You’re not in the NFL anymore, Jim
One of the more intriguing aspects of the XFL—which doesn’t stand a chance of coming to the NFL—is how fans are given access to coaches’ play calls in real time. When a coach gives a play to a quarterback, that audio is fed through to the broadcast so you can hear that the offensive team is about to run “odd wiz, Z poster” or something. It’s unintelligible nonsense to most viewers, but a good color commentator will translate it into English. And if you’ve played enough Madden to recognize a few of the terms, it makes you feel like a genius.
That radical bit of transparency was news to Seattle Dragons head coach Jim Zorn, who was seen on the sideline during his team’s debut game covering his mouth with his play sheet so no one could read his lips, apparently unaware that you didn’t need to be a lipreader to know what he was saying.
Sure enough, Zorn had no idea his play calls were being broadcast to the world in real time. He told Scott Hanson of the Seattle Times that he was “absolutely shocked” to learn it was being broadcast live.
“I think it gave a fan a chance to hear and see something they’ve never heard before, but I felt very exposed,” Zorn said. “Information on a football team has to be guarded a little bit, so we just got it right out there. I know it had to be fun for everybody, but not super fun for me to reveal all that stuff. But I was glad I didn’t stutter or fumble the play calls.”
Similarly, DC Defenders head coach Pep Hamilton said he knew his calls would be heard on the broadcast but didn’t realize it would be used so often until he watched a replay of the game himself.
“I’ve been up overnight trying to change some of the calls,” Hamilton said earlier this week on a Washington radio show. “I think everybody in D.C. knows by know that ‘even’ is [running] to the right and ‘odd’ is to the left. So 3.3 million people know whether we're running to the right or running to the left.”
The abundance of terminology and how that terminology varies from team to team is part of what can make football so inscrutable to the average fan. What the XFL is doing by taking fans behind the scenes like this is to really help the game feel less mysterious. You can not only see a play develop after the snap, but also get a sense of how it came together in the huddle. From the limited amount of XFL action I watched last weekend, it was easily my part.
But while other changes to the game introduced by the XFL, like the adjusted kickoff and the transparent replay process, seem possible or even likely to be adopted by the NFL, there’s no chance in hell Bill Belichick or Sean McVay would consent to having his plays sent out to the entire world. NFL coaches guard those sorts of things like state secrets.
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