What is American Football?
Deemed the most popular sport in America, football is watched and played by millions. The sport is played at all levels from middle school to the professional leagues. The National Football League is considered to be the most competitive and popular professional league. It was invented September 17th, 1920, in Canton Ohio. Since then, the league has grown tremendously. The tough, hard hitting, fast paced game takes place on what is referred to as a gridiron. The reason being because a football field looks like a gridiron grill due to all the various lines creating small boxes.
Football is believed to have originated in 1869 when Rutgers and Princeton played what was referred to at the time as a "soccer football game." In 1876 the rules for the game were written by Walter Camp (known as the father of American football), and a few others at a convention. Years later, The NFL was created in 1922 followed by the American Football League (AFL) in 1926. Both the NFL and AFL were considered the top leagues and drew lots of attraction from fans leading to the merger between the two leagues in 1970 to form the modern National Football League.
Here is the timeline of major dates in football history:
- 1869: First known game played between Rutgers and Princeton
- 1876: American Football rules written by Walter Camp and others at a convention
- 1922: Birth of the NFL
- 1926: Birth of the AFL
- 1970: AFL and NFL merger
A football field is a total of 120 yards (360 feet) in total length. The field consists of two end zones which are each 10 yards (30 feet) in length each as well as the playing field which is 100 yards (300 feet) in length. The field is 53 ⅓ yards (160 feet) in width. Every 5 yards (15 feet) on the playing field are lines that go all the way from one sideline to the other.
In the middle of the field there are two sets of hash marks that go from one end zone to the other. In the NFL the hashes are 18 feet and 6 inches apart. In college they are 40 feet apart. In high school, the hashes are 53 feet and 4 inches apart. Each field also consists of two field goals made up of a crossbar and two posts. The crossbar is 10 feet high and is horizontal, while the posts are an additional 20 feet of length vertically in the air on each end of the crossbar. Highschool goal posts are 23 feet and 4 inches apart. NFL and college goal posts are 18 feet and 6 inches apart.
Because of the hard hitting and fast paced nature of football, players are required to wear several different pieces of protective equipment. Each player is required to wear certain pads and a specific helmet. Some chose to wear additional gear as a personal preference.
The requirements are:
- Shoulder Pads
Optional equipment includes:
- Neck Pads
- Mouth Guard
- Knee Pads
- Braces (Elbow, Ankle, Knee, Shoulder)
A professional football game consists of four quarters lasting 15 minutes each. After the first two quarters are completed, the teams get a break known as halftime. After halftime, two more quarters are played resulting in the entire game lasting 60 minutes. If the score is still tied, a 10 minute overtime quarter follows. At the lower levels with younger kids, quarters are usually shorter than 15 minutes because children can't handle playing that long. Games vary in terms of score. Some games could have under 20 points combined while others may have over 80 points combined. This depends on how well the defenses play.
Positions and Roles
During any play in football there will be 22 players on the field at a time. 11 on the offensive side as well as 11 on the defensive side.
Here is a list of players both on the offensive and defensive side:
- Running Back
- Wide Receiver
- Left Guard
- Right Guard
- Right Tackle
- Left Tackle
- Defensive Tackle
- Middle Linebacker
- Outside linebacker
- Defensive End
Rules and Regulations
Football is full of various rules and regulations. The rules are in place for the safety of the players as well as the sake of fairness. The NFL makes sure to keep up to date with their rules changing certain features of the game yearly. For example, following a missed pass interference call in the 2019 NFC championship game that could have resulted in the Saints making the Super Bowl, the league decided to make pass interference calls reviewable. After just one season of interference calls being reviewable, the league just decided to get rid of the rule.
Below are some of the most important rules within the game and their meaning.
Legal Catch: A catch occurs when a player successfully possesses the ball, makes a football move, and has two feet in bounds. The rule is the same for college except only one foot needs to be in bounds.
Unsportsmanlike Conduct: A penalty called when a player misbehaves after a play such as hitting a player late, taunting a player or referee, or making contact with a referee at any point. The penalty can also be called on coaches for verbally abusing referees or by making contact with them at any point.
Targeting: A very important rule put in place to protect players from suffering head injuries. The penalty is called when a player hits another player who is deemed to be in a defenseless position. Targeting penalties can result in ejection from the game.
Offsides/Encroachment: Offsides occurs when a defensive player or offensive player lines up past the line of scrimmage and the ball is snapped. Encroachment occurs when a player touches another player from the opposing team before the ball is snapped.
False Start: A penalty called on the offense for beginning to move before the ball is snapped.
Referees and Officials
Due to the fast pace and high amount of players on a field at once, there are 7 referees on the field at all times. Each referee has specific responsibilities on each play. The seven have different names: Referee, Umpire, Head Linesman, Line Judge, Field Judge, Back Judge, and Side Judge.
