Waffler’s Handbook: How to sham your way through Super Bowl Sunday

No idea what's actually going on in a typical NFL match? No problem...


Ah yes, the Super Bowl. The grandest, loudest, shiniest and most pungent example of Americana outside of Donald Trump’s private White House bathroom.

By now, most observers this side of the Atlantic are familiar with the Super Bowl’s existence and have grasped the idea that it’s a bit like a combination of the FA Cup final, the World Cup final and a poorly organised K-pop concert at Wembley.

But it’s come to Paddy’s attention that there are plenty of gaps in the NFL knowledge of many in the UK and Ireland, despite the proliferation of Super Bowl parties and a general increase in the number of people chatting sh*te about previously mysterious things like RPO and Drew Brees’ diminished passing range. For the average man or woman in the street, all this can be more than a little confusing.

So, in anticipation of many of you heading off to watch the match in pubs, sports bars or mates’ gaffs on Sunday evening without having any idea what’s actually going on, we’re here to help. Welcome, then, to the Waffler’s Handbook, a handy guide on how to make it through the Super Bowl without looking like an absolute mug.

If you follow these easy steps, you should be able to get through the night without being outed as a n00b.

Call it “football”, even though it’s clearly not actual football

Okay, look, let’s not get into the whole debate about which sport gets to be called “football”. The reality is that different countries have different types of football, and in America “football” equals the sport you’ll be watching take place on Sunday night in Atlanta.

So, adjust your brain accordingly. Don’t fall into the trap of saying “American football”.

This is a classic error, and will immediately lead to a loss of credibility among the bearded fat lads wearing oversize NFL shirts who will almost certainly comprise the majority of the people with whom you’ll be viewing the game.

At a push, use “gridiron” if it’s really necessary to distinguish between the type of football played by Leo Messi and the type of football played by Tom Brady.

Mention Tom Brady’s lack of footwork, but don’t overdo it…

…because, even for a man older than time itself, this aul’ lad still knows how to get out of a bind.

Bear in mind, however, that this is a bit of a dicey one. If there are any Patriots fans lurking nearby – and there will be – you risk getting involved in a debate, which is the last thing you want as a total bluffer.

You definitely don’t want to end up being shouted at by a red-faced chap with greasy hair about how “Brady’s movement, while diminished in recent years, is transcendental, he’s a God, a legend, he can see trouble coming and anyway who the f*ck are you to question TB12?”

If this does occur, just hit back gently and respectfully with something like, “Hey, the man’s the GOAT, I just think he’s now being forced to rely more on quick check-down passes and his team’s running game, but he was never a rushing QB in the first place so his leaden-footedness doesn’t affect his place in the pantheon of the game’s true greats.”

You might want to write that one down.

At all costs, avoid complaining about the constant stoppages

A typical NFL match is as stop-start as a Jorginho penalty run-up (don’t even consider making a joke like this on Sunday), but even if you’re ready to cry after the 450th “TV timeout” of the evening, just remember that as a bona fide Football Expert, all this faffing about is completely normal to you. In fact, you WELCOME the stoppages, as it gives you a chance to analyse and think about the game-situation.

A true NFL aficionado will never object or comment on the fact that the players are either standing still or sitting down for a significant portion of a game. This is due to the importance of strategy, clock-management and player specialisation.

A true NFL aficionado knows coaches need time to survey the board in these chess games on turf, so it’s vital you take the point-of-view that these seemingly interminable breaks in play are integral to the sport. Don’t mention things like shortening the play-clock or refer to the fact the teams are split into a defensive and offensive group. This is a surefire way to earn scorn, piss off the bearded fat lads in oversize shirts and expose your deep lack of knowledge of the game.

Don’t bemoan the lack of action, embrace it. If needs be, use the vast amounts of downtime to have a glance through Twitter and check what people with more NFL expertise than you are saying – and then parrot it incessantly to anyone who’ll listen.

It’s important to demonstrate knowledge of the two head coaches

Remember: Sean McVay is the talented young tyro; Bill Belichick is the wily old fox. Think of McVay as an Eddie Howe-type character, and Belichick a bit like Alex Ferguson in his Man United heyday.

