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Football in the analog days: Sunday morning musings about ye olde sports broadcasting

I happened to catch a clip the other day of a vintage football game, appeared to be from the 1960s or maybe early 1970s, and it got me wondering how the heck we kept track of the score, the game clock, the play clock and field position, among other things, when we watched TV football way back then.

Indeed, I mused, how dependent we’ve become upon those little arrows that tell us whether the team on offense is at their own, or their opponent’s, 10, 20, 30 or 40 yard line.

And I’ve tried, but can’t seem to remember, how we knew how much time was left in a particular quarter, or for that matter, what quarter the game was in?

Never mind how much time was on the play clock – I don’t think I knew what a play clock was until I started noticing two boxes, one at each end of the field, that kept counting down from 30 then resetting themselves after each play.

I’m guessing that was sometime in the mid- to late 1970s, and I also remember a TV camera would sometimes zoom in on one of the clocks, allowing us to see what only the officials could see on their wristwatch-like clocks up until then.

If I recall correctly, the TV folks by then had begun zooming in on the game clock more and more often, mainly during crucial points in the game such as a “two-minute drill” in a one-score game with time winding down.

It was around that time, according to sources I diligently researched, that the little direction arrows began appearing with the yard-line numbers in the NFL as well as major college football.

If you happened upon a non-major college game while Saturday afternoon channel-surfing – for most of us that meant standing at the TV and twisting a knob until something appears on the screen – and felt lost without the arrows, you weren’t alone.

I guess we were in the habit of listening closer to the play-by-play and color guys back then to tell us the stuff we couldn’t see on the screen. Not unlike today, some announcers were better than others, and also like today, there were a handful of really good ones at one end and some pretty bad ones at the other.

Speaking of which, I know he irritated many a football fan, but I always liked listening to John Madden, I guess because of his tell-it-like-it-is style, which I imagined would be a more detailed, much more earthy style if he was watching the game in a bar rather than wearing a microphone and sitting next to Pat Summerall.

Remember how Madden loved that sort of short-lived gizmo called a telestrator? Comedian and impressionist extraordinaire Frank Caliendo often jokes about it in his routines, which are worth watching for his spot-on Madden impression.

As for those little on-screen boxes that keep us apprised of the time, score and other stuff, I wonder what would happen if we tuned in one of today’s games and there was no “score bug,” as they’re known in the trade, or blue lines of scrimmage or yellow first-down lines?

I’m not ready to embark on such an experiment, but there’s one condition on which I’d consider giving it a try: If in exchange, someone could come up with a way, other than deploying excessive penalty flags, to convince players – especially at the NFL level – to “act like they’ve been there before” when they score a touchdown or even make what they think is a great tackle or highlight-quality catch.

I mean, sure, pumping up oneself and teammates before and at times during a game is a worthy exercise, and given the choice, I’d take an animated group of guys who celebrate big plays by hugging and bumping each other every time.

But seriously, is this “look at me! I’m awesome!” reaction to almost every play necessary? Or “helping” the officials by signalling incomplete pass when your opponent caught the pass, maybe because your coverage wasn’t what it should have been?

And maybe it would be wise to err on the side of humility after a big tackle, and forego jumping up, pounding your chest and wiggling for the crowd?

And maybe, just maybe, we may someday figure out how to reverse this growing trend of silly end-zone dances – hopefully before this newest fad of choreographed routines catches on.

Dean Shalhoup’s column appears Sundays in The Telegraph. He may be reached at 594-1256 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com