Confession: I didn’t understand anything about football…until I worked as a sportswriter for a Southern newspaper. In the land of Friday night lights, I needed to learn the sport or be banished to the office, taking score-reporting phone calls for agate. So, I started a month-long study in, quite literally, “Football for Dummies
What I found is that football, in its essence and all its complexities, is not that hard to understand. Like any sport, there’s a clear cut goal, but the media and diehard fans like to analyze every play and count every stat, making it a little less accessible for anyone (girl or guy) to ask at a Super Bowl party, “Hey, what just happened?” And you also shouldn’t pretend to know it all either if you’re not into it.
So here are a few pointers on following what’s going on between all those epic commercials and touchdowns, along with GIFs of my favorite funny player Eli Manning. Trust me, it’s actually a pretty cool sport.
The aim of American football is simple: Teams have three chances (called “downs”) to move the ball 10 yards on the field (called the “gridiron”). If they move it 10 yards, they get a new set of downs/chances. If they don’t, they can choose to kick a field goal (more on that later) or keep trying to get to 10 yards for a new set of downs.
NFL football games measure time in quarters lasting 15 minutes, but they are always, always longer than 15 minutes. Halftime will occur after two quarters.
In other sports like baseball and basketball, the offense and defense are played by the same players. In football, there are separate defense and offense players. When one team’s offense is on the field, the opposing team’s defense takes the field to, well, defend any chances of a touchdown or other kinds of scoring (see below).
The quarterback leads the offense. The defense’s main job is to stop the offense from moving the ball any way they can. There’s even a separate guy whose main job is to kick the ball (called the kicker).
There are two ways to run the ball: The quarterback hands it off to a running back or throws it to one of his receivers. When either of them catch or run the ball into the opposing team’s endzone, it’s a touchdown, which is worth 6 points.
After a touchdown, the scoring offense can choose to run/throw the ball into the endzone for 2 more bonus points (called the “two-point conversion”) or kick a field goal for 1 bonus point.
Another way to score is called a “safety” for 2 points — it’s rare and complex and to be honest, I don’t have a full handle on this one, either.
The Cool Stuff
“There’s a flag on the play” means a foul was committed and yards will be lost on penatly — some interesting ones include having too many players on the field (totally possible) and “facemask,” when one player touches another’s facemask. When the quarterback is tackled, it’s called a sack — and it’s awesome.
Eli Manning GIFs from Giphy