Football can be a daunting sport to introduce yourself to. There are many rules, terminologies and things to understand about the game. So, here is a guide to all the questions you might have about the game!
Who Invented American Football?
Walter Camp is credited as the man most responsible for creating the earliest version of what we now know as American Football.
Camp was the first to put together a set of consistent rules that helped the conversion from traditional rugby to the sport formerly known as ‘gridiron football’. Variations of the game had been played during the 1870s at some of North America’s North Eastern colleges including Harvard and Yale University.
The very first game was played in 1969 between Princeton and Rutgers in New Brunswick, New Jersey, but it was Camp who developed the game into the more traditional football we know today in the late 1870’s and early 1880s.
Known as ‘The Father of American Football’, Camp played halfback and served as the teams captain and head coach at Yale. It was Camp who guided the Intercollegiate Football Association or IFA to change the traditional rugby scrum into the format of giving the football up if you failed to advance after a number of ‘downs’. He introduced 11 man teams, the line of scrimmage, the quarterback position and the current scoring format too.
Camp was a very successful college football player at the time, with his Yale teams of 1888, 1891 and 1892 recognized as National Champions. He held a 67-2 record as a player at Yale. He wrote many books and publications about the sport of American Football that led to a better nationwide understanding of the game and its rules, causing the sport to spread across North America.
Why is American Football called Football?
The short answer is that Americans adapted the European games of soccer and rugby and combined them, then just called it Football. The explanations behind the reasons for that and why it was never called anything else are unknown.
American Football is a descendant of the two European games of rugby and football or ‘soccer’. Soccer, known largely as football, was formerly known as association football around the world, but the American game took the ‘Soc’ from the word association, and somehow ended up with the word soccer.
The game of American Football held its name as a descendant of the game of football, despite the fact that you very rarely used your feet to kick the ball. The word football apparently comes from a medieval European term that encapsulated various games played using your feet, but not necessarily kicking the ball.
Is Football in the Olympics?
While the game is ever growing in popularity around the world, American Football is not an Olympic sport. Leagues are growing in other parts of the world, mainly in Europe with the EFL (European Football League), but the sport is internationally dominated by its output on American and Canadian soil.
In North America, football is played from a very young age. It is engrained in hundreds of college programs at varying levels across America and therefore produces a never ending stream of professional football players who have known the game for almost their entire lives. No other country in the world has a system that comes close to America’s in the development of the game, which is why the NFL is made up of predominantly American born players, which compared to soccer is a very different set up.
The English Premier League of soccer features just 36% English born players. The sport is global and every country generates talented soccer stars, which is why we are able to have World Cups and intercontinental trophies. When you compare that statistic to the NFL, 96.5% of the league's players are American. While inroads are being made to bring the game of American Football to the Olympics, the USA would be a pretty firm favorite to win gold because of the countries integration of the game.
There are steps being taken to introduce the popular game of flag football, which has a chance at featuring for the first time at the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
How many players are on a football team?
There are 11 players on the field for each team during a game of American Football. The roster however is much larger because players have certain responsibilities on offense and defense and the team needs to have the appropriate personnel to cover those roles, but the line up on the field is always 11 players. That includes every phase of the game, whether it’s offense, defense or special teams.
That said, in the Canadian Football League, there are 12 players on the field, with a slight tweak to the system and a slightly longer 110 yard field, in comparison to the typical 100 yard field adapted elsewhere.
How long is a football game?
The length of the game at both the professional and collegiate level is 60 minutes. The game consists of four quarters each lasting 15 minutes of playing time.
In high school, the quarters are shortened to 12 minutes per quarter, making for a 48 minute long game.
Who are some of the best football players of all time?
Tom Brady is largely considered the greatest football player of all time. He played quarterback for the New England Patriots for 20 seasons, winning 6 Super Bowls during the Patriots dynasty era from 2001 to 2019. Brady was a key feature of that dynasty, which is recognized as one of the best dynasties in sporting history.
