First Thing's First and Ten

Clock Management / Somebody Needs A Time-Out

While watching an NFL game, you’re sure to hear a lot of noise about clock management from the  commentators. Clock management refers to the way a coach (and sometimes quarterback) controls the speed of play on the field using time-outs and clock stoppage, dictated by the choice of plays called. The winner of a game is the team with the most points when the clock winds down, and there are ways to manipulate that winding down which play a crucial role in a team’s success. It’s a lot like the games a person plays while in a relationship to keep control. Rather, it’s a lot like the games a person plays while in a ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ relationship, since solid, healthy relationships aren’t subject to games and manipulation… in theory. The person more emotionally invested (the one who likes the other MORE) is the ‘loser’ in this game.

Here are the basics of on-field timing so you’ll know more than the guy sitting next to you on the couch and whether or not you both just might need a time-out.

Games are divided into four 15-minute quarters with a 12-minute half-time between the 2nd and 3rd quarter. Teams receive 3 time-outs total per half (unused time-outs from the first don’t roll over to the second).

First quarter: A team hits the field with early jitters, while strengths and weaknesses are assessed by both sides during opening plays.

First date: A pre-date cocktail to quell the nerves leads to an over-share about your own similarities to Joan Holloway and the story of where you were on 9/11.

Second quarter: Early injury strikes and one team takes the lead after making a correct read on the other team’s defense and adjusts appropriately.

Fourth Date: One member of the couple decides they are interested and attracted and adjusts to appear more interesting and attractive. New musical genres (“You know, I’m aware of alt-trance-groove-Americana but I’ve never really gotten into it… It’s MELLOW!”) and an enthusiastic tolerance for water sports are introduced.

Two-Minute Warning: Two minutes before the end of the second quarter and the end of the fourth, a TV time-out (1:50 – broadcast cuts to commercial) is awarded to each team. Long ago, in the days before electronic scoreboards and fire, the only time kept on a football field was by the officiating crew (referees, etc.). The two-minute warning was established as an alert to the coaches and players so they might better manage the remainder of their time on field.

First fight: This usually occurs around the we’ve-slept-together-and-we-still-like-each-other point, which is also when both members of the the game are at their most vulnerable.  The scene looks like this: You made casual plans on Monday to watch Louie and order from that new farm-to-table pizza place, but now it’s Thursday night at 9:00 and still no text from him to confirm. You’re still using the ‘I don’t text first’ strategy, which has left you home alone with a freshly emptied sink, woodsy candles lit and favorite smart-books strewn about.  When you receive his ‘how was your day, sweets?’ text at 11:00 you passive-aggressively ignore it and go to bed angry. When he calls the next day you’re at your iciest, which dissolves into your weepiest, even as he’s apologizing like crazy because he completely forgot, went to drinks with the boys after basketball and asks ‘why didn’t you call me earlier in the day to remind me?’ You take all of this as a wake up call to keep your guard up, put your head back in the game and to never cry again in your entire life ever.

Halftime: One team has taken the lead or it’s all tied up. Either way, a rousing speech from the coach or team captain fires the locker room with new hope, confidence and replenished electrolytes.

Girls’ Night: You finally sit down to drinks and snacks with the girls after re-scheduling 4 times in favor of crucial hang time with the boy. (“It’s just, he’s leaving on a work trip in a week and we want to get some couch time in before things get crazy with packing.”) If you’ve ever needed a pep talk… Your girls tear you down to build you up with: “You’re, like, obsessed. It’s not healthy. We don’t even recognize you anymore! You used to be so cool and opinionated and now you like Santa Monica!” You leave the night with a new sense of hope, confidence and replenished opinion: “You’re totally right! Beach House is music for stoners without ears!”

Third Quarter: There are three likely scenarios at this point in a football game:
1. A team is up at the half and emerges with even more confidence to work on closing the game for a win.
2. A team is up at the half, goes into the locker room and freaks out (“ARE YOU KIDDING ME, MAN?! We’re WINNING!! WHAAA????”), emerging in the 3rd quarter all over-confident but flustered and the opposing team scores in the first couple of minutes. (Special thanks to last week’s 49ers for the visual.)
3. Two teams all tied up play harder-hitting, more aggressive football resulting in injuries, more penalties and a stalled quarter.

