The average NFL game features somewhere between 50 and 70 offensive plays, and while none of them are alike, they all start the same way: With the football lying on the line of scrimmage and the center snapping it behind his legs to his quarterback (in the vast majority of cases at least). This happens again, and again, and again. Every play, every series, every game, every season.
Naturally, the two men partaking in this funny-looking ritual share a special bond. They have as intimate a relationship as any on a football team, one that is built around trust, communication and, yes, hygiene. They need to be on the same page on and off the field to make the operation work, and are integral to a team’s success — despite the quarterback usually getting a lot more attention than the rather obscure blocker in front of him.
There is no pairing in sports quite like it.
“The center-quarterback relationship is a pretty special one,” former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said in 2014 about his bond with the men snapping him the ball. “I’ve got my hands on their butts probably more than their wives, so it’s a pretty unique trust and relationship you have.”
That relationship Brady mentioned is just like every other in life. It may have its ups and downs, but you commit to it nevertheless. That commitment, however, can be challenged by something as absurdly-sounding as bodily fluids. Yes, we are of course talking about swamp ass. And before you ask, that is a technical term, thank you.
The amount of sweat produced by a 300-plus-pound offensive lineman can be substantial, and it can have an impact on the bond between a quarterback and the man whose butt he is touching on a significant percentage of snaps each Sunday (as well as in practice). Brady, who has played behind numerous centers during his 20 years in New England, was also keeping a close eye on his centers and the hydration levels of their respective butts.
“I always tell them I don’t want to throw a wet ball on a perfectly sunny day,” Brady told Nick Underhill of The Athletic back in 2019.
In order to satisfy a quarterback’s wishes for dry balls — no pun intended — the centers go to great lengths. Staying dry is a way of life for NFL centers. David Andrews, the Patriots’ current starting center, is no stranger to all of this.
“It was something that was very different for me at first, especially when he grabs you as a rookie in training camp and throws a towel down your butt,” said Andrews last season. “Pulling your shorts back, dumping baby powder down your butt. But that’s part of it, and obviously, if it affects how he operates, you want to be as good as you can about it.”
“[Brady] literally stood behind me, took his hand, and stuck the towel down my pants,” added Dan Connolly, one of Andrews’ predecessors at the center position in New England. “I walked around that game, feeling like I was carrying a loaded diaper the entire time. It was the most uncomfortable thing, but he was so crazy about not getting his hands wet that he would stuff shit down our pants.”
The urge to fight the dreaded swamp ass may be a normal part of the quarterback-center relationship, but it is certainly a sight to see for those watching the holy trinity of football-butt-hand unfold from afar.
Rob Ninkovich, who spent eight seasons with the Patriots as an outside linebacker, experienced the rituals attached to the partnership as well. He was not a fan, at least in one particular case.
“You know how sweaty [Bryan] Stork was?” he said about New England’s short-time center during an interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub back in 2018. “Our practice pants are like a light gray. His would look like a dark gray in warmups, because he’d be so sweaty. And Tom would get so mad if the ball would slip out of his hand that he stuffed a fat — and I’m talking like a bath towel — down his pants, so he could wipe his hands and soak up all his sweat. It was really gross.”
Of course, the common fight against wetness is only one part of the special bond quarterbacks and centers share. There’s also the roundness of the derrière, as former Patriots QB Danny Etling once noted while he was still playing college football at LSU.
“What you want is a nice, plump bottom, some surface area to put your hand on. You want them to feel you,” the current Seattle Seahawks practice squad member said.
When you break it down to more basic levels, there also is a humorous element attached to all of this. And there are varying degrees of this getting exploited by centers or quarterbacks. Just ask longtime Patriots rival and former Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday, who snapped the ball to quarterback Peyton Manning between 1999 and 2010.
In 2017, Saturday revealed that he was not too shy to share his innermost feelings with Manning on occasion. Yep, he farted on the future Hall of Famer.
“Oh, absolutely, yeah,” Saturday told the late Don Banks of Bleacher Report. “You’re going to drop one on his hands when he puts them up under there. There’s all kind of stuff we did. But it’s not an everyday thing. At least I didn’t have [swamp ass]. I’m a pretty dry guy, a very hygienic young man. So there were not too many bad days for old No. 18 back there.”
Back in New England, meanwhile, the connection between David Andrews and the team’s new quarterback, Cam Newton, is also taking shape. While there are no tales of towels and farting yet, the two have already developed a bond based on shared experience: Both Newton and Andrews recently struggled with injury — the former had numerous ailments the last two years, the latter sat out 2019 after blood clots were discovered in his lungs — and it brought them closer.
“Dave is a person who was kind of in my boat, a person that has been out of football,” Newton said about his fellow team captain earlier this year. “I’ve been enjoying just being a witness of how he works, how he, his whole presentation, how he shows up each and every day, how he practices.”
From sentiments like these to farting, stuffing towels down your pants and the roundness of one’s buttocks, there is nothing quite like the special partnership that connects quarterbacks with their centers and vice versa. There is a football aspect involved as well — setting protections and exchanging playing calls before the snaps — but it all goes so much deeper.
It goes right down to the butt.