From the last weekend in August until Super Bowl Sunday at the end of January, football is a big deal. Do you go to a school where football rules? Do you have friends who are huge fans and you want to understand their obsession? Or maybe you want to play yourself.
Not Just For Guys
Football is definitely not just for guys. Girls play too. From youth flag football to full contact versions of the game, girls of all ages can be found on the field. Catherine Masters, CEO and Founder of the National Women’s Football Association, says ” The women who play tackle football are playing for the love of the game. There are over 2,500 women around the U.S. that have played in the NWFA league. We have 34 teams around the country that will play in 2007 and are opening teams in six new markets for 2008.”
Whether it’s guys or gals playing, Masters describes the game as “a beautifully choreographed ballet in which each player has a role that is well-thought out and practiced. Like a dance company, everyone must execute or the ballet falls apart.”
To be a part of the experience, you need to have at least a working knowledge of the game.If you don’t know a touchdown from a touchback or an interference penalty from an interception, then read on.
On the surface, football may seem complicated but actually, the basics of the game are very simple. The object of football is to score as many touchdowns as possible while holding the opposing team to as few as possible. (There are other ways of scoring, but a touchdown is usually the prime objective)Players move the ball by passing, catching, running, and kicking in an effort to score points. A touchdown (worth six points) is scored when a player carries the ball or catches a pass over the opponent’s goal line in the end zone. The team scoring the greater number of points in the allotted time wins the game.
A football, football jersey and pants, cleats, certified helmet with chin strap and face mask, protective pads for shoulders, hips, tailbone, thighs, and knees, and a mouth guard.
Each team is comprised of an offense, defense, and special teams.
To begin, eleven players from opposing teams are on the field. The team in possession of the ball plays offense, the other plays defense.
Both teams line up over the “line of scrimmage” across from each other. The line of scrimmage is a term for the place the ball is spotted before a play is run. It marks the spot where the ball touched the ground on the last play. Substitution of players may take place any time the ball is not in play.
Does it really matter how all those players line up on the field?
Absolutely. Every player on the team has a role. Here’s what they do:
The offense, through the quarterback, works together to advance the ball toward the end zone. Offensive positions include:
Center – Lines up in the middle of the offensive line. He “snaps” the football between his legs to the quarterback and then helps to “block” the defensive line.
Guards – Line up on either side of the center. They block on passing plays and try to push back the defensive line to open holes for the running backs.
Tackles – Positioned outside of the guards on the offensive line. Their main objective is to block on running plays, and protect the quarterback on passing plays.
Tight Ends – Fill out the end of the offensive line. They act as blockers and also as pass receivers.
Wide Receivers (or Wide-outs) – Usually the fastest players on the team, they line up wide of the offensive line toward the sidelines, and run patterns to catch passes from the quarterback.
Running Backs (Halfbacks and Fullbacks) – Positioned behind the quarterback in the offensive backfield. As the team’s primary ball carriers, they use speed and strength to “rush” the ball downfield through the defensive line. They also can act as blockers for the quarterback or as pass receivers from the Quarterback.
Quarterback – Stands directly behind the center. As the offensive leader on the field, he calls the plays, takes the snap, and then runs, passes, or hands off the football to a running back.
Defenders try to prevent the offense from advancing the football toward their end zone.
Nose Guard – Plays directly opposite the offensive center. His primary job is to prevent runners from advancing through the middle of the defensive line.
Defensive Tackles – Line up on either side of the nose guard. They try to pressure and tackle the quarterback on pass plays and stop running plays up the middle.
Defensive Ends – Positioned on either side of the defensive tackles. The ends try to stop ballcarriers moving to the outside and also rush the quarterback on pass plays.
Linebackers – Play in the secondary behind the defensive line. Linebackers fill any holes that an advancing ball carrier might slip through and will also “blitz” the quarterback on some passing plays.
Defensive Backs (Deep backs, safeties, and cornerbacks) – Part of the defensive secondary. They are the last line of defense before the end zone and thus cover long running and pass plays.
What Are All Those Really Big Players Doing?
They are blocking. Offensive blockers protect the quarterback so he/she can pass or hand off the ball. They also protect the runner, forming an alley that he/she can run through.
Starting the Game
Before each game, the captains from each team and the referee meet at the center of the field for the coin toss.
o The winner of the coin toss has the option to start the game by kicking the ball to the other team or receiving the kickoff from the other team.
o The game begins when one team kicks off to the other.
o The receiving team must catch the ball and try to advance it as far back toward the kicking team as possible.
o The play ends when the player with the ball is knocked to the ground (tackled), goes out of bounds, or makes it all the way to the kicking team’s endzone (touchdown).
o The spot where the kick returner was tackled becomes the line of scrimmage.
o Once this starting point is established, the offensive squad of the receiving team will come in and try to move the ball toward the opposition’s end zone.
Beginning a Play: The Snap.
All plays start when the ball is snapped by the “center”–a special position of an offensive lineman who is closest to the ball. He/She will hold the ball down on the ground and will pitch it or hand it between his/her legs back to a player behind him/her. This is called a “snap.” When the center actually moves the ball is verbally signaled by the quarterback or whomever will receive the ball at the snap.
Who Throws the Ball?
The quarterback passes the ball. The person who catches the ball is the “receiver.” A “wide receiver” is one position eligible to catch the ball. When the ball is caught, the receiver tries to run toward the end zone. He/She can run until tackled or forced out of bounds. The point where this happens is the new line of scrimmage and the starting point for the next play. If the ball has traveled ten yards from the last line of scrimmage, a first down is awarded.
How Long Is A Game?
