15 Useful Phrases To Yell At Thanksgiving Football

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One of the first real dates my girlfriend ever took me on was watching Sunday football at her local Dolphins bar in DC. In an attempt to impress her, I grabbed what little sports jargon I knew, downed a beer at 1 pm and proceeded to make a fool of myself. Many games later, I still don’t know that much about sports but I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade.

Thanksgiving football has a couple of basics: two games are always hosted by the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions, and then there’s the third game that everyone pretends to watch but actually sleeps through. I have traveled to the darkness of bro-infested dive bars and have emerged stronger and armed with 15 generic football phrases to say if you, like me, have limited sports knowledge.

1. “Come on, Ref! Let ’em play.”

First out of the gate is the most simple yet useful phrase in your arsenal. So much of football is waiting, which is a good thing because it means you can refer back to this guide as often as Geico advertises, but it also means the game drags on for three hours while the refs stop the play for whatever reason. Yelling at the refs is absolutely zero risk, since everyone in the room will agree, like when you suggest fast-forwarding through all the Caputo scenes on OITNB.

2. “Here comes the laundry…”

All you need to pull this off is pay attention to the score bar and be sure to say it immediately after you see the word FLAG. I coasted through an entire football season on this trick alone. For this phrase to be effective make sure your tone has a hint of exasperation, because either your team messed up or the other one did, and now they have to stop the play and this game will last even longer. (You can also use this opportunity to yell at the refs, see #1)

3. “First down, first down.”

Football fans will argue that this one is obvious, and too simple, and my god this is Thanksgiving in the United States of America and everyone knows what a first down is. But when you are facing a room of Republican aunts and uncles, a soft clap when that massive CGI arrow flashes on the field can be the difference between a day of mindless cheering or leaving an opening for someone to ask you why you don’t have a boyfriend yet. You can say this as often as you like.

4. “Just throw the ball!”

Make sure your team is on offense before you let loose with this handy phrase. Sure it’s simple, but it’s key to keep this cheering as mindless as possible. Look out for the quarterback and count to three, then it’s fair game. (Saying “thank you” dramatically when they finally do throw the ball is just gravy.)

5. “Somebody flinched.”

A surefire way to sound like an insider, bust this puppy out when you see the players line up and then see them stand up again. Usually this massive anticlimax means someone did something illegal before the play got going, or someone had a “false start.” This is only to be used once per game, and you will appear to have a scrupulous eye for detail.

6. “Looks like Swiss cheese out there…”

Pull this one out when you’re ready to join varsity heckling because it requires paying a little bit more attention. “Swiss cheese” applies when someone gets through the line really easily or through a lot of “holes,” get it? You’ll see the quarterback getting hit right away by lots of guys, or if someone is carrying the ball very easily through the line/pileup. If you want to get creative, any hole-based analogy works great here: colanders, sieves, Louis Sachar.

7. “You had ONE job.”

This is my favorite thing to yell at the screen, because nothing is more fun than pointing out the incompetence of an athlete trying his best while you are getting ready to exceed the average daily human calorie intake by 300%. Oh, America, you wonderful broken nation, long may you reign. Say this when anyone misses a catch or fumbles the ball.

Tip: You’ll see plenty of opportunities here, but none will resonate more than saying this if the kicker misses a field goal.

8. “Plug those holes.”

All the same “Swiss cheese” rules apply here, except you have the luxury of saying this before, during, and after the play. For added flair, shake your head knowingly. Be careful with this one though, one too many repetitions could reveal your faux-fan tactics.

9. “It’s all about clock management.”

Save this gem for the “two minute warning” text you’ll see next to the score bar. It will happen either close to the end of the half, or close to the end of the game. When I started watching football with my girlfriend I thought that the two minute warning was an actual warning against how much time was left in the game, but time is meaningless in football. Sit back, discreetly roll your eyes and enjoy the next 25 minutes of play.

10. “Bring out the chain!”

Keep an eye on those CGI lines on the field. When someone gets taken down super, extra close to the furthest line (the first down) they bring out a LITERAL CHAIN to measure the distance. This game is ridiculous.

11. “Was the knee down?! Was the knee down?!”

If a player gets taken down on, or very near, the end zone while you frantically ask if their knee was down, you’ve officially fooled everyone. Pack it up and go grab another beer. Your work here is done.

12. “We can win this thing with the defense.”

Low-risk and low-reward. Commenting on the defense is the football equivalent of commenting on the weather. Use this one if you are suffering from too many long silences or you suddenly find yourself sitting alone with your girlfriend’s dad/brother/uncle or any stray family member that you barely know.

Tip: Under no circumstances are you to say, “How ‘bout them Cowboys,” or your cover will be blown.

13. “Where’s the protection?!”

Summon all the indignation you can muster and pretend you are shouting down a Planned Parenthood opposer. Apply liberally every time your team’s quarterback gets sacked/wrecked/hit hella hard. I should really start calling this the Trojan, since it’s 98% effective.

