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What Do You Learn In A $50 Online Class About Football?

Offense, defense, and networking.

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Bajillions of Americans will watch the Super Bowl on Sunday, and many of them will be die-hard football crazies. Some, though, will be non-fans who will watch the NFL's title game because it's a thing everyone does. This year, that contingent is in luck: Udemy, a fairly credible-seeming online learning website, is offering a course entitled "How to Watch an American Football Game." I'm a lifelong fan of the sport, but I signed up and took it this weekend out of curiosity. (According to the site, 138 others had taken the class as of this afternoon.) Here's what I learned.

1. This Course Was Put Online By Patriots Fans

The class I'm taking is a tape of a lecture given to live, real students at the British Consulate in Boston, supplemented with some online materials. Pats references abound. At the beginning of the class, after a simple quiz, I'm given a set of links to click through, and the first one goes to a video from the infamous "Tuck Rule" game between the Patriots and Raiders in 2002. There are a lot of football rules that should probably be explained before that one. All of them, perhaps: the application of the Tuck Rule during that Patriots-Raiders contest is perhaps the most infamously incomprehensible officiating incident in the history of the sport. For shame, Patriots fans, letting your urge to gloat confuse these poor novices.

2. Football Is Pretty Complicated, Actually

The course is divided into four "quarters." There are two instructors: Diane Darling, author of "the definitive book on networking,", and former Boston College athletic director Gene DeFilippo. The instructors begin by explaining basics like kickoffs and first downs and touchdowns, moving on to penalties, offensive and defensive formations, and play-calling. You know the part about the various types of penalties is coming up because Darling introduces it while wearing an official's cap:


It becomes apparent that football is a difficult sport to thoroughly explain in an hour. We don't move quite as slowly as I expected, either: Early on, as DeFilippo breezes through a discussion of how teams can score points, one attendee asks if someone could explain what running and passing are. I assume there would have been more questions, but attendees were too polite to interrupt. For example, when DeFilippo mentions that teams can decline penalties, he never explains why that could be advantageous, and no one asks. If you think about it, it is pretty convoluted to come up with a game in which you can help yourself by letting the other team get away with cheating.

3. Understanding Football Will Help You At Work

It becomes clear early on that the purpose of this course is twofold: To explain the basics of football, and to use those concepts to improve one's networking skills. Some of it's a bit of a stretch, though. I'm taught that football is a popular conversation topic, which I suppose is true. Also fair: the section on terminology from football used in the business world: "You dropped the ball," for instance, or "Let's do an end run." Some of the connections to football are kind of thin, though. Here, for instance, are some "penalties of networking":

4. If Beyoncé Is Unavailable For The Halftime Show, The British Consul General for New England Will Do Just Fine

Just like the Super Bowl, the course has halftime entertainment: a conversation between Darling and Susie Kitchens, the British Consul General for New England. It's delightful. The audience is invited to toss out questions, and one attendee asks Kitchens if British people regularly make fun of Americans. Responds Kitchens: "We have the French, so not too much." After some banter about the way Americans speak and how hard it is to get a good cup of tea in Boston, the conversation turns to Kitchens' sole experience at an NFL game, the Patriots' home opener from this past season. "The theater of it was spectacular," she explains. "We were very high up, so what was actually happening on the pitch was a bit irrelevant to the whole experience." She adds, approvingly, "It took hours and hours and hours. You can eat four, five meals while you're there." Which, actually, is as fine description of a football game as I've ever heard. If the foreign expats and NFL newbies get nothing from the course except an appreciation for the combination of shouting and snacking, it will have been $50 well-spent.