Monday, August 6, 2012

How Did They Get So Good?

Saturday the San Diego Surge defeated the Chicago Force 40-36 to win the Women's Professional Football Alliance 2012 championship.  The game was "televised" on ESPN-3 which I watched on my computer as a live feed because I couldn't find it on televsion.  

It was one great football game.  San Diego led early, then trailed going into the closing three minutes.  They scored twice to take a four point lead.  Chicago took over at their own five yard line with a minute-and-a-half left on the clock.  Three long pass completions and it was Chicago ball around the San Diego twenty-five with about thirty seconds left.  It looked like the Force would pull it out but a San Diego interception stopped the drive and sealed the victory for the Surge.

As I watched in some awe, I kept asking myself  how did they get so good? 

Let me quickly qualify my comments.  I've been following the Outlaws for several years and I am a fan and friend.  Lily Messina, one of the team founders, is high on a pedestal in my eyes.  It is amazing what she and her team have accomplished. 

It is incredibly difficult to field a competitive football team of volunteer players with annual turnover of forty percent or more replaced by rookies who may have never played tackle football in their lives, coached by volunteer coaches who are given limited time to coach because everyone has to go to work every day at a regular job. Season after season I've seen Lily produce teams with new faces on players and coaches and still ranking from good to very good.  The Outlaws always put on a good game. 

Nothing I say about the Surge and the Force and the Diamonds should be interpreted to diminish my respect for the Outlaws.  Rather, I am awed that these top tier teams manage to achieve such excellence while living with the same obstacles as the Outlaws.

How did they get so good?

I don't know.  Someday maybe I'll travel to Dallas and Chicago and San Diego and Boston and interview team owners. 

I suspect one factor is size of market.  The Chicago Force comes from the third largest city in the US.  San Diego from the eighth.  Dallas from the ninth - but if you include Fort Worth the combined population of the metroplex would rank them the fifth largest city.  Austin comes in at thirteenth. 

Having a large population suggests you have a larger number of prospective players and greater chance of recruiting serious talent.

Aside:  Outlaws will soon be recruiting for the 2013 season.  Now is time to start looking around you for women who are athletic, who are big, who are strong, who might enjoy being a part of this football experience.  In spite of best efforts to spread the word, there is still a majority of people in the Austin area who don't even know we have a women's professional football team.  Please spread the word.

My first observation Saturday was just how good these teams were.  A few more observations.

At this championship level of play, I saw fundamentals at work.  A fundamental of football is the player who gets lower has the edge.  If you can drive your shoulder into the mid-section of an opponent, you're going to control the opponent.  If you tackle around the legs you're going to be more effective than standing upright and trying to wrestle the runner to the ground.  This is fundamental football.  It is also (apparently) difficult to learn, difficult to coach.  In both teams Saturday, I saw tacklers meet the runner by dropping a shoulder and aiming for the belt buckle.  I saw blockers lining up lower. 

Another fascinating observation for me was the kicking game.  Or lack thereof.  Even at this championship level, kicking was a weakness.  I saw teams try to go for it on fourth and long because they didn't trust their punting.  I saw one team, don't remember which, try quick kicks in punting situations.  Rather than have the punter drop back and take the traditional two-and-one-half steps, they lined up in normal play formation.  The ball was snapped to the quarterback who quickly kicked it over the heads of the line aiming for an open spot in the defense backfield. 

Is kicking that difficult?  Yes. 

I've tried kicking and I can tell you it isn't easy.  Watching NFL and college kickers amazes me.  How do they do it?  In women's football kicking is a weakness.  Makes me want to go sexist and say women just aren't built for kicking.  But I've already admitted I can't kick a football and I'm a man.

My final observation was the passing game.  Both teams completed some long passes.  I was impressed at how far the quarterbacks could throw.  And at how well they were able to hit an open receiver.  But more than that, I thought about how difficult it is to defend against a good passing attack.  I suspect the defensive backs have the most difficult job in football.  They have to cover a prospective receiver and, ideally, stay between the receiver and the goal line.  Which is difficult because the receiver knows what route she's going to take.  If you're the defender, you are trying to be closer to the goal than the receiver, which means the receiver is behind you.  So you have to watch over your shoulder or maybe have a rear view mirror attached to your helmet.

Several times in the game Saturday the receiver had a step or two on the defender and the quarterback lofted the ball so only the receiver could catch it.  Who then romped to the end zone.

I didn't see either team practice the technique common in the NFL, of hitting the receiver before she gets started on her route.  Within five yards of the line of scrimmage, the receiver is just another player and the defender can "block" her, hit her at will.  If the defensive back can lay a good hit on the receiver before the receiver moves five yards, that can spoil her route, spoil the timing between quarterback and receiver, and give the defensive line time to rush the quarterback.  I didn't see defenders greeting receivers at the line of scrimmage. 

Note that after five yards it is a penalty for the defensive back to touch the receiver. 

It was a great football game.  Really fun to watch.  If we can get this level of play in all the WFA games, the sport of women's professional football could gain stature among sports fans everywhere.  If we could all be as good as the Diamonds, the Surge, the Force.  But how? 

How did they get so good?

1 comment:

Kara said...

San Diego got pretty good because they cannibalized players from a few teams around Southern California. You might notice how a few teams have basically dropped off the map (Quake, Amazons, Breakers) from either being a good team or simply having a team, to no longer competing or even having a team.