Lingo and Terminology
As it is with every sport, there are specific terms and phrases used commonly within the game amongst players, coaches, commentators, and spectators. If you are an avid fan of the game, you will be familiar with these.
Dime: Usually used when referring to a beautiful throw made by a quarterback to his receiver.
Bread Basket: Refers to a receiver's stomach or hands.
Ground and Pound: Refers to a strategy in which a team runs the ball continuously on offense with minimal passing.
Air Raid: Refers to a strategy in which a team passes the ball continuously on offense with minimal running plays.
Hands Team: Refers to a specific set of players who are put onto the field when a receiving team believes the kicking team will attempt an onside kick. These players are deemed to be the best at catching the football on the team.
Hard Count: Refers to a quarterback continuously screaming and pretending to ask for the ball to be snapped in an attempt to draw the defensive team offside.
Pick: Also known as an interception, occurs when the defensive team catches a pass thrown by the quarterback.
YAC: Yards after the catch. Refers to the yards a receiver gains after catching the football.
Gunslinger: Refers to a quarterback who has an incredible arm and can throw the ball very far. These quarterbacks tend to be part of an Air Raid offense utilizing their arm strength by having lots of passing plays.
Coaching a football team is certainly not an easy task. Football rosters usually have around 50 players with different personalities and different backgrounds. As a coach, you must be able to adhere to each player and know how to effectively motivate them to play to the best of their ability. On top of that, a coach must have great football knowledge on both the defensive and offensive side.
Skills and Techniques
Football is a unique game because players can always improve no matter what. The sport requires dedication and constant pursuit to be better. Given the fact that strength and speed are key factors to being successful, players must hit the weight room constantly and work on their explosiveness. Each position requires a different skill set as well. Below is a list for skills and techniques each position group must have/work on.
- Strong upper body
- Explosive first step
- Strong legs
- Strong arm
- Strong decision making skills
- Ability to read a defense
- Ability to improvise on the spot
- Strong hands
- Quick feet
- Long Strides
- Impeccable body control
- Tremendous jumping ability
- Ability to see gaps in a defense and expose them simultaneously
- Ability to run backwards
- Lateral quickness
- Ability to read a quarterback's eyes
- Upper Body Strength
- Explosive first step
- Strong and powerful legs
- Ability to read quarterback
- Pass rushing as well as coverage abilities
As with any sport, a ton of strategy is involved in football. There are various different offensive and defensive strategies employed throughout games. Some teams decide to use one strategy and hold true to that while others utilize various strategies throughout a game changing on the fly. Football is similar to a game of chess in that teams usually alter their formation and strategy depending on what the opposing teams line up in.
Offensive strategies include run heavy strategies. Teams that employ this strategy tend to have a good running back and offensive line and decide to run the ball often. On the contrary teams that utilize an air raid strategy decide to pass the ball often using their receivers and quarterback. A third strategy is the option. Teams who run the option usually have a running quarterback who is good at making decisions with the football and is fast. The option offense consists of a quarterback and either a single running back or multiple backs with the quarterback making the decision to either run the ball himself or pitch it to one of the running backs depending on where the defense commits to.
In response to these offensive strategies, defenses run different defensive schemes such as zone coverage. Teams who employ zone coverage assign all of their defensive backs and linebackers to watch over a specific area on the field making them responsible for any play that occurs in their zone. Teams who use zones usually trust their players' tackling abilities and expect the offense to pass the ball.
Another scheme defenses utilize is man to man coverage. Defenses who use this strategy trust their defensive backs to stick with the opposing team's wide receivers locking them down. A third strategy defenses use is a load the box strategy. When defenses load the box it means they are putting the majority of their players near the line of scrimmage around the ball. They do this because they are either expecting a pass play and want to blitz the quarterback, or they are expecting a run play and want to swarm the running back before he gains any yards.
Conditioning is a huge part of football. In order to succeed at the highest level, players must be in peak physical condition. Teams usually begin training with conditioning drills such as sprints. After a conditioning is taken care of, teams usually split into offensive and defensive drills. With these drills teams focus on specific plays and strategies. Lastly, teams usually combine what they practiced in the individual drills and scrimmage the offense vs. the defense.
American Football Coaches
Football teams have three main coaches: Offensive Coordinators, Defensive Coordinators, and Head Coaches. Each coach is responsible for dealing with a different facet of the game. Below is a list of some of the greatest coaches the game has seen.
