07 February 2011

Go Pack, Go!

Well this morning sees everyone in the Unkie Dave household functioning at less than peak efficiency, the culprit responsible for this malaise is not, as one might expect, alcohol, but in fact almost quite the opposite, a sporting activity! Not the actual participation in a sporting activity, mind you, just the watching of one.

Given that over 20% of the readership of Booming Back is, if Google Analytics is to be trusted*, located in the US, I do not need to tell everyone here what yesterday was, but for the rest of you it can all be summed up in one single word, Superbowl.

When the Very Understanding Girlfriend and I moved to the US all those years ago we didn't really expect to return home with amazing friendships that would still be going strong almost ten years later. We certainly didn't expect to be returning home as fans of the Green Bay Packers. This is all the fault of Mr Tim, philosopher, cultural commentator and Wisconsin native (and newly minted father), whose writings on media and pop culture at Inessentials are always worth a read.

Given his love of all things televisual, it was odd that when we first met Mr Tim he did not, in fact, possess a television. This was his feeble attempt to focus on his PhD, and lasted about a year. However given his near-religious devotion to Green Bay (I think it is implanted in every Wisconsonian at birth, along with cholesterol and anti-freeze) a solution needed to be found to allow him to have both his pigskin-flavoured cake and eat it, to watch every game and still not have a TV. As we had a TV you can see where this is going, thus by osmosis The Very Understanding Girlfriend and I developed as great a passion for the Packers as any Irish man or woman could safely do.

It is also worth mentioning at this point that, somewhat inexplicably, The Very Understanding Girlfriend has watched every Superbowl for the last twenty years, despite being even less of a sports fan than I. Superbowl night has become something of a tradition in our house, with (veggie) hotdogs, nachos, terrible beer and other accouterments of Americana. For the Packers to be in the Superbowl (as they were last night) was like Christmas in July**.

I'm not going to try and describe the game, if you like American Football then you watched it and you know what an amazing game it was, if you don't like American Football then nothing I can say or do will interest you on the subject. However a thought did occur to me during the game that I though interesting enough to share.

American Football is possibly the most tightly choreographed game in the world. When practicing the team runs through scenario after scenario and develops a wide range of "plays", basically what happens when they have possession of the ball, where each player runs to etc. A good team will know their Plays so well that when the Quarterback tells the team what Play they are going to use, another player can run twenty or thirty yards, hold their hands up in the air and pluck a ball from the sky as if by magic, all without ever looking back at the Quarterback. Everyone knows exactly where they're supposed to be at all times, its like clockwork.

The flip side of this is that, as any armchair general knows, no plan survives the first encounter with the enemy, so there are literally hundreds of Plays that have to be memorised, and the team coaches decide which Play to use on a case-by-case basis. They may have a general idea of how they want to get the ball down the filed and across the line but they decide each move based on the results of the last move. Thus rather than having an overarching strategy, they in fact have a series of case-specific reactionary plans, each covering a period in time no more than 30 seconds. The Coaches (for there are several) sitting on the sideline and up in the stands are often the most important members of the team in contributing to a win or loss, and the players are but their drones that carry out their orders. When a team wins, it is the Team Owner and then the Coach who are first given the trophy, the players get to handle it almost as an afterthought.

As I watched this last night the parallels with US military strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan seemed overwhelming, not surprising if you consider that most military leaders in the US no doubt got their first taste of strategic thinking in school on the pitch. I have browsed through General Dave Petraeus' US Army Counterinsurgency Manual and the similarities to a football team's playbook is striking, it is effectively a series of "if/then" scenarios, if the bad guys do this, we do this, if they then do this, we do that. Like American Football, US armed conflicts seem to be based on a strategy of short-term scenarios plucked from a Choose Your Own Adventure book, do you throw the ball left (turn to page 24), try to kick a field goal (turn to page 89), install a friendly Oil-executive as the unelected leader of the country you just invaded (turn to page 108). Oh dear, you just bombed a civilian wedding, go back to the beginning and start again***.

Like an American Football team, the US military's strategy never seems to have a more elaborate long-term goal than 'score some points, beat the other guys, win, win, win', its all about a steady succession of short-term reactionary moves.

This strategy is equally evident in the corporate world, where everything revolves around quarterly results, the focus is never on three or five years down the road, its all about how the stock market will react to what was done this quarter in comparison to last quarter. If it looks like you didn't make more money in sales this quarter than last, then fire a whole bunch of employees the week before announcing your results to reduce your reported outgoings (turn to page 36). Don't have enough sales staff left to make any money this quarter, hire in some temps on short term contracts to plug the gap (turn to page 99). Don't have any HR staff to hire in the temps because you let them all go two quarters ago to reduce costs before results were announced, outsource the work to another temp agency (turn to page 122). Oh dear, you just pissed off the Chinese government, go back to the beginning and start again***.

What the US has given us in the long Twentieth Century is a focus on the immediate, the just-in-time, the Now. There is no tomorrow, only today, an endless succession of todays.

Perhaps this is why an hour-long American Football game always takes at least three hours, time itself collapses under the weight of this stream of repeated Nows.

In any event, Green Bay won, our cries of jubilation gave our neighbourhood's Algerian football (sock-ah) supporters a run for their money, and all was right with the world.


* not necessarily a given, I mean look at how much rubbish about Irish politics I write, surely no-one outside of the country can be interested in that? Seriously, most people inside the country aren't interested in that. Its a wonder I have any readers at all.

** or Christmas in December, if you are in the Southern Hemisphere, which I suppose really is just like Christmas. Doesn't convey the same sense of joy, does it? *sigh*

*** but wait, I had my finger on the previous page all along, it doesn't count, I never let go.

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