14. “Should they go for two?”

Your team just scored a touchdown, but are still behind. Tension is running high and you can’t justify getting another drink before dinner. Pose this question to the room and be ready for some strategy talk. Just as an aside, you are referring to a “two-point conversion” where the team has just scored and instead of just kicking for a one point conversion, they will attempt to complete a play into the endzone. Be forewarned, pretending to care inevitably leads to actual caring, so you only have yourself to blame for all of that Miami Dolphins gear you’ll spend over $200 on.

15. “Here we go, rookie.”

Memorize the rookie’s number, and say it every time he’s doing something, anything. Even with a little research, this little phrase is high-risk but high-reward. So, since this is a full-service cheat-sheet here are a few numbers you can keep in mind depending on which game you’re watching.

Cowboys: 71, 94, 95,31,53
Panthers: 34,9,17,29, 55,54
Eagles: 17, 35, 32
Lions: 21, 46, 28, 43
Bears: 38,58, 37, 39, 91
Packers: 86, 46, 36, 7, 88, 23

Bonus: “Texas forever.”

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Isabel is a Mexico City native and current Brooklyn dweller, stands about 5-feet tall and gets really mad when her girlfriend stores the olive oil on a high shelf. She's a documentary filmmaker by day and expert quesadilla architect by night. She runs a small production company with her brother and has worked with Paper Magazine, A&E, History Channel, Bon Appetit and The New York Times. You can find some short, dry sentences on her Twitter and her fauxtography on Instagram. She's a mediocre bowler.

Isabel has written 12 articles for us.


  1. Haha I love it!!!! Wish I could use it tomorrow, unfortunately at my family’s Thanksgiving, the ~ladies~ hang out in the kitchen and gossip while the ~menfolk~ go watch football and eventually nap, regardless of the fact that my mom watches football every Sunday afternoon and my dad probably can’t name a single NFL player…

  2. This is some of the most useful information I’ve ever read on the Internet.

    My partner is going to be SO impressed the next time she interrupts my constant loop of HGTV shows to watch the stupid Green Bay Packers.

  3. Genius. I need one of these for basketball becasue even though I played when I was young i’ve yet to catch on the heckling lingo. I watch a lot of basketball because I’m in my school’s pep band and my favorite thing to yell is “PASS ME THE ROCK” while waving my arms enthusiastically

  4. This is amazing. “You had one job” is a great go to. Another favorite ref heckle of mine is “Open your eyes, ref! You’re missing a great game!” whenever the ref fails to make a call on something that looks even somewhat illegal or bad.

  5. This is hilarious! My wife can testify that pretending to care about football leads to actually caring, although for us its the Packers and the Jets.

    I have two favorite gnomic phrases. 1) when someone skids out of bounds after having caught the ball but the refs are debating if it was a legal catch, say “a knee is as good as two feet.” 2) when someone may or may not have dropped the ball, say “the ground cannot cause a fumble.”

    My long-suffering wife wants to add: “If the ball got as close [to the goal line] as Vinny Testaverde’s helmet, it’s a touchdown!”

  6. Wait but when do I say first down? What even is a down? If I can say it at any time, surely at some point it is no longer the first one!

    I love baseball, I get soccer, I can hold my own in basketball, I have lived in this country for my entire life, and I have NO IDEA how football works.

  7. this article is genius and i am going to write all of these down diligently on flash cards and memorize them but also be too scared to use any of them, probably, because last week i accidentally cheered for the wrong team in a Packers bar and now it’s going to be another ten years before i risk faking enthusiasm again. anyways thank you isabel you are what we need more of in this world

  8. I love these. I usually stick with non-verbal grunts and groans and OhMyGods.

    This brings back memories of watching college football on Thanksgiving weekend with my 90-something grandmother. Every 5 minutes she’d lean over and ask me what everyone was looking at and what was going on. Which was pretty much how I felt too.

  9. This is an excellent article. I showed it to my mom and my friend and had a good time confusing my father and my friend’s boyfriend all day. It was so much fun that we continued to use the terms while watching Sharknado 3 after the thanksgiving meal. Thanks for adding more happy chaos to an already awesome day.

  10. Oh but ya forgot my favourite one, “QUIT YORE YELLING! THEY CAN’T HEAR YOU, BUT I CAN. JAYSUS.”

    And the most import of all, “YA HAD ‘EM!!”
    It should be said like your heart dropped into your stomach, but rather than panicking about the feeling of organ displacement you’re outraged. How dare your heart try to get digested! The nerve of the damn thing, it’s supposed be in your thoracic cavity pumping blood.

  11. This was excellent and useful, even though I am already an honest-to-goodness football fan. This Thanksgiving weekend I was thankful that my fiancée loves football just as much as I do, so that we could enjoy watching together. I think we watched at least six games over the holiday break. “Just throw the ball!” is an always-appropriate phrase that we employed MANY times.

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