If you’re at a loss at any point, just blurt out something along the lines of, “Wow, this really is an absorbing clash between two coaches in very contrasting stages of their careers.”

This is an evergreen statement, as good before kickoff as with two minutes to go in the fourth quarter, and should trigger enough conversation to allow you to step back and sip quietly on your beverage of choice, while hopefully not being asked any follow-up questions.

Should you be feeling particularly confident, feel free to throw in a “classic McVay call, that” if you see the Rams pulling off a fancy-looking move, or a “straight out of the Belichick playbook, this drive” if you happen to notice that the Patriots have had possession of the ball for AGES.

Referring to Super Bowl XXXVI (that’s 36 to you pal) will earn kudos

These two teams – or “franchises” in the local parlance – last met in the Super Bowl in 2002.

Belichick was coach of the Pats – and Brady was their quarterback – even back then. But New England went into that game as underdogs, only to overcome the odds and hold off the challenge of the Rams (then the St Louis Rams) and their fabled “Greatest Show On Turf” offence (although, to be fair, most will agree the GSOT were dismantled in 2001).

Effectively, this game ushered in nearly two decades of Patriots dominance of the NFL and helped make Brady and Belichick two of the biggest names in the sport. After a pint or two, you might fancy drawing a comparison between the 2019 Super Bowl iteration and the events of 2002.

Depending on how your bluffing has gone so far, you could hazard a chirpy little quip like: “You know what, there are so many parallels between XXXVI and LIII, the main one for me being the fact that the Rams could potentially establish a dynasty under McVay on the back of a win here, in the same way the Pats did 17 years ago.”

Then just sit back and enjoy the nods of approval rolling in from around the room. You’re well on your way if you can pull this one off.

Learn the intricacies of several obscure NFL rules

Honestly, NFL rules can be a minefield at times. So labyrinthine and complex are the laws of the game that most American TV channels will have an expert “Rules Analyst” like Gene Steratore on hand just to explain to viewers what’s actually happening with a refereeing decision and why.

If you can get ahead of the curve with this, you’ll be in clover – big time. Even if you don’t know the simple basics of the sport, we suggest taking a look at the NFL rulebook, picking out four or five ridiculously convoluted rules and learning them off by heart.

That way, while you may not have a breeze what a “Pass Interference” call is, you can leap out of your chair when an Automatic Coin Toss Loss or Back-to-Back Timeout penalty crops up.

Refer to players by their nicknames

Nothing says Omniscient Master Of Football Knowledge like calling Rob Gronkowski “Gronk” or Marshawn Lynch “Beast Mode”.

Nicknames suggest familiarity and, as a bluffy wee bluffer, you’ll want to pass yourself off as being completely familiar with each and every player on both teams’ rosters, from quarterback down to third-string punter. So, we suggest Googling things like “John Johnson LA Rams nickname” (“Baja Man”, FYI) and jotting down the results.

That way, when Brady chucks a 15-yarder to Julian Edelman, you can pipe up with a quick, “TB12 sure loves to hit The Squirrel with those slant plays”. Even if you don’t actually know a given player’s nickname, just add a “y” to the end, which works in most cases: “Great completion, Goffy.”

A Football Expert does not ask, “why don’t they just keep passing it to each other?”

If you’ve watched a rugby match, you’ll be aware that when players are tackled they often simply offload the ball backwards to one of their team-mates.

Sadly, this is a concept that has never really caught on in the NFL, except under certain specific circumstances. If you do bring up this idea, you’ll likely be met with angry rants about “risk-avoidance”, wherein you’ll be informed that possession in football is too incredibly important to do something so insane as tossing the pigskin five yards to your left or right when it looks as if you’re about to be brought down.

If you end up on the receiving end of such a diatribe, you must avoid under any circumstances suggesting that this is an incredibly basic and easy-to-learn skill. Doing so will only enrage the ranter even further.

NFL fans fear the potential randomness that “laterals” bring, but even more than that they fear the idea that the game they love has anything to learn from other sports – and so should you.

Moneyline: Patriots – 3/4 | Rams – 11/10

What do you think?