Like most Americans, Michael Stern is a huge fan of NFL football. He watches countless hours of pre-game shows to prepare himself for countless hours of game-watching. Unlike most Americans, Stern is an MIT professor of physics and — having heard countless times a talking head refer  to the concept of a running back running “downhill,” he not only decided such a concept could not exist in the three-dimensional world of football but went out and proved it.

“Last Sunday I heard Tom Jackson on ESPN refer to Cleveland’s Peyton Hillis as a downhill runner, a description I’d heard countless times over the past decade and an alarm went off in my head this time as if to call attention to the implausibility of such an action in the realm of linear football,” said Stern. “So I took a tape measure, my landscaping and surveying kit and some Gatorade to the local high school and conducted a series of experiments which proved beyond a shadow of a doubt there’s no such thing as a running back running ‘downhill.'”

Stern’s breakthrough test which validated his controversial theory consisted of confirming the field was 100 percent level, placing a local high school tailback at the 50-yard line (perfectly still) and noting that from a position of stasis the running back was not thrust into any “downward” motion of any measurable quantity.

“Downhill running is as imaginary as Santa Claus or the Bears’ offensive line,” said Stern, who then gave himself a Gatorade shower to celebrate his achievement. “I always thought bathing in a sports energy drink was stupid, but it’s actually quite exhilarating and even a little refreshing.”

Patrick O. Elia