On Sunday, the Super Bowl will draw a TV audience of more than 100 million people, spawn countless watching parties and generate a week's worth of chatter about the half-time show and the best commercials. But at the heart of it is a game one that Ray Didinger has been covering for decades for a variety of media organizations, including NFL Films.
Didinger has written 10 books and is currently an analyst for Comcast Sportsnet in Philadelphia. He tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies about his love of football, his respect for the game's players and the myth of the "dumb football player."
On why he loves football
I just found the strategy of it, the complexity of it, the intricacy of it I just found it fascinating.
Basketball, to me, looked like a simple game. Baseball, to me, was a game of cameos the pitcher, the hitter, the fielder. But football was one game that was the most inclusive. It was the truest team game. I mean, nothing happens on a football field if everyone doesn't have a part of it. You can have the greatest quarterback in the league, but if the guys up front don't block and the guys don't run the pattern or catch the ball, then that quarterback isn't going to win a game. Everybody has to contribute on every single play.
On his respect for football players
It takes a lot of courage to play this game. I've been around it now for 43, 44 years, working in newspapers and working at NFL Films for 13 years and now doing radio and television. ... One of the things I've taken away from it is a profound respect for the guys who play this game, because it is a violent game and the guys who play it have to accept that fact.
You can have tremendous talent, you can be big, you can be strong and you can be fast, but if you're not willing to go on the field and take the punishment, then you can't play. ... How good of an athlete you are will get you there, but it's your courage and your durability and your ability to play through that pain that will allow you to stay there.
On players needing to know all the plays
This sort of belays the idea of the dumb football player. I really don't think you can be truly a dumb guy and play this game at the NFL level. There's a lot of thought that goes into it ...
You could have the five guys up front or six guys up front all do everything the way they're exactly supposed to do; but if one guy doesn't get the play right or one guy goes in the wrong direction, all of a sudden he leaves a wide open gap ... that might cause the fumble, might cause the interception, might cause the play that breaks the game down. Everybody else did everything right, but if one guy breaks down then the whole play breaks down.