Friday, January 19, 2007

China: The Year of the Pigskin [Wall Street Journal]

Alan Paul of the Wall Street Journal writes a great piece in the Weekend Journal concerning the global reach of the NFL as it spreads its tentacles into China:

How many Chinese academics does it take to explain American football to their countrymen?

Eleven, so far.

While U.S. football fans will spend the weekend watching two teams advance to Super Bowl XLI, the National Football League is quietly laying the groundwork for domination of a different sort. Eyeing a toehold in a key growth market, the NFL is plotting its expansion into China.

The league spent much of last year holding tryouts and training camps to find two Chinese kickers qualified to attempt field goals on a pro squad. Next summer, the country will host its first NFL game when the Seattle Sehawks and New England Patriots meet for an exhibition game - dubbed the China Bowl - in Beijing's Workers Stadium. And to help the public make sense of the game they call "olive ball," the NFL has supported the efforts of 11 academics who have created a 300-page "American Football Encyclopedia.

The Wall Street Journal goes on to display what they call the Little Red Play book, and match up a football term with the Chinese equivalent. Some of these are hillarious:

Blitz - Lightning war against the QB
Hail Mary Pass - Miracle long pass
Onside Kick - Gambling kickoff
Play Action - Pass after fake run
Pocket - Protection arc
Punt - Give up and kick it back
Sack - Capture the commander in chief
Touchdown - Step on enemy's territory

Below the story by Alan Paul, Allen St. John writes in the "By the Numbers" section about a "surprising balance" in the AFC showdown this weekend:

The AFC Championship Game between the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots is shaping up as a battle between quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Giving the face-off a little extra drama: One star signal-caller can brag about his playoff successes...

...So entering Sunday's AFC Championship game, the Patriots have earned their place as the favorite, but maybe not for the reasons that most fans think. They outscored their opponents by 148 points, more than double Indianapolis's 67 point margin.

The biggest edge for Patriots coach Bill Belichick's squad comes on defense. New England's defense allowed only 237 regular-season points, second-best in the NFL. New England's aggressive secondary, which picked off 22 passes, second-best in the AFC, could give Mr. Manning problems.

Despite strong play in two playoff wins, the Colts defense is no elite unit. They allowed 360 regular-season points and having surrendered an NFL-worst 173 yards per game on the groun, could fall prey to New England's balanced running attack. A Colt defense that sacked opposing QB only 25 times - lowest in the AFC - should allow Mr. Brady lots of time to pass.

Don't be surprised if this matchup follows form, with Mr. Manning passing for more yards - and touchdowns - than Mr. Brady, but also throwing more interceptions. Mr. Brady's game plan, on the other hand is to avoid mistakes, let his teamates do the work, and earn another Super Bowl berth.

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