Friday, September 23, 2011

Football Basics - What You NEED to Know

Football season has started.  College games... NFL... Saturday and Sunday hijacking of the TV....

Cute kid clothes have started to emerge from closets reflecting Daddy's favorite team.  But what about Mommy's team?  In our house, we are split: Mom is a Cowboys fan, Dad is a Jaguars fan, Matty (the dog) is a Bears fan.  Charlotte, our daughter, has not expressed a preference... yet.  When she is old enough to pick her team, I don't really care who she picks - as long as she understands the basics of football.

I took Football 101 in high school... but it did not make sense to me.  We focused on different play routes, a 3-4 split versus a 4-3, penalties.  Yeah, that's all well and good if I wanted to play Madden.  What I wanted was a basic understanding.  Instead I received information overload and lost interest in all the mechanics.  Over the years I've learned the basics of football, and it really makes the sport so much more enjoyable to watch!

So, now I am going to give you a (very) basic lesson in football.  This post is intended for the person who has very little, or even non-existent, knowledge of football.  If this is not you, then you may want to find something else to read for awhile. 
Ready?  Here we go.

A football field is 100 yards long, marked in 5-yard increments by white lines called "hash marks."  At each end is the goal post.  The 50 yard line is the center of the field.  The unmarked areas that are between the zero yard line and the goal post are called the "endzones."  Each endzone is 10 yards long.   The areas between each zero yard line and the 20 yard line are called the "red zones."  When you see the football field, you will notice that the field does not go from 0-100, but instead goes from 0-50-0.  A football game is made of 4 quarters.  Each quarter is 15 minutes long.  Between the second and third quarter is halftime. 

The "offense" is the team trying to get the ball to the endzone (the team that is taking "their turn").  The "defense" is the team trying to prevent the other team from scoring.  There is also a group called "special teams" that get involved when the ball is going to be kicked.  Each side is only allowed 11 men on the field at a time.  Any more than that could result in a penalty.  The object in football is to score the most points.  There are a number of ways a player can score points.  The first is to score a touchdown.  This is done when a player either carries the ball into the endzone, or catches the ball in the endzone.  This is worth 6 points.  When this happens, the scoring team has the opportunity to go for either a one- or two-point conversion.  If they kick the ball through the goal post, then it is a one-point conversion.  If they decide to either carry or catch the ball in the endzone, it is a two-point conversion.

Another way to score is to make a field goal.  A field goal is worth 3 points, and it is done by kicking the ball through the goal post.  (Remember, this move is called an extra-point conversion if it happens immediately after a touchdown.)  Another common scoring possibility is a "safety."  This occurs when an offensive player is tackled in their own endzone (the one behind them) by the defense.  It will usually be the quarterback who is tackled; although it is sometimes one of the offensive players trying to carry the ball out of the endzone.  When this happens, the defense gets 2 points. 

So how is the ball moved down the field?  By either throwing or carrying the ball.  The offense gets 4 chances to go 10 yards.  When the offense gets those 10 yards, they get 4 more chances.  Each chance is called a "down."  So when you hear "first and ten," that means the offense is on its first down (chance) and has to get 10 yards.  If you hear "third and eight," that means the offense has gained 2 yards,  is on its third chance ("down"), and has 8 more yards to go.  Sometimes you will hear something like "second and 18" -- this means that there was a penalty which added more yards for the offense to cover.   (Different penalties are assessed different yardage amounts or loss of downs.)  When the offense gets to their fourth down, they either have to score, get their remaining yardage, or kick the ball (called a "punt") to the other team.

While the offense is trying to move the ball down the field, the defense is trying to take the ball away from them.  This can be done by either intercepting the ball as it is being thrown by the quarterback to another offensive player, or by causing and offensive player to fumble the ball so the defense can pick it up.  The defense is also going to try to prevent the offense from getting downs.  The defense is going to do everything they can to keep the offense as close to their endzone that they can.  This back-and-forth will continue until the game ends.

Okay, that was your basic lesson.  I did not get into the different players, the penalties, play routes, etc -- that is a whole separate post!  I hope this information has been helpful, and helps you understand football next time it is on tv.



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