It was Monday morning in the higher-education capital of the universe, and in a second-floor classroom in Boston, 35 students were absorbed in a lecture on perhaps the critical subject of our times.
Rising health care costs? The global economy? Educating young people for the high-tech jobs of the future?
“This is a football field,” the instructor said. The class studied the slide as if their futures depended on it. And they might. The students enrolled in “Water Cooler Football: Learning the Game for Fun and Networking Success” were mainly unemployed senior executives, and in a rocky economy, job seekers need every advantage.
The two-hour class was co-taught by Gene DeFilippo, the recently retired Boston College athletic director — a guy more accustomed to instructing Division 1 athletes than people unsure how many points a touchdown is worth (spoiler alert: it’s worth six, with the option to kick it through the uprights for an extra point or go for a two-point conversion).
DeFilippo’s partner is Diane Darling. She’s a networking expert who bonded with DeFilippo when the two were seated together on an airplane struck by turbulence. In a testament to her professional skills, she turned the bumpy flight to Dallas into a side business for both of them.
DeFilippo doesn’t have stats on the number of interviews fumbled by an interviewee’s inability to utter the simple ice breaker, “Whaddya think of last night’s game?” But before the class started, the football-challenged said they regularly feel like outsiders in Tom Brady’s world.
“I grew up with soccer,” said Gunther Winkler, an Austrian native who has a PhD in biochemistry but only an elementary understanding of football lingo. “I have an inkling what it means, but I don’t feel comfortable enough to use it myself.”
“When industry leaders use football terms people’s faces light up and the whole atmosphere becomes more relaxed,” he said. He, too, wants to toss around terms like “Hail Mary pass.”
Julie Coyle, 57, had her own reasons for attending. “If you don’t know about football guys look at you like you have two heads,” she said, “and nowadays women do, too.”
Coyle is looking for a job in finance, but she hopes that football will also help her in the dating world. “But you still can’t take the clicker away from them,” she noted.
The students ranged from those familiar with a “three-deep secondary coverage” (a defensive strategy), all the way to Alfreda Stokes, 66, an independent sales representative who describes the game like this: “People stand against each other. They tussle a little bit, then they move to another line. And then it goes on and on and on like that.”
As the class headed into the second half, DeFilippo moved from basic concepts like “this is the uniform,” to terms like “nickel package” (a defensive alignment that uses five defensive backs) and the “mike” (shorthand for the middle linebacker).
Monday’s tutorial was hosted by Essex Partners, a career-advisory firm, and as the students left, several were studying handouts. DeFilippo’s package included info on referees, penalties, the offensive line, and so on. The other was from Darling, the networking expert. It was a diagram showing how to work a room, and it was so detailed that it accomplished the almost impossible task of making the rules of football seem simple.
Networkers, she explained, need to be as focused as professional athletes. “But so few people understand that.”