- Bill Belichick
- Bill Walsh
- Don Shula
- Joe Gibbs
- Tom Landry
- Vince Lombari
American Football Players
Over the years football has existed there have been several standout players who continually performed at an exceptional level week in and week out. It is difficult to single out a top ten list of greatest players ever. That being said, the list below includes some of the most distinguished and influential players football has ever seen.
|Tom Brady||New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|Jerry Rice||San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos|
|Jim Brown||Cleveland Browns|
|Joe Montana||San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs|
|Lawrence Taylor||New York Giants|
|Walter Payton||Chicago Bears|
|Reggie White||Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers|
|Peyton Manning||Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos|
|Barry Sanders||Detroit Lions|
|Ronnie Lott||San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Raiders, New York Jets|
American Football Leagues
The NFL is certainly the primary league and the standard for American Football. There have been many leagues that have attempted to replicate the NFL, but have not reached the same popularity. A few of these leagues included the United States Football League (USFl) and the Alliance of American Football (AAF). There are also leagues which play football by different rules such as the XFL, the Arena Football League (AFL), and the Canadian Football League (CFL).
American Football Teams
The National Football League comprises 32 teams competing in 8 different divisions split amongst two conferences.
The American Football Conference (AFC) includes:
|AFC East||AFC North||AFC South||AFC West|
|Buffalo Bills||Baltimore Ravens||Houston Texans||Denver Broncos|
|Miami Dolphins||Cincinnati Bengals||Indianapolis Colts||Kansas City Chiefs|
|New England patriots||Cleveland Browns||Jacksonville Jaguars||Las Vegas Raiders|
|New York Jets||Pittsburgh Steelers||Tennessee Titans||Los Angeles Chargers|
The National Football Conference (NFC) includes:
|NFC East||NFC North||NFC South||NFC West|
|Dallas Cowboys||Chicago Bears||Atlanta Falcons||Arizona Cardinals|
|New York Giants||Detroit Lions||Carolina Panthers||Los Angeles Rams|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Green Bay Packers||New Orleans Saints||San Francisco 49ers|
|Washington Redskins||Minnesota Vikings||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Seattle Seahawks|
American Football Events
Each level of football has events during the season to showcase their best players. At the pro level, they have the pro bowl which is an all star game in which the best players from each conference, voted on by the fans, play a game. The pro bowl has recently added skills competitions where players compete in fun mini games such as dodgeball. At the college level, they host a senior bowl in which the nation's top senior players get to compete in a game in hopes of impressing NFL scouts enough to get drafted come draft day. Lastly, at the high school level, the most coveted event is the All-American Game in which the top 100 highschool players are invited to play in a game in hopes of getting recruited to play at the collegiate level.
American Football Tournaments
Each level of football usually concludes their season with a tournament to determine the best team and crown them champions. At the middle school and highschool level the top prize is to win the State Championship. At the college level, the goal is winning the College Football Playoff National Championship. The biggest event in all of football however, is the Super Bowl which is played between the two best teams at the end of every NFL season.
American Football Books
There are various different football books available for those interested in learning more about the game. For students of the game, there are books written by former coaches and players such as Football Scouting Methods. For those interested in reading fictional stories about football, books such as Friday Night Lights will be right up your alley. Lastly, those interested in nonfictional inspirational stories will enjoy books like The Blindside.
|Friday Night Lights: A town, A Team, and A Dream.||Buzz Bissinger|
|The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game||Michael Lewis|
|Football Scouting Methods||Steve Belichick|
|New Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football||Paul "Dr. Z." Zimmerman|
American Football Websites
There are plenty of websites for football fans to follow the sport and get insight from analysts. Each website offers different perspectives and provides news about the sport. The following list includes some of these websites.
How many players are on a field at once?
During any play there will be 22 players on the field. Eleven on both the offensive and defensive side.
How many points is a touchdown worth?
A touchdown itself is worth 6 points. After scoring a touchdown however, the team has the option to attempt an extra point by kicking a field goal, or go for a two point conversion by running a passing or running play from the 2 yard line. Therefore, a touchdown can result in either 6,7, or 8 points for the offense.
What is pass interference?
What is a facemask penalty?
A facemask penalty occurs when a player grabs their opponents facemask and wraps their fingers around one of the bars while making a tackle or stiff arming. This penalty can be called on both offensive and defensive players, but is more commonly called on defenders.
How does a team achieve a first down and what does this mean?
How many referees are on a field at once?
Seven. Each of the seven has distinct responsibilities in terms of what they are supposed to be looking for on each play.
What is a safety in football?
A safety occurs when the defensive team tackles an offensive player in his own endzone. A safety can also be achieved if the offensive team commits a holding penalty in their own endzone. In rare circumstances, if the defensive team intercepts or recovers a fumble and proceeds to run back into their end zone where they are tackled by the team that just turned the ball over, then the team that tackles them is awarded a safety. Safeties result in 2 points and possession of the football. The team that was safetied must punt the ball in the form of a drop kick to the team that just safied them.