Football, traditionally, is played kicking by the ball with an aim to score. As variations of the game emerged, different names were given to the sport like soccer, American Football, Rugby etc. American Football is still football with plenty of kicking but with an oval ball like in Rugby and Rugby style rules. Variations of this sport can be found both in United States and in Canada. American Football is a game of endurance and strength. It is played for shorter durations than soccer. An American Football game lasts for 1 hour and is played in 2 halves of 30 minutes i.e 4 quarters of 15 minutes. The 30-minute halves are separated with a halftime and there also a short break between 1st and 2nd, and 3rd and 4th quarters. High school game lasts for 48 minutes as against the 60 minutes of the big leagues. The easiest way to learn any sport, especially American Football is to know the rules of the game, how scoring is done, and at least the basics. After going through the following article and having already listed your own strengths, the easiest way to learn how to play football would be to pick a position depending on your strengths and work with a good coach.
- Number of players: American Football is played between 2 teams of 11 players each. Each team can pick any number of substitutes. However, at any point in time, there can only be 11 players on the field from each team.
- Team role on the field (gridiron): The team can be a defensive unit or an offensive unit. Whether a team will play offense or defense will be decided by a coin toss. There are also special units that specialize both in offense and defense. We shall not see such units for the sake of simplicity of this article.
- Team composition: The offensive unit is composed of a quarterback, center, running back (also referred to as rusher, tailback, or halfback), fullback, wide receiver, tight end, left and right guards, and left and right tackles. The defensive unit is composed of defensive tackle (2 members), defensive end (2 members), linebacker (3 members, sometimes 4), safety, and corner back.
2. How the Game starts
- The start of the game is called a kick off. The visiting team captain calls for heads or tails. Upon the coin toss, the winning captain chooses to either kick or receive the ball. Typically, the toss winner prefers to offend so that they can score more goals and touchdowns. In such a case, the referee swings his leg as if to kick and points to the other team captain as the kicker or the defensive unit.
- Sometimes, the toss winner decides to kick off, instead of receiving the ball and forming the offensive unit, and decides to defend a goal. The reasoning behind this is the consideration of the weather. If the captain believes that the wind direction will help his team score in the second half or the sun is directly in their eye in the first half, he can decide to defend a goal and then receive the ball in the second half of the game.
- A player from the defensive unit kicks of the ball to the offensive unit, which is received by the quarterback of the offensive unit.
- Whatever the toss winning team captain chooses, at the start of the 3rd quarter the teams interchange the positions and play.
- Each game is divided into halves and each half into quarters.
- In professional Football Leagues, each quarter runs for 15 minutes and in high school games each quarter runs for 12 minutes.
- The quarter isn’t continuous for the players may call a timeout. 3 such timeouts are allowed in a quarter and can last up to a minute. The first timeout lasts a whole minute where as the second and third timeouts can only last 40 seconds if they are consecutive (the other team hasn’t called for a timeout).
- Sometimes a quarter may pass without either of the teams calling for a timeout.
- Other instances where the clock stops are injury, penalty, touchdown, field goal, safety, change in possession of the ball, last 2 minutes of the period (for NFL game), and a NFL coach challenging the referee’s call.
- In a NFL game, the game clock is restarted after a kickoff return, or after a player goes out of bounds, or the referee declines a penalty. However, the last 2 minutes of the first half and the last 5 minutes of the second half (NFL only) are immune to restarting of the game clock.
- In American football, the offensive unit can keep possession of the ball as long as it keeps making first downs.
4. The field
- The gridiron is a rectangular field- 100 yards by 160 yards.
- There are 2 end zones at each the end of the field each 10 feet long.
- The teams (offensive and defensive units) have opposite halves of the gridiron as their territory.
5. How to score
- Touchdown: The football can be thrown or carried into the opponent’s end zone and this is called a touchdown. In NFL, it carries a score of 6 points.
- Extra Point: Also called Point after touchdown. After the initial touchdown, if a ball is carried or kicked between the goal posts in the end zone the team scores 1 extra point.
- 2-point conversion: 2 extra points may be earned if the team carries a ball or throws a ball into the end zone from 2 yards away.
- Field Goal: A team may still carry or kick the ball between the goal posts despite not achieving a touchdown. This gives them 3 points.
- Safety: A defensive player tackles an offensive player in his own (the offensive unit’s) end zone and gets awarded 2 points.
