Tuesday, November 20, 2012

An Unintended Consequence of Moving NFL Microphones

By Kevin Clark

The moment before an NFL quarterback snaps the football has always been a golden opportunity to play head games.

In most cases, a quarterback will shout a pattern of words that make no sense on their face, but serve as a form of code. These codes can communicate something as simple as telling the center when to snap the ball, or as complex as changing the play to something else.

In the last year, however, there has been a development that is unprecedented in the long history of quarterback signal calling. Thanks to a change in the way television broadcast microphones are positioned on the field, these strings of code that quarterbacks and linemen shout out before the snap are being relayed directly to the ears of millions of fans—and all of the team's future opponents. Realizing their code languages may be compromised week to week, quarterbacks have taken the only avenue available to them: speaking total gibberish.

To camouflage what they're trying to do, all of the NFL's biggest-name quarterbacks are employing a string of random, nonsensical shouts that make them sound, at times, like 1-year olds.

"The quarterback gets up there and they get to talking about anything," said Oakland Raiders safety Tyvon Branch, who said the difference this season is palpable. "You'll hear the quarterback yelling off a lot of random stuff. I'm like, 'All that can't mean anything.' They'll yell 'Blue 80, set, wait wait, check check check' and you know they aren't checking anything."

Prior to the 2011 season, NFL umpires, who wore microphones and doubled as the network's boom operators, captured on-field sounds from their convenient position behind the linebackers. But when the officials were repositioned for safety reasons, the league needed to preserve its close-to-the-action sound. The easiest solution was to place microphones on offensive linemen. Today, all starting guards or centers now must wear a microphone, and all the once-muted pre-snap chatter has become public knowledge, whether teams like it or not.

Not surprisingly, players say that the best NFL quarterbacks are also the best at disguising what they'll do—be it to a viewer at home or to the defensive linemen five feet away.

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