Keeping Score

Four Ways to Seem Smart About Football on Thanksgiving

Start talking about J.J. Watt's leaping, RG3's homecoming, Rob Gronkowski's injury and the quarterback woes of the New York Jets, and you'll be fine.

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image: Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is introduced before the game between the Buffalo Bills vs the Houston Texans at the Reliant Stadium in Houston Texas.
Manny Flores / ZUMA

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is introduced before the game between the Buffalo Bills vs the Houston Texans at the Reliant Stadium in Houston Texas.

If you don’t follow the NFL — and we know there are some of you out there — feel free to throw your family a curveball on Thanksgiving and start spouting some football knowledge before the cranberry sauce is served. What else are you going to talk to Uncle Bert about as he slowly starts to get tipsy? Here are four conversation starters:

1. “That J.J. Watt Sure Is a Freak, Right Grandpa Frank?” The 9-1 Houston Texans, who have the best record in the AFC, are making their Turkey Day debut, as they travel to Detroit to take on the 4-6 Lions. Look out for number 99, J.J. Watt, who plays on the defensive line for the Texans. Watt is insanely athletic for one the big guys in the trenches; he’s 6’5″, and has a 55-inch vertical leap. Better yet, he puts his hops to good use: Watt has the rare ability to sniff out where the quarterback is going to throw the ball, and jump to swat away the pass. Against the New York Jets on a Monday night game in early October, for example, he batted away three balls that led to two Houston interceptions. ESPN’s Jon Gruden called him “J.J. Swatt.” Rex Ryan, coach of the Jets, mused that “you’d think the Knicks would pick him up too, with all the shot blocking he did.”

Watt’s backstory is charming. While taking a football sabbatical in college, Watt delivered pies for a Pizza Hut in Wisconsin. On one run, a 10-year-old kid at the door wondered why Watt wasn’t playing football anymore. That humbling moment motivated him to make a comeback; he’s gone from deliveryman to possibly Defensive Player of The Year.

2. “Hey Aunt Jane, Texas Is Turning Against RG 3.” Robert Griffin III, the outstanding rookie quarterback for the Washington Redskins, is headed back to Texas, where he spent many of his formative years, and where he won his Heisman Trophy, at Baylor, last season. Washington’s game, in Dallas, is the mid-point of a stern test for RG3; the Redskins have three straight games against NFC East foes. Griffin passed the first part, easily, last Sunday, as the Redskins crushed sinking Philadelphia, at home, 31-6. Thanksgiving against Dallas, 5-5, will be tougher; not even his pals from Texas can bring themselves to root for the hated Redskins. “They tell me they’ll be cheering for me, but that they still want their guys to win,” Griffin said, via NFL.com. “I can accept that, but we’ve still got to go out and get the victory.”

Even if Griffin does so, and gets the Redskins to 5-6, Washington’s already slim playoff chances rest on another tough matchup next weekend. The Skins play the first place New York Giants — also the defending Super Bowl champs — at home, on Dec. 3.

(MORE: NFL Players: “Does This Uniform Make Me Look Fat?”)

3. “Can You Believe Gronk Got Hurt On An Extra Point, Uncle Phil? An Extra Point!” The New England Patriots have a player named Rob Gronkowski, and he’s really, really good. Gronkowski plays tight end, catches lots of passes, and likes to dance shirtless late at night. But this past Sunday, Gronkowski broke his arm in a freak accident, so he won’t be playing in New England’s game against the New York Jets Thanksgiving night. He broke it not, as one might suspect, while knocking his arm against a table in a drinking game.  No, Gronk did it during football’s most innocuous play, the extra point.

(If you really don’t know football, let us explain: after a touchdown, which is worth six points, a kicker comes in to boot the ball through the goal posts from about 20 yards out, for one more point. He almost never misses it. Gronkowski is on the extra point blocking team, and suffered the injury during the play.)

Since the Patriots were up, 58-24, against Indianapolis, and therewere under four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, some football pundits wondered why Pats coach Bill Belichick even had Gronk in the game. Belichick, many people thought, got what he deserved for running up the score against Indianapolis — Belichick is famous for piling up points in blowouts. But many experts rushed to Belichick’s defense too; teams just don’t carry backup extra-point blockers, and the odds of an injury on the play are infinitesimally long. So if Uncle Phil decides to rip Belichick, we suggest you defend the coach a bit. But if Phil gets real snippy and annoying during debates, please, just go ahead and agree with him. No need to ruin Thanksgiving for everyone else.

4. “Cousin Benny, Stop Blaming The Tim Tebow Trade For All The Jets’ Woes.” If you’re spending Thanksgiving in a household with people remotely interested in the New York Jets, who host the Gronkless Pats, odds are someone will gripe about the team’s trade for Tim Tebow in the off-season. This is where you speak up. “Enough,” you say. “Yes, the Jets traded for Tebow to be their backup quarterback, and yes, the Jets talked about how they would use him 20 snaps a game. And they haven’t; he barely gets off the bench. But so what? That’s what backup quarterbacks do; barely get off the bench.”

“So how can the Tebow trade have any bearing on this team’s underperformance?” Here, we recommend you start raising your voice. “And as for this idea that Tebow’s mere presence has been a distraction for the team and especially Mark Sanchez [the Jets' starting quarterback, who is in his fourth year in the NFL], two things on that. First, do you really think Tim Tebow is creeping into Sanchez’s mind when he’s making those horrible decisions near the goal line, and throwing interceptions that make you want to shatter the nearest lamp? That he is so distracted by Tebow that he can’t even function on the field? No way! Sanchez has just stunk.”

“And second, if Sanchez was ticked about the Tebow trade, it should have motivated him. He should have told the Jets front office he wasgoing to stick it to them, and went out and played like a star who is worth the $11.75 million the Jets are paying him this year. If this wasn’t his mentality, if he didn’t have that instinct, if he moped or got down about Tebow instead…what does that say about Sanchez? Is this a guy you want as your quarterback to begin with? So please, cut it out with all the Tebow talk.”

Now, feel free to slam down your glass, leap from your seat, and march into the kitchen to pour yourself a little more vino. You deserve it.

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