For the Sake of the Story

- by Linda Barrett

With each book I write, I wonder why simple ideas to enrich the story always morph into complicated ones. For example, a brief mention of a lighthouse led me to learn about Fresnal lamps.  Using an apple orchard setting, I learned about fruit farmers, about renting bee hives for pollinating orchards, and about the seasonal life cycle of apple trees. Research has opened my eyes to many professions,  life situations, and facts on any subject from divorce laws in Massachusetts to the vocabulary of downhill skiing.

Usually I’m patient. I can read and absorb. I can learn. The research is usually fun or at least interesting, although never truly simple. With my current release, however, I’m crying uncle. I’ve met my Waterloo, and its name is NFL football. 
I blame Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. A 17-0 standing in the regular season a few years ago got me daydreaming about a profession and setting I knew absolutely nothing about. Zero. Squat. Nada. Despite having three sons, I still knew nothing. I pushed my kids toward baseball and basketball. Football looked like a killer sport, and far too dangerous for this mama.

When I started thinking about QUARTERBACK DADDY, I didn’t know what a down was. I kid you not. Line of scrimmage? Nope. I didn’t know the number of players on a team and that a team really has two parts: an offensive line and a defensive line who are not on the field at the same time! As for the game’s vocabulary? OMG! Free safety, cornerback, passing plays, hang time, hole number, incompletion, offside… the list goes on forever. Trust me, the SAT’s were easy compared to football.

When a know-nothing like me watches a football game on television, the action looks like a huge mess with big guys plowing into each other usually going nowhere. I know the goal is to get a touchdown, but how do they do it? Without understanding the rules of play and the plays themselves, the game means nothing. We say that writing is not a career for the faint of heart. I can apply the same admonition to learning football.

There was no question I needed help, so I subscribed to Sports Illustrated. I scoured articles in the sports section of my daily newspaper and on the Internet. The more I read, the more I realized how much I didn’t know. I needed more help than these resources and my husband could provide. My dh’s patience ran out after three questions. Okay, I’ll admit I asked the same question twice, but gee, even reporters get to ask follow-ups.

Among my own reference books are PCs for Dummies and Word 2007 for Dummies, so I figured there must be a similar book about football for this dummy. I figured right. Lined up on the shelf with other yellow-and-black books in the series was Football for Dummies by Howie Long, a Super Bowl winning defensive end for the Oakland/L.A. Raiders during his playing days. I snatched it from the shelf and held on tight.  Soon I began to think Howie was my personal mentor, maybe even my friend. His book became my bible where I marked up pages and attached post-it notes. I studied the illustrations of the gridiron, memorizing each player’s position. I learned “sacked in the pocket.” Poor QB. I learned what a field goal was.

I also needed behind-the-scenes information, and my new friend provided it. How do players prepare for each game during the season? I learned that every weekday has different goals with customized activities geared for peak performance on game day. What’s the best meal to eat the night before a game? The day of the game? The combo of proteins, carbs and fat are different. And what’s the rice about? A hundred pounds of uncooked rice in a barrel provides great resistance for strengthening wrist and forearm. What about the number on each guy’s shirt? Nothing haphazard there. They each have a specific meaning – quarterbacks have the lowest numbers. Eli Manning is a ten. Tom Brady is a twelve. Dan Delito is an eight. Never heard of Dan Delito? You will if you read Quarterback Daddy.

Howie’s book stayed at my side during the entire time I wrote my story. I kept it on my lap while I watched a game. I hosted my first Super Bowl party and had a blast. So, I’m ashamed to admit that after all my effort, I still don’t understand the game well. I’m starting to think that learning by doing is undoubtedly a better method to master a physical activity. But if you think I’m suiting up to run up and down a hundred yards of grass with a football in my arms…Fuhgeddaboudit ! Research goes only so far.

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