Since the Super Bowl is coming up next weekend (crazy, right?), I thought it would be prudent to brush up on the rules and regulations of everyone’s favorite American sport. (Or is that baseball?) Well, American Football is American, if not everyone’s favorite — especially Philadelphians, after how badly the Eagles sucked this season. By the way, have you seen the Dorito’s goat commercial yet? If not, Google it — you won’t be disappointed.
Anyways, I find football isn’t the hardest sport to grasp the intricacies of, but it is difficult to remember such intricacies if the last time you watched football was at last year’s Super Bowl. Field goals are when players run down the field and score a goal, right? Oh, wait, they’re called touchdowns, because they touch down… or something.
College football was actually where the sport began, when the rules of rugby were modified to be more organized. In 1880, a man named Walter Camp changed the sport forever by suggesting at a rules convention that the rugby “maul” be changed to a “line of scrimmage,” so there would be a clear possession of the ball by a team after each play.
Professional football officially began in 1920 when the American Professional Football Association (later the National Football League (NFL) formed and catered to mainly Midwestern teams.
In today’s football game, there’s a lot more going on than simply running the ball back and forth across the field for points, although that is the main point of the game. As a reminder, a touchdown occurs when a player from one team crosses into the end zone on the opposite side of the field. They are awarded six points for this action, and then are given the opportunity for a point after touchdown (PAT). Here they can kick the ball, from the two-yard line, through the upright goal posts on the side where they scored the touchdown for an extra point. It can be embarrassing if this extra point is not attained, as it is usually thought of as “automatic.” This practice developed from the rugby game American football succeeded and has been tradition since.
They can also try for a two-point conversion, whereby they instead have one regular football play to get into the end zone again, and if successful would be awarded two points. This has only a 40% success rate, though, so it is only attempted in situations where two points would be a great buttress and one point would not be.
Gameplay proceeds as such. A coin is flipped between two players, and the player who wins the coin toss decides which team first possesses the ball. The team who was designated to kick off will do so, where the team who first possesses the ball waits for the opposing team to kick the ball to them, and they are allowed to run the ball down the field until they are tackled. Then, the regular game of football begins.
The game is centered around things called “plays” and “downs.” The offensive team, the one with the ball, lines up with it at the yard line where their player was tackled. The defensive team lines up across from the offensive team, right on the line the football draws across the field (this is called the line of scrimmage). Then, the player called the quarter- back calls a “play.” Plays are coordinated sets of movements for each player on the offense designed to advance the ball down the field. There are two basic plays available: either the “forward pass” or the “run.” All plays are variants of these.
The forward pass is where the quarterback must throw the football past the original line of scrimmage. Most often he tries to throw it to a member of his team who has run towards the end zone. The run is where the ball is carried on the ground by a member of the quarterback’s team, usually either the quarterback himself or a running back. The defense will attempt to stop the offensive team by means of tackling a player or wresting the ball away.
A “down” is a unit of play where the offensive team has four “downs” to advance the ball 10 yards, or will give up the ball to the defensive team. More often than not, if a team does not have a good chance of making that 10 yards on their fourth down, they punt just to put the ball further to improve their chances on defense. If they have made 10 yards in four downs, they have made what is called a “first down,” something you may have heard the football aficionados yelling about, and means they will continue on offense and begin the process over again. They have four more downs to get another 10 yards on the field. A down is a single play beginning with the snap and ending with a tackle. A regular tackle, not a turnover, will simply begin a new down and will not switch teams.
A field goal is another way to get points. This occurs when an offensive team feels they will not get farther down the field without turning over possession of the ball to the defensive team. They bring out a kicker and will attempt to kick the ball through the upright yellow goal posts from their current position on the field (see: PAT). If successful, this move will grant the offensive team three points.
The ball changes possession in a few cases. The first is when a team scores points by means of a touchdown or a field goal. After the points are accrued, the offensive line becomes the defensive line, and vice versa. To determine where to begin the plays, another kickoff occurs.
There are also turnovers, whereby the defensive team grabs the ball from the offensive team through either a fumble, where a member of the offensive team drops the ball, or interception, where a defensive player intercepts a thrown football from the offensive team. In this case, a kickoff is not done, and the defensive team keeps the ball and proceeds from the point where the defensive person holding the ball is tackled. I.e., game play continues until the person who intercepted or picked up the fumble is brought down.
There are also penalties, but those become more confusing and are pretty rare, so if one occurs, feel free to ask a football expert in the room. Popular choices would be dads or jocks.
The game has four quarters of gameplay. These are each 15 minutes each, making for an hour of gameplay. There can be instances of overtime, but again, please refer to your designated football expert in times like these.
In essence, American football is a turn-based game. F&M has a Division III Football team, but their season is over for the year.
This has been one part reminder, one part crash course in the basic rules of American football. I hope it didn’t confuse you too much, and perhaps enables you to watch the Super Bowl with a little more idea of what the heck the brightly costumed athletes are doing with that pigskin.
Questions? Email Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org.