Best drinks for ‘Beer Bowl’ 2016

American Football – a bluffer’s guide

NFL: New England Patriots at Seattle SeahawksAt heart, American football is a simple game. Like rugby or football (‘soccer’) or hockey or any other team sport one cares to mention the aim to take the ball from one end of the pitch and score in the opposition’s goal area.

American Football (or simply football or gridiron etc) is a game of tactics and explosive, highly athletic set-piece passages of play.

The game is played on a pitch 100-yards long, with broad ‘yard lines’ every five and 10 yards and one yard markers in-between. In addition there is a 10-yard sized ‘end zone’ at each end of the pitch where the ball must be taken to score and goalposts.

Each team is split, essentially, into two 11-man squads, one ‘offensive’ the other ‘defensive’. The offensive squad of one team will face off against the opposing defensive squad in the manner below (although they can vary their positions) and vice versa.

NFL positionsThere are also ‘special teams’ whose role we will cover momentarily.

The game is divided into four quarters of 15 minutes each. There are short breaks between the changeover of each play, each quarter and a slightly longer one at half time.

If the ball goes dead or out of bounds then the clock is stopped, so while the game in theory lasts an hour it does in fact last much longer, three at least.

If the teams are tied at the final whistle then another 15 minutes are added on, a coin is flipped to decide who has the ball and the very next team to score wins.


Penalties: There are quite a few penalties in gridiron and they result in loss of yards and occasionally downs as well.

tempRavensPatriots20--nfl_mezz_1280_1024The most common are ‘holding’ and ‘pass interference’. Although players are allowed to tackle other players off the ball and otherwise impede their progress they can only do so at certain times.

‘Holding’ refers to physically holding onto someone to prevent them getting to the ball carrier – usually the quarterback.

‘Pass interference’ is a classic case of playing the man not the ball and is when the ball is in the air heading for a wide receiver and the player covering him appears more interested in deliberately making sure he won’t get it rather than trying to compete for it himself and force either an interception or incomplete pass.

Other penalties include ‘unsportsmanlike conduct’, ‘unnecessary roughness’ as well as ‘hands to the face’ or ‘facemask’ (tackling a member of the opposition by grabbing the helmet’s facemask) and ‘roughing the passer’ (a late hit on the quarterback when he’s already let go of the ball).

A penalty will result in the loss of five, 10 or 15 yards and occasionally loss of a down depending on the severity of the foul.

Gameplay: The team that wins the initial coin toss can decide to kick or receive the football. The kicking team will then kick the ball down the field to the receiving side.

The receiving team then run the ball up the field until tackled. The spot they are tackled is where the first line of scrimmage will take place – or occasionally they score but not often.

If the ball bounces out of the back of the field or if a player catches the ball and takes a knee then play will continue from the 20-yard line, the equivalent of a 22-metre drop-out in rugby. A player can also call for a fair catch if he thinks his position advantageous enough – again, similar to calling ‘mark’ in rugby.

The receiving team’s offensive side then come out and face-off against the other side’s defense and they linepanthers_broncos_1453769229063_30615508_ver1.0_640_480 up at what is known as the line of scrimmage which is relatively well known even to casual observers of the sport (see picture, right).

Pinging the ball back from the centre player to the quarterback is known as a ‘snap’.

Football is based on plays, set-piece actions that are constantly rehearsed. When the quarterback is heard yelling he is telling his side the play they are about to go through with or making amendments to it if the defense have lined up in a manner he thinks will hamper the original play. Alternatively his calls may be meaningless and designed to fool the opposition.

When the ball is snapped, the quarterback can do several things. The most well-known play is to throw (pass) the ball up field to a wide receiver (a pass play).

Alternatively he may decide to hand the ball to one of his running backs (a run play) and if there is no other option he may run the ball himself and try and make yards.

The aim of each play is to advance up the field, making at least 10 yards in four attempts before it must hand the ball over to the other team’s offense.

The defensive team is obviously trying to stop them and do so by tackling the ball carrier or breaking through to reach the quarterback and either tackling him (known as a “sack”), forcing him to throw a rushed pass which his receiver cannot catch or making him throw the ball out of play in order to avoid the sack.

The ball can be turned over if the quarterback throws an interception, that is to say his pass is caught by a member of the opposition.

The catcher will then run the ball until tackled and his offensive team will come out for a new down at that spot.

If a player drops the ball (called a fumble) it can be picked up by the opposition with similar consequences and likewise players can attempt to ‘rip’ the ball from the carrier before his knees touch the ground.

If and when the offense makes 10 yards or more they get another four downs to repeat the process and so advance up the pitch to the end-zone.

At the fourth down, if the offensive line is struggling to make 10 yards they will usually bring on a placekicker to punt the ball downfield and ensure that the opposition’s offense have further to advance.

If they are within range of the goalposts but think it unlikely they will break through the defense then they can try for a field goal.

The first down is referred to as the “first and 10”. If the team only goes four yards then the next down will be the “second and six”, and so on until 10 yards are made or not.

The offense and defense are cycled through as often as necessary throughout the game.

Scoring: A touchdown (the equivalent of a try in rugby) is accomplished when a ball carrier crosses into the end zone or catches a pass from the quarterback in the end zone.

The ball has only to break the line of the end-zone to be ruled a touchdown so a play can seemingly be stopped on the line yet still be a legitimate score.

A touchdown is worth six points and a conversion a further one point. A field goal is worth three points just like a penalty or drop goal in rugby though drop goals do not happen in the NFL.

A team can opt for a two point conversion where, in place of a kicker, the quarterback will attempt to rush or pass the ball into the end-zone as they did to score the touchdown and makes the team eight points in total but it is very difficult and not often attempted.

Similarly if a ball carrier is tackled in his own end-zone that is known as a “safety” and is worth two points to the opposition.

As in all sports, the team with the most points at the final whistle has won and, in this case, is crowned Super Bowl champion.

Tom Brady; Photo credit: Michael Conroy

Tom Brady; Photo credit: Michael Conroy

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