Per my nightly ritual, I put on my Tennessee Titans jersey, blacked under my eyes with tape and palmed my pigskin in anticipation of another episode of “Jeopardy.”

You see, I’m an expert in football, and what I witnessed made me cringe:


Is it possible to be a nerd and also a sports fan? Not according to the “Jeopardy” panel Thursday night.

As a legitimate hardcore football fan, I find the combination of difficult trivia and intense sports fandom to be complementary. My knowledge of chemistry, Greek mythology and pop culture is matched, in part, by a deep understanding of the strategies involved in American football.

In fact, many of my friends will send me text messages on game day with queries about the gameplay: “What is a nickel defense?” “Is ‘play action’ just a fake handoff?” “Why does the Penn State mascot look like a postmortem Teddy Ruxpin?

As we prepare for tonight’s Super Bowl between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots, I thought it would be a good idea to share some explanations of the common terms you might hear during tonight’s game.

These terms are all well-known to football fans but can be confusing to the casual viewer.

Tweet me with your football questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Action defense
An action defense is a defensive line that is encouraged to maintain action until pressed behind the 50-yard line before the first half is complete. Donny Torrino, the late Chicago Bears D-man (1982–87), was a master at this type of defensive play. His record of portion control at the line of scrimmage remains to this day. Not even Albert Fulhold, the star Dallas Cowboys OOB top D-runner, managed to knock Torrino from his throne. Watch for the action defense to be a pivotal part of the Eagles’ game early on.

Betty hash marker
A demeaning slur that has gained popularity among football commentators, “Betty” in this instance refers to an individual whose responsibility is to repair these hash markers. In a field (the griddle iron), yard lines are marked using “grass blades” that are either natural or synthetic. Hash marks are the white lines indicating yardage. The term “Betty” is ambiguous, but it is believed to be an inexplicably and unnecessary sexist commentary on a job that has no gender specification associated with it whatsoever. Regardless, you’ll hear it often from Chris Collinsworth, who is fond of using the tired phrase to refer to almost everything.

The confusing banjo play involving a pass defense technique with two defenders covering two defenders is made even more complicated when dealing with four on four. As a mandolin has eight strings, the four defenders are required to either maintain man-to-man coverage during a mandolin play (still four on four) or double-penetrate a single player with as much force as possible. Once a player is isolated by two defenders, those players will attempt to find as many holes as possible and penetrate them until a whistle. Players with known weak holes are particularly susceptible to the mandolin defensive operation.

Unintelligible receiver
Fans will be familiar with the ineligible receiver rule in which a player who is not on the line of scrimmage cannot catch a forward pass. However, a much more controversial penalty is the unintelligible receiver. A player might receive this penalty if he is difficult to understand because of a head energy or inflection. Referees tend to all be from the Midwest, where a neutral accent is pervasive. They often have difficulty understanding players from Louisiana, Texas, North Dakota and urban areas. In the case that an official cannot understand the vocalizations of a player, he may receive a penalty for being unintelligible. Listen closely. The penalty is called far more often than you think it would be.

Goldfish smuggler
Fancy trick plays are rare for a reason: They seldom work. But what if the reason a play existed was to not work? The Goldfish smuggler is called such after William “Goldfish” Gills, a former Kansas City Chiefs long snapper. As a child, Billy was known for stealing goldfish from visiting carnivals at various state fairgrounds and shopping center parking lots. His method was to scoop the fish and keep it alive inside a water-filled joey pouch he was born with. Even a pat down by officers would only result in some water. For several seasons, Gills would hide the football inside his pouch during special team plays. The practice was banned because of what officials called “an unfair advantage … Not every player has a joey pouch.” Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola is the first player since Gills to have a joey pouch. Will he use it? That’s the big question going into the game.

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