Tuesday, 22 March 2016


I've been asked to explain the fundamentals of American Football. A lot of British/Irish people look at the game and wonder what the hell is going on. My Uncle hated it because he said it broke the rules of rugby from which it was derived (dare we say it). American Football is actually pretty easy to understand. We'll start with the obvious. 


As of writing this there are 32 teams split into two conferences: the AFC and the NFC. These are further split into compass divisions - the North, South, East and West. The North and South are actually a recent addition, as in the 80's - when I first became a fan - it was the East, Central and West. That was it. Now we have this:

You can see from the above that I have a favourite team in the AFC East (Buffalo Bills) and two in the NFC North (Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers) Each team has its own uniform and hat emblem.


The pitch is 120 yards long if you include the two end zones (this is the bit with the team's name on). The middle 100 yards is marked out in divisions of 10 yards, with a 50 yard line in the middle and moving out to the end zones decreasing ten yards at a time.


Teams are divided into three: the Offense, the Defense, and a special team (punts, extra points etc). There will either be an offence and opposing teams defense on the pitch or a special team from either side.


A special team from both sides come on to the pitch. The offensive side's kicker 'punts' the ball to a defense side's player down the field. The defensive player will then either go down on one knee, claiming a fair catch or will try and and run with the ball back up the field. The spot will then be marked to begin the game. The special teams then leave the field. 


The game has a playing time of exactly one hour, divided into four 15 minute quarters. If at the end of this hour, both teams are even then another quarter will be added until someone wins.  Due to stoppages, penalties, halftime show, etc, the whole thing takes around three hours. The place where the spot was marked is called the 'the line of scrimmage'. The offense and defense stand opposite each other on it. The offense will have four chances to move the ball 10 yards, moving towards the opposing end zone. If they get 10 yards on the first attempt, this ten yard mark becomes the new line of scrimmage. The process is then repeated until they reach the end zone. If they don't get ten yards on the first try they start again to try and get the extra yardage. Example here:

10 yards achieved = 1st down (also known as 1st down and ten) 
6 yards achieved = 2nd down (second attempt) to pick up the missing 4 yards (second down and four)
2 yards achieved = 3rd down (3rd attempt) to pick up missing 2 yards. (3rd down and 2)
If ten yards have not been achieved by the 4th down, the team attempts a three point field goal or relinquishes possession to the other side and we go back to the punt and start again. 

If in the attempt to get the ball ten or more yards, the ball ends up being caught in the end zone, it's called a touchdown and the team then relinquishes the ball to the other side.

Special teams can also try and kick the ball over the post (like the one in rugby) on 4th down to at least get three points. If successful, the ball is then released to the other side. 

If the team gets a touchdown they can also kick an extra point which is where special teams come in. The kicker tries to kick it over the aforementioned rugby bar for one point. 

And so it goes on!


Touchdown - running/catching the ball in the end zone = 6 Points
Extra point - kick over goal post after Touchdown = 1 Point
Field Goal - kick on 4th down = 3 points
Safety - offense's ball carrier tackled in own end zone = 2 points to the defense.


Penalties will be indicated by a judge throwing a yellow/red flag into the pitch. There are too many to name here but most are penalised by moving back five yards, except for serious infractions like personal fouls and face mask grabbing which is given a severe penalty of moving back fifteen yards.


Snap = The Centre player throwing the ball through his legs to the quarterback who will either throw the ball to a wide receiver/tight end, pass it to a running back or run with it himself. He must do at least one of these before he is tackled by a defense player.

Sack = The quarterback being tackled and brought down to the ground before he has let go of the ball.

Fumble = Dropping the ball, or not catching it properly in the first place.

Interception = A throw caught by the opposing side giving them possession of the ball.

Punt = The kick that starts the match.

Dead ball = A ball that has hit the ground is therefore no longer in play.

Huddle = All the players stood on the line of scrimmage.

Play Action Fake = Quarterback fooling the defense into thinking he has done one thing so he can do something they were not prepared for. For instance he may make it look like he is passing the ball to a runner, so the defense go after the runner, leaving  the receivers/tight-ends free to catch the ball he will throw.

These basics are all you really need to know to understand football. The rest of it is unnecessary waffle. Hope you understand the game a little better now. If anyone notices a mistake, please feel free to let me know.

See you in September!! From a Bears addict!