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A Celebration of All the Fun Little Things That Happen in an NFL Game

If we’re lucky on Sunday, we might see a quarterback angrily unsnap his chinstrap, or a runner point out a defender to block, or a premature celebration, or a 300-pound lineman return a kickoff

During the first quarter of the NFC championship game, Patrick Robinson intercepted a pass attempt from Case Keenum on the left side of the field. The play should’ve probably ended there, but Robinson, a slippery and elusive runner, was able to wiggle his way out of the nest of players to break free toward the right side. As he reached the middle of the field, he scanned for potential threats and for potential help. He saw there were three Vikings nearby in pursuit and one Eagles player sprinting into the play. He took measure of all of the angles and variables, insta-calculated what he needed, and then made a decision: He pointed at one of the Vikings.

The one he chose was running back Jerick McKinnon, and he chose him because he was the most threatening in that particular situation (the other two players in pursuit were linemen, and so they were never going to catch him, anyway). His Eagle teammate, cornerback Ronald Darby, saw Robinson point, and he understood immediately what he was supposed to do. He ran right at McKinnon to block him, and McKinnon definitely got the better of the exchange, knocking Darby clean off his feet, but the mission was a success. He slowed down McKinnon just enough to allow Robinson to get around him, springing him free for the touchdown. Here’s Robinson pointing at McKinnon:

Patrick Robinson

I love this play. I love all of its parts. I love Robinson being smart enough to know to tell Darby where he wants him to go. I love Darby, without words or planning, understanding what Robinson wants him to do as soon as he sees him point. I love that McKinnon knows that the block is coming and that there’s really nothing he can do about it so he just crushes Darby for it. I love Joe Buck calling the play, shouting, “Patrick Robinson back the other way … Looking for a block … Gets it!”

It was my favorite moment of championship weekend this season, for sure. Same as we did for baseball and basketball, let’s do more football things like that; fun little things that happen quickly and never get celebrated enough because everyone is too busy celebrating the big plays and elaborate touchdown celebrations and so on.

