I’ll try to be as brief as possible, but I figured I should start with the basics before I start tossing terminology out there that needs context to make sense. Football games start with the coin toss and the winner can either receive the ball or kick off and defer possession until the start of the second half. The reason for this is purely psychological – if you’re ahead at the half you have the change to pull even further ahead and if you’re behind, you can take advantage of the ass-chewing you just got in the locker room to make up for lost scoring time. After the coin toss is the kickoff, which starts at the 35; it used to start at the 25 but the rules change was introduced as a way to reduce injuries to the return specialist. In my opinion, though, it took away one of the most exciting parts of the game- the kickoff return for a touchdown. Not to say that this never happens but it’s more rare than it used to be. Now it usually results in a touchback (when the ball is kicked into the endzone) which means play will start at the 20 yard line. For the sake of argument, let’s suppose the return specialist can field the ball and makes it to the 42 yard line before he’s tackled. That’s where the game would start. So after all that, the team has four changes (called downs) to move the ball ten yards. As long as you keep advancing the ball ten yards, you keep getting first downs, but you only have four chances total to get them. So let’s assume that your quarterback is telegraphing his plays and the defense is all over your running backs, so you can only move the ball three yards. Now you’ve got a second down and have to move the ball seven yards to achieve another first down. So now what? You decide to try a pass play and the pass works, but the receiver only gains five yards. Third down and two. One more chance to get that ten yard distance- all you need is that two yards and then you’ll have another first down. If you can’t get the two yards, it’s a fourth down. In a fourth and two situation you might go for it depending on how close you are to the endzone, and if you do and can’t get it, you’ve turned the ball over on downs (meaning you had your four chances, you blew it, now it’s the other team’s turn). If you’re still on your own side of the field, you will usually punt and hope your kicker can pin the opponent in coffin corner (a term I’ll explain later). Not being able to convert the fourth down is called a “three and out” – those are good when your team is on defense, not so much when you’re trying to score. Of course, you can always get far enough down the field to go for a field goal instead of a touchdown. It’ll only put three points on the board but three is better than nothing. If your team is lucky enough to score, you try and kick an extra point; I just read that the NFL is trying to do away with them because unless your kicking team really bites it, the extra point is a forgone conclusion and is kind of boring. You can also go for two points instead of kicking – a two point conversion- but those are tricky and don’t always work. After the extra point (or two) your kickoff team comes on the field and the whole thing starts over again. This goes on for four fifteen minutes quarters but the football gods must be Time Lords because an hour of real time translates into at least 3 1/2 hours of football time. Be prepared for it to take all day if you go to a game. That’s it! Now you’re ready to learn the subtle nuances of the game.
An interesting post. I am a long-time football fan so I tried to separate myself from what I know and read this as if I had no knowledge, which I expect is who your intended audience is. I was not successful at doing that because I know too much. You have most of the basics correct. he only thing I would quibble about is chacterizing an extra point as a field goal.
YEah I realized that just now when I reread it – shows I can’t post at midnight and make any sense. Will proof it now:)
Ok all fixed. Can’t believe I left out two point conversions either. This is what happens when I blog after, oh say 10:00. Brain shuts off and gets mushy. Anyway thanks for stopping by.
Easily understood how that happens. I noticed the 2 point conversion wasn’t mentioned but I thought you might have planned to bring it up later. I expect there are ca lot of people who will appreciate a plain talk football primer.
Thanks! I just thought that since I don’t know that many people who understand the ins and outs of the game, I’d share what little bit of knowledge I have. Of course, it helps to actually be awake when I’m blogging;) There is that;)
jumped straight into mid way then realised since i know nothing – i should start at the beginning. thanks for the intro 🙂
You’re welcome. I wasn’t sure I’d have much of an audience for this but it’s been fun and I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback:)
Great overview of a great game! But it made me think… when did they stop using a starter pistol to start the games?