I love football, particularly of the NFL variety. So for fans like me, this is the most exciting time of the year, as the playoffs begin next week. Of course, post-season play is the most exciting time in any sport at any level, but in the NFL it’s especially thrilling, because it’s a single elimination tournament culminating in the single most viewed sporting event of the year—the Super Bowl.
I follow the NFL closely—well, at least as closely as one can without the benefit of television or lots of free time. I do manage to watch a few regular season games, usually those featuring one of my favorite teams—the Colts and the Saints (a great regular season for both of these teams, and their fans, by the way). And I’ll be sure to watch all of their playoff games in the coming weeks.
Yesterday, while playing fetch with my dog, my thoughts drifted off to football. Not random daydreams, my thoughts were inspired by the fact that my dog is quite a nimble beast—fleet of paw and amazingly elusive. Watching him romp in the yard is a treat, as he can stop and start on a dime and instantly accelerate to a full sprint. As a young, 50-pound standard poodle, he might be rather ordinary, but compared to humans his athleticism is impressive.
So the thought occurred to me that has occurred to many football-loving dog-owners: How would an NFL team fare against my dog, or any dog for that matter, if they had to run him down on the field? Of course, this premise has been the subject of a few silly films over the years. But consider this: If dogs were allowed to play in the NFL and if a dog such as my standard poodle could be given the IQ of, say, a human 7-year-old, then that dog would be the MVP of the league. In fact, he would easily be a Hall-of-Fame player. How so? Well, no one could catch him. Even the best NFL defenders would look inept trying to tackle him.
What position would he play? Clearly you wouldn’t want to play the dog at quarterback or wide-receiver, where good hands are a must. Nor would you want to give a dog the task of blocking or kicking, for obvious reasons. So, granting our canine friend the right to carry the ball in his mouth (which isn’t illegal by NFL rules, as far as I know), the position of running back becomes an obvious choice. Also, kick or punt return duties would be a possibility. In any of these positions, once the dog gets possession of the ball, forget it. He’s gone—leaving a trail of flailing defenders in his wake.
Yes, it’s a silly suggestion that conjures funny mental images. But it also raises some interesting questions, both about football and athletics generally. First, what does it say about football as a sport that a dog with the IQ of a first-grader would be a dominant player, probably the greatest the game has ever seen? I don’t have any answers to proffer here—at least not yet. I simply pose the question for your consideration.
Second, this is a good reminder that much of human athletic achievement, as impressive as it is in so many sports contexts, is a species-centric thing. True, only humans can play tennis, golf, baseball, hockey, and many other sports. But when it comes to running, jumping, swimming, and some other basic athletic skills, the animal kingdom puts us to shame. It isn’t just cheetahs, horses, and greyhounds that can outrun Olympic gold-medal sprinters, but even cats, raccoons, and squirrels can do so. And I suppose there are thousands of species of fish who can swim faster than Michael Phelps.
So the next time you’re blown away by the speed, power, or agility of a professional athlete, you might want to put his or her ability in broader zoological context. And when you’re watching your favorite team in the NFL playoffs in the coming weeks, just consider how much better they would be if they had my dog returning kickoffs.