Brady is a 3x NFL MVP and his 7 total Super Bowl rings is the most won by any player in the history of the NFL.
Jerry Rice is considered by most experts to be the greatest wide receiver to have ever played in the NFL. He spent the majority of his career with the San Francisco 49ers, winning three Super Bowls.
Rice holds the NFL record for receptions, career receiving yards, career receiving touchdowns, career total touchdowns and career all purpose yards. There have been many great wide receivers in the history of the league, but they are all yet to come close to surpassing the achievements of the great Jerry Rice.
Running back Jim Brown was one of the league's earliest stars. Fans would flock just to see him play as he was considered one of the greatest athletes of his generation. Brown was invited to the Pro Bowl in every single season he played in the league.
Jim led the Browns to a Championship in 1964. He is regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the game and is somebody that every running back who’s followed him into pro football admires. In 2020, Jim Brown was recognized as the greatest college football player of all time for his achievements at Syracuse.
There have been many great defensive players in the history of football, but none quite like Lawrence Taylor. From the day Taylor came into the league, it was clear he was different.
Taylor was an incredible athlete who could have played just about anywhere on the field, but made his mark terrorizing quarterbacks as an outside linebacker. He was a 2x Super Bowl Champion with the New York Giants, and is one of only two defensive players in the history of the NFL to win the MVP award.
How big is a football field?
An football field is 100 yards long between the goal lines with an end zone at each end measuring an additional 10 yards deep, and is measured out at each yard marker with lines across the field at every 10 yard milestone. The field is then 160 feet wide (53.3 yards).
How does scoring work in football?
The biggest scoring play in football is a touchdown, which occurs when a team takes the football over the goal line and into the opposition's end zone. A touchdown is worth 6 points.
After scoring a touchdown, the team's kicker has the opportunity to kick the football through the uprights for an extra point. This is worth one point, as the name suggests. The alternative is to go for a two point conversion
Two Point Conversion
Instead of kicking an extra point after a touchdown, a team may attempt to advance the ball into the end zone from the 2 yard line (in the NFL) or the 3 yard line (in college and high school) for two points instead of the more reliable extra point kick.
Sometimes it makes more mathematical sense to go for a two point attempt rather than the extra point kick. For example if you are losing by 8 points and score a touchdown, you’re left two points behind. At that point the extra point attempt is void, so teams will attempt a two point conversion.
A field goal is worth three points, and is achieved by the team's kicker kicking the ball through the uprights from anywhere on the field, except when kicking an extra point after a touchdown.
Teams will attempt field goals if they get to fourth down rather than risk trying to advance and giving the football away in a failed attempt. In many cases, teams would rather take a high percentage shot at the three points over risking going for it to try and keep the drive alive.
A safety is a rare play worth two points for the defense that can occur for a number of reasons such as a player being tackled in his own end zone or committing a holding penalty or intentional grounding within that endzone.
What are the rules in football?
The rules of football can get very complex, and sometimes even coaches may not know every single obscure rule. Here are some of the most common rules and penalties you’ll hear about when watching a football game.
Offsides is when a defensive player is lined up in the neutral zone when the offense snaps the ball. These can occur for a variety of reasons when players are trying to time the snap of the football and jump too early.
The defense is penalized five yards, but the play is allowed to continue so if the offense picks up a larger gain they may decline the penalty and choose to keep the results of the play.
This rule is similar to offsides but the difference is that the defensive player jumps across the neutral zone early and either makes contact with an offensive player or has an open path to the quarterback (called "unabated to the quarterback").
The play is not allowed to continue and is whistled dead, and the defense is penalized five yards.
A false start occurs when an offensive player leaves their stance quickly before the football is snapped.
An offensive player may move his body slightly before the play, including his hands and upper body, but rapid movement of his feet, when a player is not already moving in motion backward or parralel to the line of scrimmage, will be flagged as a false start.
The offense is penalized five yards.
