Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sports Widow's Guide to Football

[ Football 101 for Beginners ]

[editor's note:  I hope to divide this up into individual pages for each chapter in the near future.  Sorry for such a long posting.]


Chapter 1 : Introduction : Why ?

Chapter 2 : The Basics of the Game

Chapter 3 : The Rules of the Game

Chapter 4 : Offensive Football

Chapter 5 : Defensive Football

Chapter 6 : The Special Teams

Chapter 7 :  History & Heroes of the Game

Chapter 8 :  Terms, Trivia & Tidbits

Chapter 9 :  Questions & Answers

Chapter 10 : What Now ?


        A few years ago, I was at a local store, waiting in the checkout line, on Super Bowl Sunday.  I was probably picking up some last-minute snacks for the game.  Behind me in the line was a young lady, who was quite noticeably excited about something.  I asked her if she was going to watch the Super Bowl, to which she enthusiastically replied, “Yes!  Her answer to my next question would provide the basis for this book.

        I asked her, “Which quarterback do you like best?”   She paused, then asked me, “Umm-- what’s a quarterback?” and then apologized or offered an excuse for not knowing.

        This portrays an error that we oftentimes make when dealing with others: we assume people’s knowledge or familiarity of something that we ourselves accept and take for granted.  This girl was obviously excited about spending the afternoon with her friends, watching a football game, but having no earthly idea of what it was really all about.

        Over the last few years, I have begun to notice attempts on the part of various people and organizations to increase awareness of this sport.  Collegiate and professional sports teams have sponsored seminars and webinars for novices to learn more about football.  Authors and publishers have also seen the need and responded with basic books.
Unfortunately, some of these attempts at educating have tried to be so complete in their explanations that it has instead driven the otherwise sincere student farther away from understanding the game.

        I no longer take for granted that others have the same knowledge or familiarity that many of us do about something so popular as football.  Neither do I take for granted that everyone will automatically wish to learn more.  Some may desire to just stay in the background, and remain clueless or ignorant of the details of this game.  However, for those that do wish to increase their awareness, this book will attempt to answer some basic questions about the game and help those that live with “sports nuts” to blend in, rather than stick out, and maybe actually enjoy the experience more.


        While it is important to not assume any knowledge for a beginner, it is also crucial to begin with some basics upon which everything else will follow.  Be sure you understand the basics before you attempt to go on and try to learn more or gain an overall familiarity with the game.

        Here are some of the BASICS of the game of football.

An American Football
  •    Football is played with a football.  This may seem a rather elementary and unnecessary statement, but nothing is assumed here. This is a picture of a football.  It may be helpful here to clarify that the game of "soccer" is also referred to by many as "football", but it is quite different from the American version.  While a portion of our game involves kicking ("foot"), a greater part is involved in running and passing the ball.
  •    Football is a team game.  While a football team usually includes many more team members, there are eleven players for each team allowed on the field at any given time.  There is an offensive team, a defensive team, and a group called Special Teams, which includes all of the aspects of the kicking game.
  •    Football is played on a field.  Originally, all football games were outdoors, played on grass.  In later years, some fields were moved inside, and the playing surface sometimes was changed from grass to an artificial “turf.”  Most of the reasons for this were weather-related.  Some football purists believe that part of the essence of the game is the playing in natural conditions, whether on a sunny, dry field, or in the snow or mud.
  •    Football is a time-based game. While baseball is based on outs and innings, and therefore could theoretically go on indefinitely, football is a timed game.  REGULATION time lasts for sixty (60) minutes, divided up into four 15-minute quarters, with a halftime break.  The time clock is usually stopped on dead balls, which include incomplete passes, out-of-bound plays, after scores and on time outs.  At the end of regulation, if the game is tied, an OVERTIME period will normally be played to determine the outcome of the game.  Overtime rules vary, depending on whether it is high school, college, or professional football.     [see RULES OF THE GAME].

The football game is played on a rectangular field that is measured in yards, 100 yards long and [ width of field ].  The field is divided by lines and markers.  Each ten-yard section of the field is marked by a line and number.  Between these are five-yard marker lines.  The five and ten-yard lines run from one sideline to the other. Then, one-yard dividers, called hash markers, are positioned between the line markers on each side of the field.

A Football Field
     Each end of the field (50 yards) is considered a team’s territory. The yard lines are numbered 0-40 on both sides of the field, with one 50-yard-line marker at midfield.  Since the field is numbered this way, when one team passes over the 50-yard-line, they are considered in their opponent’s territory.  At the end of each side of the field is a goal line, marked with a ‘G’, and a ten-yard END ZONE.

        There are goal posts at each end of the field, usually positioned at the BACK of the end zone.  A goal post has a support post, topped by a horizontal bar, and two vertical posts on each end.  The goal post is used to mark a successful field goal or extra point [ see SCORING ].  A kick is successful when it crosses over the horizontal bar, between the two vertical posts (uprights).


A coin toss at the beginning of the game determines which team gets the choice of first possession, or on which end of the field they will play.  A kickoff takes place, in which the team which will be on defense kicks the ball to the offense.  After the kickoff return, the offense begins what is termed an offensive drive, in which they attempt to advance the ball down the field and score a touchdown.

