This last Tuesday I made a really excellent egg sandwich. Lightly scrambled eggs. Malton Sea Salt. Costco Ciabatta, toasted. More butter than is recommended by anyone other than a French chef. Finished, of course, with Crystal’s hot sauce.
It was beautiful. Perfect. The kind of life experience worth chasing. The rare combination of gratification and bliss that convinces you for weeks that for that one small sliver of life- you were entirely satisfied.
It occurred to me that it was also how a perfectly executed football play makes me feel.
You take humble ingredients. A quality double team at the point of attack, perhaps one where the right guard really cleans the defensive tackle off of the ground. A running back taking the right path, snatching the ball out the QBs hands, and bouncing it into the B gap as the middle linebacker picks the wrong hole to fill. The subtle but deeply satisfying realization that because of the RB’s vision, that linebacker was doomed to pick wrong from the start. A slot receiver showing a free safety why he spent that extra forty minutes in the weight room all winter. A quarterback taking the defensive end out of the play because he decided to win an Emmy.
All of those elements are wonderful things. None of them are particularly rare things. And yet every once in a while, when the egg is scrambled just right, and the QBs hands are just so when executing his fake, the experience of the whole play transcends the sum of its’ individual parts.
Football coaches can be grotesque, so I won’t trouble you with the kind of language thrown around in locker rooms to describe the feeling of a perfectly executed play. But I think comparing the experience to a particularly ethereal egg sandwich is accurate.
The analogy holds up in a lot of ways. Because most egg sandwiches are not incredible. Starbucks makes a variety of merely serviceable egg sandwiches. An Egg McMuffin is always delicious, but rarely transcendent. I pitched this analogy to a friend, and as soon as I said egg sandwich he described the daily driver. Open faced, over easy, toast and egg cooked simultaneously in order to perfect the timing of the runny, but not thin, yolk. Cheese perfectly melted due to the use of a lid on the frying pan, and an itty-bitty amount of water in the pan. He emphasized the water multiple times, as it is the “difference maker”.
This was his daily breakfast, and he was always happy with it. Always consistent with it. Yet I know that some days it is perfect. Others it is merely good. Technique and ingredients can be incredibly consistent, and yet the production of perfection remains wildly erratic.
Football plays are the same way. The same players can run the same scheme coached by the same coaches, and every play will be a bit different. If the process is good, and the players and coaches know what they’re doing, you’ll end up with good football in the end. My buddy eats well every morning, but bliss remains elusive more often than not.
That does not stop coaches from attempting to produce it on demand though. My pal talked for five uninterrupted minutes about his open-faced egg sandwich. Earlier this week I watched JT O’Sullivan, former NFL QB and current high school head coach, talk for 75 straight minutes about the play “Duo”. A play that he has run only one direction each of the last two years, right or left, because he hasn’t trusted he could get his players to run it flawlessly both ways. They averaged almost six yards a carry with it anyway.
When coaches are described as obsessives, or addicts, or perfectionists, this is why. They’re chasing that transcendent bite of football, that one play that makes life feel safe again. Unfortunately, the game provides it with just enough inconsistency that it becomes the perfect skinner box.
Training these coaches to hit the same buttons over and over again, until they’re sleeping in their office and breaking down practice film in their free time. Listen to Alvin Cailan talk about the egg sandwiches he makes at Egg Slut, and you’ll understand what I mean. I’m sure this is exactly how our new OC Ben Arbuckle talks about Four Verts Switch.
This season, as I enter my third season writing about Cougar Football here at CougCenter, I’m making in my goal to share those plays that for whatever random reason transcend the sum of their parts. The dopamine hits that keep coaches coming back, and the subtleties along the way that made them happen.
Because a truly outstanding egg sandwich is a beautiful thing, and it’s worth sharing.