Pass interference is called when a defensive player makes contact with a receiver before the ball has arrived in a way that would prevent him from making a catch. This can include pushing the receiver down, grabbing him and trying to move him out of the way, tripping him, as well as sticking his hands in front of the receiver's face to prevent him from seeing the ball
This does not mean that a defender cannot make contact with a receiver prior to the ball arriving, since that would be almost impossible. A defender may make contact as long as he is not obstructing the path or the hands of the receiver, and is instead trying to catch the pass or knock it down.
This is the most subjective penalty in the rulebook, and the one that really depends on the viewpoint of the official who chooses whether or not to call the penalty.
Offensive pass interference may also be called, but it is far less common. This is usually called when a receiver pushes away a defender in order to create space for a catch.
The penalty for pass interference in high school and college is 15 yards, or half the distance to the goal line if the play started inside the defense's 30 yard line. In the NFL, the penalty puts the ball at the spot of the foul, which means the offense can gain much more than 15 yards if the penalty is called on a deep pass.
In the NFL, if the foul occurs in the end zone, the ball is spotted at the 1 yard line for the next play.
Holding is a penalty that flags a player for holding onto an opposition player in a way that restricts his ability to move. For example, offensive linemen are allowed to put their hands on incoming defensive players to block them, but as soon as they grab hold of their jersey material or grab them from behind to impede them, holding will be called.
In the NFL, holding is a 10 yard penalty from the previous line of scrimmage. In high school and college, it is a 10 yard penalty from the spot of the foul, which can end up costing the offense more than 10 yards if the foul occurred behind the line of scrimmage.
Defensive holding is usually called on pass plays when a linebacker or defensive back grabs hold of a receiver before the ball is thrown to restrict his movement.
The penalty for defensive holding is five yards and an automatic first down for the offense.
Personal fouls can be called for a variety of reasons and encompass things like unnecessary roughness and taunting. They are called on individual players actions during a game of football and result in a 15 yard penalty and an automatic first down. Both offensive and defensive players can be called for personal fouls.
The penalty for a personal foul is 15 yards on the offending team.
Roughing the Passer
Roughing the passer is called for things including hitting the quarterback below the waist or hitting him after the football has been thrown.
In the physical game of football, steps have been taken to protect the quarterback from unnecessary injuries and hits.
The penalty for roughing the passer is 15 yards from the previous spot.
An illegal formation occurs when there are less than 7 players on the line of scrimmage. In high school and college can be a mix of offensive lineman, tight ends and wide receivers, but the team must have at least 7 players on the line.
In the NFL, these rules become even stricter, since the end man on each end of the formation must have an 'eligible' number. The numbering rules are a little complex but basically it means that a player must wear a jersey number that a receiver, tight end, quarterback or running back would wear.
Sometimes a team may use an offensive lineman in this spot, but in the NFL he would have to check in with the referee and report himself as eligible on the play.
The penalty for an illegal formation is five yards.
What is a catch?
NFL rules define that you must have full control of the football, get two feet down in bounds and make a ‘football move’, which is something like taking another step after catching the football.
One exception to this rule is catches in the end zone do not require a football move to be considered a catch, as well as catches on the sideline where a player gets both feet in bounds before his momentum carries him out of bounds.
A pass attempt can be called incomplete if the ball bobbles as the player hits the ground, or the player uses the ground to assist in the catch.
What is a turnover?
A turnover is a play that results in the possession of the football changing hands from one team to the other without the use of special teams.
The offense wants to avoid turnovers, while the defense wants to cause them as often as possible, winning the football back for their team.
Let's take a look at the specific kinds of turnovers...
An interception occurs when a quarterback's pass is caught by a defensive player instead of an offensive player.
Interceptions can be caused by great defensive players jumping in front of a designed throw, or in other instances such as a ball that is tipped in the air and then caught by another defensive player.
Interceptions can be caught and then run in the opposite direction as far as possible, sometimes resulting in touchdowns for the defense, otherwise known as a pick six.