The two teams line up, with the position of the ball marking what is called the “line of scrimmage”.  The offensive team is given up to four plays, called downs, to advance the ball a distance of ten yards. These plays are numbered, being called first, second, third & fourth downs.  Each time the offense goes ten yards or more, they are awarded a new “first down”. 

The field is divided into two 50-yard territories. 

·        If a team is in their own territory, yardage is added to achieve field position.  EX : If the ball is on the 25-yard-line and a team gains eight (8) yards, then 25 = 8 = 33 [the ball is now on the 33-yard-line]. 

·        But once they pass the 50-yard-line, yardage is subtracted to achieve field position.  EX : If the ball is on the 45-yard-line and a team gains eight (8) yards, then 45 + 5 = 50, and then 50 – 3 = 47  [the ball is now on the opponent’s 47-yard-line].

A team does not have to use all four downs to get a first down, or to score a touchdown.  They can gain ten yards or more on first down, and so therefore, the next play will be first down again.  The team could also score a touchdown on any given play, by advancing the ball to the goal line.

If a team does not gain ten yards on their first three downs, they have the choice of either trying for a first down on fourth down, or punting (kicking) the ball to the other team.  Most teams elect to kick the ball away, instead of risking the attempt on fourth down, because if they do not gain the yardage necessary for a first down, the opponent is awarded the ball at that point.  With a punt, the team is allowed to move the position of the ball deeper into their opponent’s end of the field before they take possession.


·        TOUCHDOWN- When the offensive team runs or passes the ball past the opponent’s goal line, they score a touchdown. (6 points)

·        EXTRA POINT- After a touchdown, a team is allowed to attempt an extra point.

o   A kick called an “extra point,” or “PAT” (point after touchdown) is attempted from close to the goal.  (1 point)  If a team successfully kicks this point, they score a total of seven (7) points instead of the six points.

o   A ‘two-point’ conversion is allowed, if the team chooses to line up and run or pass the ball over the goal line. (2 points)  If a team is successful, they score a total of eight (8) points instead of the six points.

·        FIELD GOAL-  When a team’s drive stalls, and they are in field goal range [meaning it is close enough for the kicker to make a kick], then the team may choose to attempt a field goal on fourth down rather than try for a first down or touchdown.  The ball is snapped to a “holder”, and the kicker attempts to kick the ball through the goalposts.  (3 points)


        A group of officials, called referees, control and regulate the football game by :

·        managing the game clock ;
·        using first-down chains to mark the position of the ball ;
·        following a set of rules which, if broken, result in penalties.


        As stated earlier, each team is allowed eleven players on the field at any given time.  A team will either be on offense or defense.  The offensive team’s basic goal is to advance the ball down the field, and to cross the goal line.   However, the defensive team’s basic goal is to prevent the other team from achieving this goal, and to get the ball back for their offense.

        In this chapter, we will take a look at offensive football.  We will define what an offense is, and examine some of the basics of the offensive game.

        Let’s start by looking at the individual positions on the offensive team, and what each player’s role is in the overall team.


·        QUARTERBACK (QB) 
Most people consider the quarterback to be the most important player on a football team.  If for no other reason, this may be true because the quarterback has the ball in his hands more than any other player on the team.

The quarterback is part of what is called the backfield.  He is responsible for executing the offensive plays, directing his team down the field, and scoring touchdowns.  He will call a play in the team’s huddle, then usually either hand off the football to a running back (RB) or drop back and throw the football to a receiver (WR or TE).

·        RUNNING BACKS (RB) 
The running backs are typically the offensive players whose job is to run (or rush) the football.  They line up in the backfield, and will either take a direct hand-off or a pitch-out from the quarterback, and attempt to advance the ball down the field.  Running backs also receive passes from the quarterback.

There are normally at least one, and usually two, running backs in an offense.The two types of running backs are usually featured on an offense : the halfback and the fullback.  The halfback is usually a faster runner who tries to outrun or elude defenders, while the fullback is usually a power runner who is used in short-yardage situations or near the goal line.

·        RECEIVERS (WR & TE). 
The receivers on an offense are responsible for running downfield (pass patterns) and catching passes from the quarterback.  There are usually two wide receivers (WR), and a tight end (TE).  The wide receivers (or split ends), who line up on each side of the offensive line, often catch more of the passes, and may be faster. The tight end is usually a bigger player, and in addition to catching passes, often blocks for the running backs.

The offensive line is a group of players who form what is called the “Line of Scrimmage.”  It usually consists of five or six players : a center, two guards, two tackles, and the tight end. 

o   The center (C) is in the middle of this line, and his primary job is to take the football and “hike” [hand] it to the quarterback to start each play.

o   The two guards and two tackles are located on each side of the center and are designated as LG and LT (left), and  RG and RT (right). 

o   The tight end (TE) is considered a receiver, but is usually positioned on the right side of the offensive line.  This player is often used for blocking, as well as receiving.







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