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Football 101

It’s about dramatic, action-filled games played by big brawny guys in crisp autumn air, along with lots of professional commentary, game food, and cheerleaders - all of it culminating into the annual Super Bowl. It’s one of our most-loved national sports. Here are some basics:

• Football is not just a collision sport, but a strategic sport. Much time and effort is put into team playbooks and coming up with strategies to defeat the opponent, both during games and practices.

• The objective of the game is to score points by advancing the ball into the other team’s end zone.

• A team can advance the ball by throwing it to a teammate, or running with it (also called rushing).

• Points can be scored by carrying the ball over the opponent’s goal line, catching a pass thrown over that goal line, kicking the ball through the opponent's goal posts or tackling an opposing ball carrier in his own end zone.

• During a game, each team puts 11 players on the field. The NFL caps each team at 53 players overall, but each team will rotate these players out to fill the 11 slots during any given game.

• Players are assigned certain titles and tasks, and teams are divided into offense (closest to the middle of the field, to advance the ball into the opposing team’s end zone) and defense (defend the team’s own goal at the team’s end zone). Here are some critical functions:


• The offensive line (OL) consists of five players whose job is to protect the passer and clear the way for runners by blocking members of the defense.

• The quarterback (QB) receives the “snap” from the center on most plays. He then hands or tosses it to a running back, throws it to a receiver or runs with it himself. The quarterback is the leader of the offense and calls the plays that are signaled to him from the sidelines.

• Running backs (RB) line up behind or beside the QB and specialize in running with the ball. If a team has two running backs in the game, usually one will be a halfback (HB) or tailback (TB), who is more likely to run with the ball, and the other will usually be a fullback (FB), who is more likely to block.

• Wide receivers (WR) line up near the sidelines. They specialize in catching passes, though they also block for running plays or downfield after another receiver makes a catch.

• Tight ends (TE) line up next to the offensive line. They can either play like wide receivers (catch passes) or like offensive linemen (protect the QB or create spaces for runners).


• The defensive line consists of three to six players who line up immediately across from the offensive line.

• Linebackers line up between the defensive line and defensive backs and may either rush the quarterback or cover potential receivers.

• Defensive backs are the last line of defense, who are either cornerbacks or safeties. They cover the receivers and try to stop pass completions. They occasionally rush the quarterback.

• In the NFL, ranges of uniform numbers are (usually) reserved for certain positions:

o 1–19: Quarterbacks, punters and placekickers
o 20–49: Running backs and defensive backs
o 50–79: Offensive and defensive linemen
o 10–19, 80–89: Wide receivers
o 40–49, 80–89: Tight ends
o 50–59, 90–99: Linebackers and defensive linemen

• Each game starts with a referee coin toss to determine who goes first. Whichever team goes first, they decide one of three things:

1. They may choose whether to kick or receive the opening kickoff.
2. They may choose which goal to defend.
3. They may choose to defer the first choice to the other team and have first choice to start the second half.

• Whatever the first team chooses, the second team has an option on the remaining choices.

• The game consists of 4 quarters, lasting 15 minutes each. Halftime is a 12-minute period between the second and third quarters. Each half begins with a kickoff.

• At all levels, a down (play) that begins before time expires is allowed to continue until its completion, even after the clock reaches zero. The clock is also stopped after certain plays, therefore, a game can last considerably longer (often more than three hours in real time), and if it’s broadcast live with commentary and commercials, well, it can easily turn into an all-day affair!

• There are two leagues of American football: college football and professional football. Tradition dictates that college football is played Saturday and professional football on Sunday. And be careful of the use of the word “football” outside the U.S. – in other countries, “football” means soccer!

See Tom Brady and Randy Moss in action:

Highlights of the 2011 Superbowl:




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