BOSTON -- How do you explain a quarterback sneak in Chinese? How about a blitz, an onside kick, or a fair catch?
Explaining football to a native English speaker not familiar with the game is difficult enough. As Webmaster for the New England Patriots' new
official Chinese language Web page, Tian He's job is to explain the game to an audience unfamiliar with the rules, in a language that sometimes has no
literal translations for common football jargon.
The Chinese don't even have a word for football. Their phrase to describe the uniquely American sport is literally "American style olive ball,"
because the ball looks like a giant olive, at least to Chinese eyes, He said.
He, a 20-year-old student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, translates articles and maintains and updates the page for the Patriots, the
first NFL team with its own Chinese-language site.
"I've always been interested in connecting East and West, and I thought this was an opportunity to do that," said He, who was born in China and moved
to the United States at age 10.
The launch of the Patriots' site comes at a time when the NFL is marketing itself to the world's most populous nation. The league launched
NFLchina.com last year and broadcast last season's Super Bowl between the Patriots and Carolina Panthers there for the first time. It also recently
agreed with a Shanghai TV company to broadcast an NFL game of the week.
The league wants to play an exhibition game in China in 2006 or 2007, said Pete Abitante, the NFL's senior director of international public
Tian He moved from China to Tennessee, and the first NFL game he saw was the 1997 Super Bowl between the Patriots and Green Bay. New England lost the
game but gained a fan.
"For some reason, I rooted for the Patriots," He said. "They were the underdogs, and everybody likes to root for the underdogs."
He stuck with the Patriots through high school in Atlanta, and fate sent him to the heart of Patriots country for college.
The idea of a Chinese Web page came from the team's vice chairman, Jonathan Kraft. When the team was looking for someone to run the page, the first
thing they wanted was a fan, said Fred Kirsch, the Patriots' director of interactive media.
Kirsch contacted the Chinese student club at MIT, then went to the university's Cambridge, Mass., campus to conduct interviews -- Tian He stood out.
The site launched Sept. 7, and He updates the page three or four times a week.
The NFL has a set of translation guidelines for the league's Chinese Web site, making He's job easier. The NFL has translations for the names of top
players and coaches, including Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. But for some lesser-known players, He makes his own translations.
"The NFL actually did a really good job already," He said. "Anything else that comes up I can pretty much explain it, mush some words together to get
the right meaning."
There are also cultural differences. The Chinese, He explains, see football as a brutal sport. Because of that, He tries to emphasize the game's more
"Most Chinese think of it as very savage, like the team that is the craziest always wins," he said. "But there is a lot of strategy involved, and I
try and compare it to Chinese warfare, emphasizing the decisions of the coach and the quarterback, who are like the generals."
The Patriots' Chinese page received about 1,600 hits its first day.
"We'll see how the Patriots do and see what kind of response they get," Abitante said. "But I think having the Super Bowl champions do this would get
a lot of attention and recognition."