So… You’ve Never Seen a Football Game
Ever feel like you’re the only one sitting on the couch, mindlessly staring at the TV with no idea what’s going on? Are phrases like “point conversion”, “fumble” and “fourth down” completely foreign to you? Well have no fear, here are a few simple things to keep in mind so that you can keep your head afloat during College Football Saturdays. Grab the chips and dip, and prep yourself for kickoff!
To start off, here are some fun facts about football. The field is measured in yards, 100 yards long, but 120 including both end-zones. The Pittsburgh Steelers have won more Super Bowls than another other team in the history of the NFL. The ’72 Miami Dolphins are the only team to achieve a “perfect season” (meaning no losses throughout the entire time), though the New England Patriots had a perfect regular season (their only game loss was in the Super Bowl itself) in 2007. It began based on the rules of rugby and soccer combined, but the first real football game (the way we know football now in the USA) was played between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869 (Rutgers has since commemorated the game field by making it a big, beautiful… parking lot). I could go on and on with boring stats and scores that are floating in my head, but I promise that I’ll spare you.
Unfortunately, there isn’t any technology to translate exactly what John Madden is muttering about while he comments on the game, but if you’re lucky enough that he lets someone else get a word in edgewise, here are some basic terms that can help you navigate the game like a pro.
Coin Toss: This is a literal coin toss used to decide which team starts on which side of the field. The home team captain gets to call head or tails and they can pick whether or not they would like possession of the ball first or whether they want to have a choice on their side of the field.
Kickoff: This occurs (at a minimum) twice throughout the game, once after the coin toss and once after half time. Each team brings out their special team and kicker to begin the half of the game. It also occurs after touchdowns or field goals are scored.
Touchdown: A touchdown occurs when a player carries the ball over the end line into the end zone. It is worth 6 points without a conversion.
Point Conversion: A point conversion occurs after a touchdown is scored. The team who just scored has one play to either kick the ball into the uprights (for an additional point) or run the ball over the end line again for an additional two points.
Interception: When one team is throwing a pass to one of their teammates and someone from the opposite team snatches it instead.
Fumble: No, it’s not what your boyfriend does when he’s drunk and trying to find the bathroom (well, at least in this instance). It’s when somebody drops a pass they just caught or when the ball isn’t in “reasonable control.” This can result in an incomplete pass or an interception.
Foul: There are many types of fouls in football, so I’m not going to try to even explain. Just know that most fouls are created to keep the game safe and fair. Most penalties just mean that the football needs to be moved back a certain amount of yards (determined by the ref). Penalties like “offsides” or “out-of-bounds” are the most common.
End Zone: The ten yards of glory at the end of each field. Everyone wants to get there and have their ten seconds of fame (or ten decades if you’re Brett Favre).
Down: A down is kind of like an attempt. When you hear the words “first down!” or “second down” it means that it’s the teams first/second/third/fourth attempt to move the ball in the direction in which they’re trying to score. It can get a little bit complicated, but based on where the team starts with the ball, they need to move ten yards from that spot in four tries (or “downs”) in order to keep possession.
Offense/Defense: Like any other sport, the offense is trying to score and the defense is trying to make sure they don’t!
Punt: The difference between a punt and a kick is that a punt is when a player drops the ball and kicks it while a kick if off of a stand.
Upright: The big metal poles in each End Zone. Field goals and kicked point conversions are scored through these.
Field Goal: A kicker is brought onto the field in order to score a field goal. Each field goal is worth three points.
Positions: Everyone’s got their specialty; a quarterback throws, runningback runs with the ball, linebacker blocks for the quarterback, a kicker kicks, a punter punts, a receiver receives catches and so on… There are a few more but those are some of the key spots.
There are many, many, many complicated rules to football (and even more for attending a college football game). There are a bajillion types of fouls (okay, that might be an exaggeration) and lots of complicated details about each position, but you’ve got a basic grasp. Now that you’re prepared to be Tony Romo’s or Tom Brady’s next side-line girlfriend, share your knowledge with your friends!