6. The ball
The ball is not a sphere, but a prolate spheroid with ends tapering to a point. It is brown in color and has two white strips across that are 1 inch wide each.
7. The Rules
- The offensive unit (which received the football at kick off and has possession of it) must move the ball forward into the end zone.
- If moving to the end zone is not possible right away, the offensive must at least move it 10 yards in 4 attempts. The gridiron has lines drawn every 5 yards to enable the players to know how far they have progressed.
- Each attempt to move the ball 10 yards is called a down and is referred to as 1st down, 2nd down and such.
- If after the end of 4 downs, the ball has not reached the 10-yard line, the ball passes from the offense to the defense.
- Once the ball is passed or turned over, the teams change roles. The offense becomes defense and the defense becomes offense from the point on the gridiron the offense turned the ball over.
- However, since the objective of either team is to prevent the other team from going for a touchdown or otherwise scoring, they can opt to kick the ball to the farthest opponent on the gridiron instead of just handing over the ball at the point of their 4th down. This option is almost always exercised because the offensive team tries to move the ball as far away from their end zone in order to delay or prevent a touchdown for the opposing team.
8. Who does What
The offense game:
- The Quarterback: He is also the captain of the team. He receives the ball from the Center and throws it to his receiver, or hands it to the running back. He may also choose to run with it depending on the strategy and team strength in order to score a speedy touchdown. In the huddle, he calls the plays and also yells the signals at the line of scrimmage.
- The Center: This player handles the ball in every play and snaps the ball to the quarterback.
- Running backs: He receives the football from the quarterback and runs with it.
- Fullback: These are the biggest players on the team. They block the opposing team from tackling the running back and also protect the quarterback from pass blocking.
- Wide receiver: Wide receivers run fast and catch the pass. Their main job is to run pass routes and be open for a pass. Sometimes, the quarterback might call on them to block. A wide receiver may line up on the line of scrimmage or may line up at least one step behind the line of scrimmage. Wide receivers have one of the two skills: speed and possession. A speed wide receiver stretches the field and creates a deep threat. He also does not allow the defense to bring an 8th man near the line of scrimmage to prevent rushing play (remember: rusher is on the defensive unit). The possession wide receiver on the other hand can make catches and gain yards before the first down. They are typically not very fast runners and rarely do you see a wide receiver that is both a speed and possession wide receiver.
- Fullback: When used, a fullback plays several roles. He does some running, some blocking and some receiving at short distances. Most fullbacks run to block the defense and clear path for the running back.
- Running back: Running back or a halfback carries the ball on running plays. Running backs and Speed Wide Receivers are the fastest players on the offensive unit. They run in short sprints instead of running straight ahead and try to find holes in the defense game plan.
- Tight end: This player is positioned to the left or the right of the quarterback. He can play the role of the receiver or the blocker.
- Left and right guards: These players block the ball carriers and protect the quarterback.
- Left and right tackle: These are the outer two members of the offensive line. They are responsible for moving the ball to the 10-yard line in 4 downs. The down is also called a tackle.
Now for the defense game
- The defensive tackle: these players typically 2 in number maintain their positions in order to block a running play. They can also run into the gaps in the offensive formation and thus create a situation forcing the quarterback to disrupt the backfield formation.
- Defensive end: These are the outer 2 members of the defense line. They tackle the quarterback or any ball carriers and overcome offensive blocking and meet in the backfield.
- Linebacker: The best tacklers on the team are chosen as linebackers and they line up behind the defensive end linemen. There might be 3 or 4 linebackers in each play. They defend the run as well as the pass of the defensive unit.
- Safety: This is the last line of defense. These players defend the deep pass and the run.
- Cornerback: these players generally take position generally opposite the offensive receivers. They cover the wide parts of the field. They cover the receivers and defend against the pass offenses and make tackles. Cornerbacks are the fastest players on the field.
In this article, we have talked about NFL. High school games and local leagues have slight variations. There is also rugby-football and soccer that are quite interesting if you are a formidable athlete. Apart from what is mentioned in the article, there are several important roles in the game, the most important one of which is that of the referee. The coach, the substitutes, the commentator are other well-known actors. Not all is fair in football. There is also foul and penalty and plenty of rules governing these aspects. There are also several NFL and local American football terms that have not been covered in this brief article. Line of scrimmage has been deliberately left out for you to get a hang of the game first before going into further rules and scoring options. However, knowing the basics outlined in this article will give you a good start. Have fun as you learn the different ways how to play football!