A game is generally divided into four quarters or two halves. Depending upon league rules, each quarter ranges from ten to fifteen minutes. Teams switch sides after the half, and each side is permitted three time-outs per half. If the game ends in a tie, teams may play an overtime period of sudden death; the team to score first wins.
Down and distance are the biggest keys to understanding football.
o Basically, a down is a play. From the time the ball is snapped (put into play), to the time the play is whistled over by the officials, is considered one down.
o A team’s offense is given four downs (plays) to move ten yards toward the opponent’s end zone.
o Distance is the number of yards a team needs to get a new set of four downs.
o If they make the ten yards needed within four downs, they are given a new set of downs. This is called getting a first down.
o If, after three downs the offense does not think it will reach the first down marker it may choose to “punt” the ball. The defensive team then tries to catch the ball and return it as far as they can before being tackled or run out of bounds
o If they don’t make it the required ten yards after four downs, the other team’s offense takes possession of the ball.
Why is a First Down So Special?
It means the team can have four more attempts (downs) to get another first down. As long as they keep getting first downs, they stay in possession of the ball. They do not have to turn it over to their opponent.
o The first play of a series is called first-and-ten because it is the first down and ten yards are needed to receive a new set of four downs.
o Suppose on the first play, the team on offense picks up three yards. The next play would then be second-and-seven, because it is the second play of the set and they still need seven yards to get a first down.
o If they were to pick up six yards on the second play it would leave them one yard shy of the first down marker, therefore setting up a third-and-one situation. Third-and-one because it would be the third play of the series and they would still need one yard to get a first down.
o If the team with the ball can pick up one yard or more on the third-down play, then they will be given a first down, which means they get to start all over with a new set of four downs.
o A team can continue moving the football down the field as long as they continue to pick up first downs.
If a team fails to gain the required yardage on third down, several things could happen on fourth down:
o A team can elect to “go for it” on fourth down and try to pick up the remaining yardage, but they run the risk of turning the ball over to the other team if they do not get to the first down marker, possibly close to their endzone. If they do not get the required yardage, the other team takes possession of the ball at the spot of the last tackle and now has four downs to move ten yards back in the other direction.
o The majority of the time, teams will elect to “punt” the ball away on fourth down. A punt is simply a form of kicking the ball that gives possession of the ball to the other team, but also pushes them back considerably farther away from the offensive team’s end zone.
o After a team scores via a touchdown or field goal, they must, in turn, kick off to the other team, and the process begins all over again.
Various Methods of Scoring in a Football Game
o The biggest goal for an offense, every time they take possession of the ball, is to score a touchdown. To score a touchdown, a player must carry the ball across the opposition’s goal line, or catch a pass in the end zone. Once the ball crosses the plane of the goal line while it is in a player’s possession, it is scored a touchdown. A touchdown is worth six points.
o The team scoring a touchdown is given the bonus of trying to add one or two more points. These are called extra point conversion attempts.
o If a team elects to go for two extra points, they will line up at the two-yard line and make one attempt at either running or passing the ball into the end zone. If they make it, they are awarded two points. If they don’t, they get no extra points.
o They can also elect to go for just one extra point by kicking the ball through the goal posts from the two-yard line.
o Another way for a team to score is by kicking a field goal. When a team finds themselves in a fourth-down situation, many times they will attempt to kick a field goal if they feel they are close enough. The kicker must then kick the football between the upright bars of the goal post in the opponent’s endzone. A field goal is worth three points.
o A team can also pick up two points by tackling an opponent possessing the ball in their own end zone. This is called a safety.
Time-outs are periods during the game that stop the game clock and allow players to rest and/or go over plays with the coach. Each team can call a maximum of three time-outs within two quarters of the game. Each time out lasts exactly 1 minute and 50 seconds except if after a two minute warning–then time-outs last only for 40 seconds. Football rules do not allow teams to call consecutive time-outs with a play being executed in between and unused time-outs in the first half of the game do not carry over to the other half.
Any violation of the rules results in a penalty and/or a loss of a down or yardage. To signal that a penalty has occurred the referee tosses a yellow flag on the field.Illegal Procedure – Before the ball is snapped, the offensive linemen must assume a set position. If a lineman moves his body before the ball is snapped, the offense is penalized five yards.
Encroachment (or Offside) – Occurs when a player crosses the “neutral zone” prior to the ball being snapped. This violation costs the offense five-yards.
Clipping – When a player blocks an opponent from behind and below the waist, the result is a fifteen-yard penalty against the offending team.
Holding – Called against any player who uses his hands or arms in an attempt to restrain an opponent moving without the ball. Holding results in a ten-yard penalty.
Interference – A player may not bump, grab, or hinder the progress of another player attempting to catch a pass. This violation may be called against an offensive or defensive player. It yields a yardage penalty or the ball is placed at the spot where the penalty occurred.
Face Mask – Occurs when a player grabs an opponent’s face mask. The resulting penalty is fifteen yards, unless it is deemed unintentional, then it is only five yards.
Why are Penalties so Bad?
In football, the goal is to achieve yards toward the end zone. Penalties punish teams by taking away yards that they earned. Or, if the penalty is against the defense, the offensive team can be rewarded with additional yards.
Did You Know That?
In most parts of the world, football is the game that Americans call soccer. American football is a modified form of the English game rugby, which was invented in 1823. Versions of football have been played in the United States since the 1850’s, but it was not until 1873 that the Intercollegiate Football Association was formed to consolidate many disparate rules of play. By 1882, rules were further revised to a format that closely resembles those used in today’s game. Today, football has more rules than any other team sport. The first professional football game was played in 1892.