Monday, October 29, 2012

Backfield in motion (gonna have to penalize you if you don’t know what that means)

Outplacement, in my experience, means cleaning up your résumé, thinking through what you want to do with the rest of your life (other than the obvious of ‘find a job’), talking with generally sympathetic and maybe even helpful counselors, and commiserating with a bunch of strangers who are pretty much in the same boat you are. Plus, it gives you a way to ‘go to work’ when you don’t actually have a place to ‘go to work.’

Essex Partners focuses on career advisory for senior executive/C-level folks who, these days, apparently have to really hone their networking edge. Part of that honing involves knowing something about America’s favorite sport which – alas – is not baseball, but football.

Having logged many years in American business, I certainly recognize that it’s helpful to know at least a bit about football, if only so you’re up on who won your team’s last game (plus Sunday, Monday, and Thursday night football, plus all the playoff games). And so that you get the sportive metaphors. (Most of which should be blocked.)

At minimum, I would think that everyone who expects to carry on a full coffee break conversation (as opposed to a hastily mumbled one-line comment), or who wants to follow what the boss is talking about without going duh! blank,  might want to make sure that that they can throw a few terms into the conversation, even if those tosses are pretty much intentional grounding. Ones that might prove especially useful – in my play book – would include quarterback, interception, touchdown!, fourth down (and fourth and long), go for two, block and tackle, blocked kick, blitz, sacked, punt, x’s and o’s, sudden death, Hail Mary pass.

Anyway, Essex Partners recently had a session aimed at helping football-challenged business folks get the lingo down so that they can become, if not knowledgeable enough to intelligently play the pool or coach their own fantasy football team, fluent enough to make morning after water cooler talk.

They brought in Gene DeFilippo, Boston College’s former athletic director to lay out the basics.

“This is a football field,” the instructor said. The class studied the slide as if their futures depended on it. And they might. The students enrolled in “Water Cooler Football: Learning the Game for Fun and Networking Success” were mainly unemployed senior executives, and in a rocky economy, job seekers need every advantage. (Source:

Hard to believe that there are folks who made it to the senior echelons of American business without recognizing the old gridiron, but there you have it.

Understandably, some of the non-cognoscenti are from elsewhere:

“I grew up with soccer,” said Gunther Winkler, an Austrian native who has a PhD in biochemistry but only an elementary understanding of football lingo. “I have an inkling what it means, but I don’t feel comfortable enough to use it myself.”

“When industry leaders use football terms people’s faces light up and the whole atmosphere becomes more relaxed,” he said.

But some are local:

Julie Coyle, 57, had her own reasons for attending. “If you don’t know about football guys look at you like you have two heads,” she said, “and nowadays women do, too.”

I am nowhere near enough of a football junkie to field a fantasy football team, but I can hold my own.

I have been watching football for (yikes) over 50 years. I don’t go back to the leather helmet, Bronco Nagurski days, but I did watch Y.A. Tiddle wearing N.Y. Giants “Honolulu Blue” plenty of times.  I don’t understand – or care to – every nuance of the game, but I can follow the game intelligently. (Intelligently enough to recognize after the first couple of minutes that the Patriots were going to lose last season’s Super Bowl to the very team – the N.Y. Giants – that I used to root for.)

After an early start, I did have plenty of decades where I didn’t watch any football whatsoever. During one of those decades, I nonetheless participated in a few football pools, where I picked my team based on which city I liked better than the other (e.g., San Francisco over Dallas). I made no bones about that’s how I was making my selections, which ticked off “the boys” the time or two when I won.

Anyway, I really don’t think that a two-hour course in the fundamentals of football (combined with the fundamentals of networking) is going to give anyone much of a comfort level on being able to actually do more than vaguely follow the action when football terms are being thrown around. It will certainly not give them enough know-how to be able to fully participate in a water-cooler conversation. Especially if the course goes from such basics as ‘this is a football uniform’ up to the ‘nickel defense.’ I am quite certain that, other than being able to recognize your teams colors, there’s not much to know about the duds. And you really don’t have to know what a nickel defense is to follow the game. (And how could someone new to football possibly take this in during a mere two-hour course. As with most sports, even though 99.99% of team sports follow the same plot, you have to watch it with some regularity and attentiveness to really pick up any real knowledge.)

In truth, if you’re just looking for a brief water-cooler conversation, you pretty much just have to know:

Who won.

What the score was.

What the score difference was between us and them.

An exciting play (and who was part of it).

A bad play or controversial referee call  (and who was part of it).

Most of this you can glean from the five-minute sports segment on the news, or from a quick look at the online sports pages.

If your team won, all you need to say is ‘always good to get a ‘W’’ or ‘I’ll take it.’

If your team won, and the score was tight, all you need to say is ‘too close for comfort.’

If your team won, and the score was grossly imbalanced, all you need to say is ‘in my book, there’s no such thing as a blowout.’

If there was an exciting play, all you need to say is ‘how about that [insert name here: e.g.,Gronk, Woodhead, Welker].’

If there was a bad play, or a bad call, all you need to say is ‘that’s where I turned the game off.’

And if your team lost, all you need to say is ‘that sucked.’

Maybe I can get a gig at Essex Partners cutting to the chase. Forget the ‘nickel defense.’ It all really comes down to knowing whether or not to say ‘that sucked.’

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