warner from St. Louis used to stock groceries in Iowa and play football in Europe before hitting it big in the NFL. Tennessee's Steve McNair is only the second black quarterback to start a Super Bow.

        • XXXIV. That's the number of this Super Bowl. You're right, it could be just as easily be called Super Bowl 34, but that doesn't look nearly as fancy on the $30 T-shirts.

        • The teams. The Titans used to be lousy. The Rams used to be lousier. The Titans also used to be the Houston Oilers, and the Rams used to be from Los Angeles. The Super Bowl participants next Sunday are a pretty good indication of how much the NFL has changed.

        • Two-minute warning. This is an automatic timeout whenever there are two minutes left in the first half or the game. Actually, two-minute warning is code for: A swell place to shove in a few more commercials.

        • Instant replay rule. If a coach thinks his team just got the shaft on an official's call, he can request that the play be reviewed by the referee. The referee then runs over to the sideline and gazes through an enclosed, hooded viewing hole at replays of the call and decides whether to change it. At least that's what they tell us. My own theory, with the way some referees are transfixed looking through that peephole, is that there are cuts from Sharon Stone movies being shown.

       



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