Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher, said “Praise and blame. This is human virtue, this is human madness.”
I was at my son’s football game a couple of weeks ago. It was a fantastic game with a collection of eighty of the most talented ballers of his same age. I witnessed something that I have witnessed thousands of times throughout my life. My wife, my older son, and I were watching a play develop and the QB threw a perfect pass to a receiver who heard footsteps and subsequently took his eyes off the ball and dropped it. Like good fans should, everyone clapped that soft it’s-OK clap and one fan/parent shouted, “Don’t worry about it, shake it off” in a very supportive way. It just gave me that good warm feeling that we’re there for the kids, right?
That’s beautiful, unless you’re on the offensive line. On the very next play my son committed his feet to the wrong side of a DT cross-over and let a defensive lineman into the pocket. The QB had to scramble and ended up throwing a bad pass. These same people, who just a few ticks-of-the -clock past were encouraging, now yell in unison, “oh, come on o-line…get it together!”
I’m used to it. I coach up my son to be proud of it; a silent warrior. When you’re on the o-line, you win and fail as one. It’s a very thankless job. It’s why those of us who played the position seldom want to talk to the media. It’s because it goes like this:
“hey Johnny, can I have a second,” Says the reporter.
“Sure,” says Johnny.”
“Can you tell our viewers what happened on the game losing interception; the one where Mr. QB was hit from his blind side by the DE who flew through the line?
Johnny’s now lost for words. It wasn't his fault, it was a zone blocking scheme set up to fake the run to the left while the QB bootlegged right. His job was to ignore the blitzing DE and double team the tackle with the LG. The FB was supposed to pick up the unguarded tackle after the play action fake, but instead, faked a dive play to the middle of the line, allowing the DE to chase down the QB from his blind side. What does Johnny say? Nothing. No matter what he says, he, or someone he loves is going to get thrown under the bus. So, it’s just better to not talk. We just take it.
It’s rare that an o-lineman gets singled out for praise. Remember the Fiesta Bowl? Remember the reporters who surrounded Ian Johnson and Chrissie after the game? No one followed Ryan Clady around, you know…the left tackle who took out both the DE and DT of Oklahoma allowing Ian to go unchallenged into the end-zone? Many don’t know this, but that play is what got NFL scouts drooling over Ryan Clady. Could Ian have gotten around the super fast DE of Oklahoma without Clady? Doubtful, but no one was trying to carry Clady off the field, and most BSU fans still didn’t know how great he was. Now, he’s routinely called the best OT in the NFL.
Being an o-lineman is like facing an upcoming storm, but they only give you an umbrella when it’s fair weather and take it away when it begins to rain. A challenge I have for Boise State fandom is to educate yourself on the linemen and their plays. Wait for the highlights before you start yelling, “the o-line is killing us” and realize it’s a chess game down there. And, yes, sometimes the DE goes unguarded on purpose so that the o-line can double team in support of the direction of play. It's called a zone blocking scheme. Give the big and uglies some love.