Review: A Sportcaster’s Guide to Watching Football by Mark Oristano

footballHave you ever wished that you knew a little more about football?  You’re watching with friends, everyone is yelling about the lousy blocking or the zone defense and you wish you knew what they were talking about?  Or maybe you wish your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse could get as excited about the pass coverage as you are?  This may be just the book you need.  A Sportscaster’s Guide to Watching Football will teach new fans and old a little more about the game so many of us love.  The author, Mark Oristano, spent thirty years working for/with the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Oilers.  Along the way, he picked up a lot of helpful information:

When you’ve finished, you won’t be able to immediately spot “Cover Two” or know which receiver broke his route off too soon or whether the ref made the right call when he signalled intentional grounding.  But you will understand, for example, why first-down plays are the most important play of any offensive drive.

I am a pretty avid football fan.  As I write this, I am watching the Giants/Cardinal on Sunday Night Football.  I just spent a couple of hours with my friend, Jen, watching football in an Irish pub in New York (the bartender at Connolly’s Pub is a doll and a very good sport).  I understand the rules of the game.  When the official signals a penalty, I know what the call is, even if I can’t hear it.  I have my own theories about football – everything from the prevent defense to those teal legwarmers the Dolphins are wearing this season.  I still learned things from this book, and I think that most casual fans will find a lot of useful information in these pages.

A Sportcaster’s Guide to Watching Football is a small volume – less than 150 pages. Stocking stuffer size, really.  But I don’t know that I have ever read such a clear explanation of the various positions and how they relate to one another.  I now know the difference between the left tackle and the left guard, in terms of what they are expected to do.

In coach speak, the QB, RB [running back], TE [tight end] and WR [wide receiver] positions are called “skill positions” because they require a high degree of athleticism.  The G [guard], T [tackle], and C [center] positions are called “strength positions” because they require the ability to lift up a Buick.

Oristano has some great stories to tell about people he met and games that he saw.  He got to watch a lot of great players – Earl Campbell, Roger Staubach, Troy Aikmann, Emmit Smith and Michael Irvin.  His “Time Outs” are some of my favorite parts of the book.  (I have to say that his “Cool Things to Say During the Game” really aren’t.)  He gives a new football fan all the information they need to know in order to understand what they see on the field, without condescending to his readers.    He covers the basic rules of the game, the offense and defense, the positions and the penalties, all with the mindset that you will enjoy the game more if you understand it, but you do not have to be ready to coach the home team next Sunday.

I think most readers will find that the book expands their basic knowledge in a lot of areas.  Statistics, the two-minute drill, defensive formations – there is information that will be of interest to most casual fans.  I learned a lot – even a couple of things that I can pull out the next time we’re talking football trivia:

One of the least-known rules in the NFL, one even lots of TV announcers don’t know, is that after you make a fair catch on a punt, and the time on the game clock expires during the play, you can chose to extend the period for one more play, but only for a field goal attempt.  It’s very, very rare.  I’ve only seen it used one time in over forty years.

Okay, that may not be very helpful on most gamedays, but it is kind of cool to know.  You’ll find more trivia and stories on the book’s website, and the books is available from You can pick it up as a teaching aid for the non-football-fan in your life, or as a fun stocking stuffer for the fan who would like to know just a little more.  It’s a quick read, but I found it to be a lot of fun.

My copy of A Sportscaster’s Guide to Watching Football was provided free of charge for review. This review was originally posted on October 27, 2009 on When Falls the Coliseum.

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