Wedding Invite Date: There are three likely scenarios at this point in a relationship:
1. You think he likes you more but you’re not sure, so you decline the invite to his childhood friend’s wedding to ‘spend the weekend with your family’ (catch up on The Good Wife) because ‘he needs to have a chance to miss you’. Whoever texts first with this information (I miss you) loses.
2. He invites you to his boss’ wedding in Costa Rica. You freak out, saying to your girlfriends: “Not only is it a wedding, but it’s OVERNIGHT! A vacation! And it’s for work so he trusts me with making a GOOD IMPRESSION!”. This excitement and over-confidence lead to one too many mai tais during cocktail hour and the cornering of the boss to tell him your funny joke: ‘Why bother with a third marriage? Such a waste of time and money when hookers are cheaper and know better tricks!’
3. Neither of you will give any emotional clues as to how the other is feeling for fear of losing control. You decide not to invite him to your best friend’s wedding because you can’t risk him knowing you might actually have feelings of like. You sit at the kids’ table sawing well-done filet with a butter knife while trying not to text the boy.

Fourth Quarter: This is where all of the promise of the first three quarters is hopefully fulfilled in a last minute showdown of will, brute force, and ability to withstand swollen ligaments. In the worst cases, it’s a blowout that ends with the prevailing team beating the losers while they’re down and running the clock out by ‘taking a knee’. Taking a knee is also called the Victory Formation, since it’s most often used by the leading team when the losing team has no possible way of making up the point deferential. At the beginning of the snap, the QB will literally kneel down with the ball on successive plays to end the game. It’s part safety measure (it prevents the risk of a fumble, thus securing the win) and part sportsmanship. (No need to run up the score against the other team just because you can.)
It’s also in the 4th quarter that clock management becomes most obvious to the viewer (well, to me). If a team is ahead, they’ll want to hold on to the ball as long as possible and run down the clock, giving the opposing team less chance to score. Running the ball accomplishes this well since the clock doesn’t stop at the end of a rushing play – only if the player with the ball runs out of bounds. Incomplete passes (from a passing play) and passes out of bounds stop the clock.
If a team is behind, they’ll run a hurry-up (also called a no-huddle) offense to make the most of the time remaining. When executed correctly, the hurry-up allows the offense to get a play off without wasting time in a huddle and in best cases, allows action before the defense has had a chance to line up and take their read (predict the play) of the offensive line. It also makes it very difficult for the defense to substitute players in time for the snap. The play clock starts the minute the ball is placed on the field by the referee and the offense has 40 seconds to start a play. If they don’t manage, they’ll be charged with a ‘delay of game’ penalty, which costs the offense 5 yards. For some further, well-written information on this, read Ian Rapoport’s article about how the Patriots effectively used the hurry-up in their win against the Dolphins.

The Break-Up: This is where all the gaming, scheming and ability to withstand swollen egos ends in epic fashion. Possible outcomes:
1. You ask the boy if he wants you to reserve him a seat to the 8:30 showing of 50/50 with you and a couple girlfriends and he accuses you of smothering which sets off an argument of the past few months (years)’ grievances aired and you both go separate ways, not sure who broke up with whom but both deciding that the other is an immature narcissist incapable of love.
2. You meet someone else or he meets someone else… At worst, you commit emotional adultery (‘He said I’m the funniest girl he’s ever met!’) and he makes out with an intern (‘You were gone and mad at me, she was young and liked me!’) If you’re the cheater, you’ll keep the ball going as long as possible before the other finds out, while you try to make up your mind (‘I just don’t KNOW what I want.’)  If he’s the cheater, you’ll scramble plays as fast as possible to attract him (‘I got you wings AND Pliny the Elder AND an XBox because it’s Labor Day, silly!’) and then dump him fast as you can when you get the ball back, realizing he’s a cheater.
3. You remember that you hate water sports, he’s patronizing to valet attendants and kissing should be done with lips, not teeth. You give up the game, because that’s all it really is and go off in search of better conversation and a kiss that makes you so weak in the knees you tear an ACL.

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