Super Bowl 2012: Open-air Chess Game, Disguised as Armoured Warfare
Strategy – Football – Chess connection
The strategy is synonymous with chess. If someone wants to describe an activity involving strategy, they often use chess as a metaphor. American football for example. You can rarely go through XLVI Super Bowl 2012 game previews without references to chess:
“Giants’ D prepping for chess match against Patriots’ tight ends,” Sports Illustrated.com
“While there are those of us who are eager to watch Super bowl XLVI this Sunday to see a form of brute force chess that will decide the league champion, there will also be viewers tuning in that care nothing about the strategic game of football (but spectacular halftime show promised to spectators by Madonna),” SportsNet.ca
“Defensively, you’re saying to yourself: ‘How are we defending that? Do we want a linebacker out there, do you want to bring a safety down?’ It’s a chess match,” SI.com
We see how football is described as a chess match. It may be because a lot more time it is spent thinking and strategizing than actually running plays. American football is a game of set moves (“plays”) and counter moves by 11-man teams. In that regard it is similar to chess more than any other modern sport. On the other hand, soccer and rugby are more free-flowing spontaneous games.
American football: Chess on a playing field
Although it traces its origins to rugby, American football has evolved in the 20th century as a uniquely North American sport. In the United States, football ranks as the national pastime, eclipsing baseball and basketball in terms of television revenues and ratings.
American football is a paradigm of the US culture. It is so deeply embedded in the American psyche of competition. The speed, the constant movement, the high degree of specialization, the consistent aggressiveness, and the intense competition typify American culture.
Here’s what Alistair Cooke, KBE (20 November 1908 – 30 March 2004), a British/American journalist, television personality and broadcaster wrote on American football in his Letter from America, January 1971 (Cooke’s journalistic output, among other things, includes these weekly 15-minute radio broadcasts on BBC Radio 4, which ran for 2,869 shows from 24 March 1946 to 20 February 2004, making it the longest-running speech radio program in history).
Letter from America, January 1971
“I’d better say that no American institution I can think of is worse understood abroad than American football.”
“British sportsmen who know their way around a rugby field, a billiard table and even chess board, succumb without a second thought to the facetious view of American football as a mindless bout of mayhem between brutes got up in spacemen outfits.”
“But it would not take more than a couple of weeks of careful instruction from a coach or a knowledgeable fan to realise that American football is an open-air chess game, disguised as armoured warfare.”
“It is the most scientific of all outdoor games. There is a lexicon of plays, known to any decent footballer as premeditated as the plays in chess, the Ruy Lopez opening, the Petroff Defence, the Sicilian Defence, the Queen’s Gambit Declined.”
“And most of these plays are learned for the purpose not only of using them but of declining them on the spur of the moment.”
“Hence the extraordinary and, to the foreigner, bewildering sight of men running off in circles and tangents with no apparent relation to the ball or the man who’s holding it.”
“For weeks before a big game the players practise these plays and feints and fake plays, and in the evenings they attend sessions of instruction in strategy and tactics, following hieroglyphics on a blackboard which, when once they were shown before a Princeton game to Albert Einstein, baffled him completely.”
“However footballers never forget that they are engaged in warfare and that the switch from planned to impromptu tactics requires them to break, twist, crash or swerve on a signal from a man 30 yards away or from a map of the game inside their heads.”
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The objective of both chess and football is to wear down and destroy the enemy. We do football and chess to study how warriors prevail. As they say, sports act as modern warfare (minus the blood).