A writer’s stance…and a football

In the latest episode of his Freakonomics podcast  (An Egghead’s Guide to the SuperbBowl), Stephen Dubner interviews Justin Tuck about what to watch for in order to get the most out of your SuperBowl viewing. I’ve often thought that a football player’s stance was very much like the rhetorical stance a writer takes in an essay. Tuck explained to Dubner why he always waited until the last second to get into his stance:

I wanted to see did they have trips into the boundary. Is the running back eight yards deep versus six or seven yards deep. Quarterback in the shotgun. What is what is the hand of the offensive linemen that I’m going against. What does that tell me? How’s his foot position; is he blocking down, is he blocking towards me. Is his weight back because he wants to kick out because of the pass? Things like that is what experts look at, you know and you know are they are they going in motion to see if we’re playing man. All right. You know is this a situation where we might get hard-counted. Is it third and short. Should I watch the ball more and more intently than I would if it was third and long. All those things kind of go in my … But the better you get at it, the quicker it goes. So you know you normally have, once they come to the line of scrimmage you probably have five seconds at the max depending on the type offense you’re playing against and you have to you know decipher all this information like that and be able to go and play. And I think the teams that do it the best are the teams that you know play really really well.

Dubner observes that the more information a defense lineman has, “the more you know what stance you want.” True, but I also think I heard Tuck explaining that his stance would telegraph to the other team what he was planning to do on a given play (he goes on, in fact, to talk with Dubner about the relative importance of surprise on the line of scrimmage). This all happens in a matter of seconds.

Doesn’t the same thing hold true when we read an essay? In the opening seconds, the writer telegraphs to us (the reader) what his intentions are for the essay. And like Tuck says, the more information a player (or a writer) has before the play begins, the better equipped he is to decide on the appropriate stance.

I think there’s probably a lot more that could be said about this, and I invite readers to add comments–or tell me why I’m completely wrong!

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