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If It's Sunday...It's An Explanation Of Football Metaphors


First Posted: 10- 5-08 08:35 AM   |   Updated: 11- 5-08 05:12 AM

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Flutie Hail Mary

Last Friday, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer rendered his verdict on McCain's chances to win the election - he hadn't any.

Obama has shown that he is a man of limited experience, questionable convictions, deeply troubling associations (Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers, Tony Rezko) and an alarming lack of self-definition -- do you really know who he is and what he believes? Nonetheless, he's got both a first-class intellect and a first-class temperament. That will likely be enough to make him president.

Along the way to that conclusion, Krauthammer cited McCain's responses to events along the campaign trail with a football metaphor, finding the Arizona Senator reliant on too many "Hail Mary" passes.

Krauthammer's Hail Mary Rule: You get only two per game. John McCain, unfortunately, has already thrown three. The first was his bet on the surge, a deep pass to David Petraeus who miraculously ran it all the way into the end zone.


Then, seeking a game-changer after the Democratic convention, McCain threw blind into the end zone to a waiting Sarah Palin. She caught the ball. Her subsequent fumbles have taken the sheen off of that play, but she nonetheless invaluably solidifies his Republican base.

Naturally, I have the same old substantive complaint with the way Krauthammer, and McCain, continues to capture, and metaphorize, the "Surge." I hardly think that the demonstration of the efficacy of troop reinforcements constitutes a "Hail Mary." One would think that the tactical advantage of reinforcements is a long-since-proven notion. Now, suggesting, as Krauthammer might, that the "Surge" effectively zeroed the balance of the Iraq War and remade a losing strategy into a winning strategy...well, that's a "Hail Mary" all right. But it's one that's fallen incomplete.

That said, my larger complaint is this: ivory tower elites like Krauthammer need to stay the hell away from using football metaphors! If the pass to David Petraeus was, indeed, a "Hail Mary," then what's with all of this running it "all the way into the end zone?" By definition, a "Hail Mary" pass is one that's thrown as close to the end zone as possible. Strictly speaking, there should be very little running. Observe this, the sine qua non of Hail Mary passes, thrown by Doug Flutie in the 1984 Boston College-Miami game.

Not much running there, is there? Krauthammer seems to get it right the second time, but he doesn't realize that there should be no "subsequent fumbles," because the "Hail Mary" is always thrown at the end of the game. Or, as Matt Yglesias explains: "It's important to note, however, that the logic behind the play depends crucially on the fact that a football game is a zero-sum enterprise with bivalent outcomes." OKAY! Let that be the last time the word "bivalent" is used to describe gridiron exploits!

Now, if you have only a few seconds on the clock, and you aren't going to be able to chuck it into the end zone, one can call a play that features "running the ball all the way to the end zone": the "hook-and-lateral." Here's a video of Boise State University using the play to score a late, and critical touchdown in the Fiesta Bowl.

I've seen this play used as a go-for-broke option at the end of games, deployed as a desperate gamble to win. The play relies on misdirection, which makes it ideal for warmongering neo-conservatives. That said, I wouldn't use this as a metaphor for the McCain campaign. They change directions an awful lot, but in a haphazard, improvisatory fashion, without care or concern for contradicting themselves. They more or less remind me of the type of chaos you see unfolding here:

So, look, there remains reason for hope in the McCain camp I guess. I have a feeling, though, that their opponents are made of sterner stuff than the 1982 Stanford Marching Band. Evidently, Krauthammer agrees.

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