An American football player.
It’s been a little while since we’ve hit you with an installment of This Week In Random Sports. Too long in fact. In the past we’ve examined cricket, combaton, and even rifle shooting. This week; however, we’ll jump back to the shores of America and educate you fine folks on the sport known there as “football.”
As with every TWIRS entry we need to set a base line by providing the rules of the game and dimension. You can wiki American football, but there are few particulars you really need to know. Football in the US is basically just a game that takes place between two teams of 11 players upon a grass (sometimes turf) field of dimesions 300 feet by 160 feet. The basic object of the game is to get an oblong ball (the football) across a white chalk line for a score (a touchdown). The scoring area itself is a 30 feet extension on either end of the playing field, brining the entire field of play to a 360 foot by 160 foot rectangle.
Turn structure in football is based upon possession of the ball (the offensive team) and a set of structured events referred to as “downs.” A team has four events “plays” to achieve the goalline or a secondary goal known as a “first down”, so named because a teams’ down count returns to one after achieving this goal (ex: a team on their third down achieves a first down, their next play will be “on first down” again). A play, or down, is ended when the offensive team’s player with the ball is “tackled” (wrestled to the ground) by a defensive player or the offensive player runs out of the boundaries of the playing field (“out of bounds.”) Also, a thrown ball (explained later) that is not caught results in the end of a play. Traditionally, a first down is earned by the offensive team moving their starting position (“field position”) 10 yards from their starting point. Various penalties and plays resulting in their position moving backwards can affect the distance a team needs to move their position to obtain the first down.
The previously stated goal of scoring a touchdown is performed by a player running with the ball across the goalline. Altenatively, a team can toss the ball (a forward pass or forward ‘lateral’) one time per play. If a player catches (“receives”) the tossed ball they can continue to advance it toward their goalline after the reception of the football. In addition, a player receiving a pass in their “end zone” (scoring area) is awarded a touchdown as well.
Touchdown scores are awarded 6 points for the offensive team. Following the touchdown score teams are awarded an additional scoring opportunity from 2 or 3 yards (depending on league) from their goalline. In most cases teams will elect to try for one point in this situation via a “field goal.” A field goal requires a player to kick the football through a set of 10 foot “uprights” which are a set of poles arranged in a U-shape which varies in width depnding upon league and skill level as well. A team can also elect to try to score a second touchdown via a single play; however, in this case this attempt is only worth 2 points. It is conventionally known as “going for two” as the traditional field goal is only worth 1 point.
If a team feels they are incapable of scoring a touchdown within their four downs they can elect to do one of two things. First, they can elect to kick a field goal from any point on the field at any time. If this is not done immediately following a touchdown score it is worth 3 points regardless of distance from the goalline the kick is attempted. The field goal is generally attempted on fourth down when a team does not feel they have a high percentage opportunity to either score a touchdown or convert a first down. A missed field goal opportunity (often known as a “fuck-up”) results in the defensive team gaining possession of the ball at the point the field goal was missed.
Alternatively a team can “punt” or kick the ball to the opposing team if they feel they cannot convert a touchdown, first down, or a field goal attempt. The strategic advantage of a punt is that the defensive team will receive the ball further from their own goalline than the current field position on the down the punt was attempted. A punted football is a “live” play and the defensive unit can catch and “return” the football toward their own goalline until downed.
Two other ways for a defensive team to gain possession of the ball are known as a “fumble” and an “interception.” A fumble occurs when the ball is jarred loose from the offense player and the defense is the first to take possession of (“recover”) the ball. On an attempted pass play the defense has the oppotunity to catch the ball (“intercept the pass”) and return it toward their own goalline. An interception returned for a defensive touchdown is colloquially known as a “pick six” as the defensive player has “picked off” (intecepted) a pass and returned the ball past their own goalline for 6 points.
Many strategies are involved in the basic game play of football. Offensive strategies consist of various set ups of players before the play starts (the ball is “hiked”) and various goals of moving the ball a short distance or long distance. Whole systems have developed such as the West Coast Offense which generally consists of a “pass first” mentality based upon replacing running the ball with short pass plays.
Defensive set ups are just as complicated and varied as offensive strategy. They vary from sets based to stop the running game of the offense (a “goalline” strategy), sets based to stop the passing game (“nickel” and “dime” sets), to sets designed to stop no plays at all (see Mike Archer).
Football in America is played by most collegiate entities as well as a professional football league known as the National Football League. In both levels teams play “seasons” of head-to-head matchups immediately followed by playoff systems. In the NFL the best teams from season play meet one another in a bracket-based system of head-to-head matchups culminating in the Super Bowl. While their is no Good Bowl or Great Bowl in the NFL, the Super Bowl does indeed crown the champion for that League for the previous season.
American collegiate football has a playoff system characterized by the Bowl Championship Series. Stephen Hawking himself is mesmerized by the formula used by the BCS committee to decide who plays for the championship of collegiate football; however, there is some known formula which decides that teams who have lost games should contend for the title while teams who have yet to lose a game play one additional meaningless game. In addition, despite is moniker of “Championship Series” there is in fact only one game played for the national title in college football.
We hope this sums up American football in a nutshell for those of you unfamiliar with the game. Any questions about this sport, as always, are welcome in the comment section. Now go out there and take in a game and enjoy watching 300lb. men bruise their way across the “gridiron!”