  • Since we’re already talking about interceptions: A great little thing that happens after a quarterback throws an interception is he angrily unsnaps his chinstrap as he’s walking toward the sideline. It’s, like, the third overall best quarterback thing. (First place is the money you make.) (Second place is you get to tell everyone that you’re a quarterback, probably the most iconic of all the sports positions.)
  • And since we’re already talking about quarterbacks: A little thing that’s very cool is when, right before the ball is hiked, the quarterback starts shouting about who the Mike linebacker is. (Near the end of my first year of being an assistant coach for a middle-school football team, we were playing a game and the head coach was yelling out onto the field about the Mike linebacker and one of the players on the sidelines—this sweet, dorky kid with big eyes and bigger teeth—tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Coach, why are there so many linebackers named Mike?” He thought Mike linebackers were just linebackers named Mike. I laughed.) (The gag of it was I had no idea what a Mike linebacker was at the time. I asked the head coach on the bus on the way home what a Mike linebacker was. “You’re a football coach and you don’t know what a Mike linebacker is?” he asked. I said, “I mean, it’s my first year.” He did not laugh.)
  • Another good quarterback thing is when the stadium is being very loud and he has to cover his ear holes in his helmet so he can hear the incoming play call. (This move is the cousin of when a quarterback waves his arms to let the people in the stadium know he needs them to be quiet.)
  • A sneaky little good thing is when a receiver makes a toe-drag catch on the sideline and if it’s on the other team’s sideline then all of the people there start emphatically signaling the catch was incomplete (no matter how clearly it was complete), and if it’s on his own sideline then all of the people there start emphatically signaling the catch was complete (no matter how clearly it was incomplete). It’s important to have friends who will both hate your enemies and support your efforts without regard for facts.
  • And since we’re already talking about toe-drag catches: I really like the way the little black pieces in the AstroTurf get flicked up into the air as the receiver drags his feet. It looks cool when they show it in slow motion. It’s a cool little flourish, and gives you a very satisfying feeling, for some reason.
  • It’s always fun when someone who doesn’t normally have the football ends up having the football. Probably my all-time favorite Why Do I Have The Football In My Hands Right Now? moment was in 2010 when, during a Patriots-Packers game, a New England offensive lineman named Dan Connolly ended up fielding a squib kick with a little over two minutes left to go before halftime. The kicker kicked it, and Connolly saw it bouncing across the turf, then he ran over and picked it up like how a bear might pick up a ham, then tucked it into his chest and ran straight toward the oncoming wave of tacklers. He very clearly looked like he was expecting someone to crash into him, except literally not one single person did (this, I would guess, had something with him being a 6-foot-4, 300-plus-pound giant sprinting straight forward; it’d have been like trying to tackle a Toyota Tundra). He made it past the first group of Packers, somehow found the edge, then did his very best to turn on the big engines to speed up. The crowd immediately exploded when they realized he’d made it into the open field, and one of the announcers shouted, “Oh! You’ve gotta be kidding me!” and the party was on. He 18-wheelered his way down the field, running through a few different arm tackles, and all the while everyone in the stadium was losing their shit. It was so much fun. It was one of those moments when, without even thinking about it and without really having a reason, you just jump up and start screaming at the TV. He somehow made it 71 yards (!!!!!!!!) before getting brought down from behind at the 4-yard line. All of his teammates went bonkers, the announcers took turns guffawing and laughing at the preposterousness of what they’d just seen, and Connolly collected his high-fives and helmet slaps. Here’s the whole play:
  • A wild thing is when someone’s helmet comes off during a play and they just keep on playing like everything is good and normal. If somebody ripped my helmet off my head during a play then I’m putting myself on the injured reserve list for six months. (A guy that I worked with when I was a teacher used to swear that white players dominated the Making Plays After A Helmet Is Ripped Off During Play category, which is something that I think might be both racist and not racist at the same time. I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that when J.J. Watt sacked a quarterback in 2015 after he’d had his helmet yanked off he sent me, like, 20 fucking text messages in a row about it.)
  • Celebrating too early is funny literally every time, though I’m not sure if it’s the funniest when (a) a player drops the ball too early before getting into the end zone, (b) a player slows down as he approaches the end zone because he doesn’t realize that someone is behind him and then that someone ends up tripping him up, or (c) a player makes a big catch or a big run and then jumps up and spikes the ball but he wasn’t touched down and so really what he just did was willingly fumble it.
  • This one might be too niche, but I really like to try to will a football over the net and into the stands when someone is kicking a field goal. (Are you allowed to keep the ball if that happens, or do you have to give it back?)
  • And since we’re talking about kicks: A similar fun thing, right before an onside kick, is to try to guess at what kind of onside kick it’s going to be. (The best one is when the kicker kicks it straight into the ground so it pops up into the sky, creating a very specific kind of thunderdome.)
  • It’s really funny when players get mad when a referee gets in the way of a play. Imagine that. Imagine you’re a referee and you just got whipped in the face with a 65 mile-per-hour pass from Aaron Rodgers and your eyeballs have been knocked down into your throat and someone’s mad at you for it having happened to you.
  • It’s really funny when, following a fumble, a player is so excited that he gets up and points the wrong way as he’s trying to signal his team has possession.
  • The thing where, immediately after a frustrating loss, the head coach just takes off his headset and drops it on the ground without even bothering to try to hand it to someone is always great to see.
  • I like when a player tries to tackle another player just by holding onto his jersey and so after the play his jersey is stretched out all long.
  • A very elite thing is when, following an offsides/false-start call, the offensive linemen and the defensive linemen all jump up and point at each other for a few seconds. (We never talk enough about how snitching on people is something that is almost unilaterally and unanimously considered a bad thing, except for during sports, during which players spend a good 60 to 70 percent of the time trying to tell on other players.)
  • A fun thing is when there’s a fumble and everyone is on the ground tussling around for the football and the refs run in and they’re peeling guys off and all the players are yelling and shoving each other and then the camera pulls back and there’s a guy with the football jogging away from the fray holding the ball up and nobody else in the fumble war zone even knows the ball is gone.
  • I like it a lot on kickoffs when the person returning the kick catches it in the end zone and he waits a few seconds before he downs it, forcing the defense to run all the way down to him just in case he actually decides to run it out. (Another good kickoff thing is when the kicker kicks it out of the back of the end zone and you watch it happen and go, “How can this guy kick the ball 80 yards on a kickoff but he can’t kick a 60-yard field goal?”)
  • It’s cool when a player loses the ball after a play is over and everyone knows it’s not a fumble but someone still picks it up and runs it to the end zone because, I mean, why not.
  • One of my very favorite things is, as the players are getting set to run a play, the receiver points at the referee to let him know he’s the one who’s on the line that play. It’s very charming.
  • And since we’re talking about charming things: It’s kind of the cutest thing when a player gets tackled into the turf and when he gets up his jersey has been pulled down over one of his shoulder pads and so one of his teammates comes over and helps him fix it, same as it’s kind of the cutest thing when a player gets tackled into the turf and he has dirt and grass mashed into his face mask and so one of his teammates helps him pick it out of there.
  • It’s cool when a player does a seemingly weird thing during a game and no one knows what’s going on for half a second and then someone realizes that he just took advantage of some odd rule to help his team out some. (An example: When Randall Cobb was back fielding a kickoff for the Packers and the opposing kicker made a great kick that killed the ball inside the 5, but Cobb, recognizing that it had rolled kind of close to the sideline, stepped out of bounds with one foot before grabbing it, technically meaning the kick had gone out of bounds, which moved the ball forward up to the 40-yard line.)

The Super Bowl is going to be fun.

Unless the Patriots win.