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The role of being smart in the NFL

1/16/2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- How important is being smart in playing football?

I enjoyed this look at the role of being smart in the NFL from Nicholas Dawidoff in The New Yorker.

It heavily features Tennessee Titans No. 2 quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a Harvard graduate, and Pro-Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner, who has a math degree from UCLA.

(Side note, or warning: I learned the word "farrago" from reading this piece.)

Fitzpatrick points out that while the physical nature of football is a big deal, “we spend more time studying than we do on the field.”

Here’s the kicker of the story:

"Not every smart player will find that his intellect is drawn upon; a good deal depends on his position. The Titans’ Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner completed his mathematics degree at U.C.L.A. with a G.P.A. over 4.0. Football is a game of precise timing and geometry played on a numerical grid, and it might seem that Verner’s study of calculus, differential equations, and integrals could be of help to him. But as a cornerback, Verner is alone out on the edge, isolated with the receiver he’s covering. The relation between his studies and his sport 'is not as big as some want or hope it to be,' he said. 'I don’t think about angles or quadratics out there. But math people solve problems, and that’s the way you approach film study. We look at all the variables.'

Verner would have no trouble learning his team’s entire defense, but that would be pointless; feeling so removed from the real complexities of the sport, he said, 'I get bored sometimes.'"