I've wondered for a long time why football announcers occasionally say third down and "a long one" or "a short one." I wondered this especially as a kid when I didn't understand anything about fractions. If it was third and one, then I thought it had to be third and exactly one; and only the "third and inches" situations helped me understand that you might have third and half a yard, or third and one-and-a-half yards.
But even after understanding that much, I never understood as an adult why announcers sometimes use that same sort of language even when teams need a lot more yards for a first down. The announcers will occasionally say, "Third down and a long six," and it's like--why? If it's third and six, then that's what it is, and nobody cares if it's actually third and 6.2 or 5.7. And how would the announcer even know the difference anyway?--Isn't that a lot of yards to be able to eyeball?
Well, covering high school football, I'm starting to get an idea of the answers to those questions, and I'll start with the latter question: It's easy to eyeball the distance. You see that the first-down marker is at a certain point (say, halfway between the 34- and 35-yardline) and the ball is at the 28, and so you think that it's maybe third-and-six or it's maybe third-and-seven. And so you call it accordingly. Announcers who call it "a long six" or "a short seven" are doing the math as they call it.
Which is, I would think, hard for a casual viewer to understand. We're used to being told, on TV, what the down and distance is from somebody else, and I think the best announcers are told what it is by the best stats-keepers without any hesitation or without any qualifiers. But covering high school football, I have to keep a running box score, and so I am constantly having to do the math on the down and distance myself. So it is from that standpoint that the "long six" call seems understandable. Like I said, the best don't do it, but I understand where ti comes from.
And that is, incidentally, part of what's so fun about high school football. It has all the rudimentary parts of the huge show that is professional football--there are lots of roles for lots of guys who grew up watching football and now get to take part in it. I get to write the game wraps, a dozen other guys get to watch the plays up from the top of the press box where they can shout instructions into their headsets to the other guys who get to take that information down below and relay it to their players on the sidelines. Other guys get to referee; girls get to cheer on the sidelines ... high school games are a big show, modeled after an even bigger show, and at the risk of being cheesy (as prep sports writers often are--that's one of our charms) getting to participate is just a privilege.
Anyway. This week I'll be covering a couple of games with West Valley connections:
* Arleta vs. El Camino Real in a game played at nearby Monroe High School (because Arleta doesn't have lights), with the winner playing in the December 11 City Section Div. II championship. The semifinal is Friday night at 7 p.m.
* Palmdale at Mira Costa. Palmdale is the "Valley" team although they're not in the West Valley ... whatever, I"m going to drive down to Redondo to cover the game, this time Saturday at 7 p.m.