A fumble is when a player loses possession of the football during the play before he is tackled to the ground and considered down, or forced out of bounds.
These can occur for various reasons such as the offensive player being tackled and dropping the ball, or a defensive player intentionally ripping or punching the ball out.
In the NFL, one thing that CANNOT happen by rule is that the ground cannot cause a fumble. In other words, if a player trips on his own and was not knocked down by a defender, and he loses the ball when he hits the ground, it is ruled not a fumble and the offensive team keeps possesion.
When the ball is fumbled, either team can scramble to pick it up. The ball is live and whichever team recovers it retains possession.
Turnover on Downs
A turnover on downs occurs when the offense of a team fails to convert on a fourth down situation. Even though it is called a turnover on downs, it is not counted in the statistics as a turnover the same way a fumble or interception would be.
Teams can go for it on fourth down if they’re confident they can convert the play into a new set of downs, but if they fail, the opposition takes possession where the ball was declared dead on the previous play.
These can be costly plays if you go for it in risky situations and fail to convert.
What is the line of scrimmage?
The line of scrimmage is an imaginary line across the field that separates the two teams before the football is snapped.
The position of the football indicates the line of scrimmage, and neither side is allowed to cross that line until the play is live and the football has been snapped. Players will try to time this perfectly to get a head start on their opponent.
What is the Neutral Zone in Football?
The neutral zone is the area in between the offense and defense that separates the two sides.
The neutral zone is measured by the length of the football from end to end, and the only player allowed in the neutral zone before the snap is the center.
What are special teams?
Special teams are plays that include a punter or kicker, which is why they are often referred to as the kicking game.
These plays are the kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return, field goal, extra point, field goal block, extra point block, and the free kick and free kick return teams (rarely used except in very specific situations).
Special teams is the third phase of football alongside the offense and the defense, and is every bit as important. Special teams units help to score points with the kicker and kicking unit, or pin the opponent deep in their own half with a great punter and players running downfield to stop a punt return.
Returners on both kicks and punts are typically very fast players with a lot of agility who will attempt to catch a kick or punt and return it as far down the field as possible. Kick and punt return touchdowns are some of the most electrifying plays in football.
What is an audible?
An audible is a new play called by the quarterback once the offense is already lined up and ready to snap the ball. It's called an audible because the defense is already aligned across from the offense, so unlike a play called in the huddle, this play call is "audible" to the defense.
You will sometimes hear that the offense or specifically the quarterback called an audible before snapping the football. This means that the play design that had been discussed prior to lining up on the field didn’t look right, or the set up of the defense means the play is unlikely to work, or maybe the quarterback just sees something he likes better than the play that was called.
The quarterback can call an audible which switches the play to an alternative by using a code word for that specific play. For example the quarterback shouting ‘Wendy, Wendy’ might mean that the play is changing from the original pass play to a run play, and his offensive players will understand what Wendy means.
What is a “Down” in Football?
A down represents one play in football, though this term is not used for kickoffs and extra points. The offense gets four downs to advance the football ten yards, and at the time they advance beyond that marker, the four downs reset.
When watching a game of football you’ll hear first down, second down, third down and fourth down regularly, as they represent the plays of the offense. If the offense fails to advance in the first three downs they will often punt the football back to the other team.
The idea is for the offense to advance without getting to fourth down at any point, getting into a scoring position as they drive down the field. The defense's job is to stop the offense from doing that, forcing them to a fourth down and getting the football back for their team via a punt or a failed fourth down attempt.
What is the red zone?
The red zone is the area of the football field between the goal line and the 20 yard line. The red zone is considered the most difficult area to advance the football because everything is condenses into a smaller area, meaning more defensive players in a smaller space.
When an offense reaches the red zone, they are usually within field goal range, so the success in this area of the field can mean the difference between scoring 3 and 7 points.
The offense usually has special red zone plays prepared for this area of the field to take advantage of the unique challenges.
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