The basic rules of football
Learn the basic rules of football, one of America's favorite sports
I am female, and I am a die-hard football fan. I admit it; I love the gridiron. On every Sunday during football season you will find me parked on my couch, snuggled up with a snack and drink of choice (Pepsi in the summer, coffee in the winter), cheering on my beloved Seahawks.
Football, however, is a fairly complicated game. If you want to join the fans of the pigskin during football season and you don't understand why all those big-muscled men are running around the field shoving each other around, you've come to the right place. The basic rules of football are not hard to understand.
A football game lasts for four quarters of 15 minutes each, with an intermission after the second quarter, called half time. During the Super Bowl, half time is the part of the game when an aging rock star tries to prove he can still rock, or a younger rock star experiences a wardrobe malfunction.
Four quarters of 15 minutes each would imply that the game lasts 60 minutes, but that's not exactly true. With three timeouts per half for both teams, timeouts for TV commercials and timeouts for injuries, a typical televised game can last around three hours.
At the end of play time, the team with the most points wins. In the event of a tie, another 15 minutes are added to the clock, but this quarter is played sudden death-style: the first team to score, wins.
Teams are divided into offense, defense and special teams.
The offense includes the quarterback, center, running backs, offensive linemen and wide receivers. These players are on the field when the team is in possession of the ball. It is their job to move the ball down the field and cross into the opposing team's end zone for a touchdown.
The defense includes defensive linemen, defensive backs and linebackers. Their job is to keep the other team's offense from moving the ball. Special teams are used for punts, kick-offs, extra point conversions and kick-off returns.
How the game is played
Right before the game starts, a coin is tossed to determine which team will kick off and which team will receive. The ball is kicked from the kicking team's 30-yard line, and the receiving team tries to run it as far down the field as they can. When the ball-carrier is stopped, that team's offense comes out on to the field.
The offense has four tries, or downs, to move the ball forward 10 yards. This is considered gaining a first down. The ball can be moved by running it or by the quarterback passing it to a receiver. If they advance 10 yards, they get another four downs. If they don't, the opposing team takes possession of the ball.
If a team does not make 10 yards in the first three downs, they will usually punt, or kick off from the line of scrimmage (the spot where the ball was stopped) on fourth down. This keeps their opponent from gaining possession of the ball with good field position close to their end zone.
The offense keeps the ball until they fail to make a first down, they score a touchdown or field goal, a member of the opposing team intercepts a pass or the ball is fumbled (dropped) and recovered by the opponent.
When any of these things happen, the other team gains possession of the ball. They then bring out their offensive players, while the team that just lost the ball brings out their defense. Play continues with possession of the ball moving back and forth between teams until time runs out.
The second half starts like the beginning of the game, with the team who received at the start now kicking off.
There are four ways to gain points during a football game:
- Touchdown: A player on offense carries the ball into his opponent's end zone, or the quarterback passes the ball to a player already in the end zone. Touchdowns are worth six points.
- Conversion: After a touchdown, the scoring team attempts a conversion. The ball is either kicked through the goalposts from the three-yard line for one point, or the scoring team tries to run or pass into the end zone like a touchdown, for two points.
- Field goal: A kicker from the team on offense kicks the ball through his opponent's goal posts. This is usually attempted on a fourth down when the ball is close to the end zone and trying for a touchdown is too risky.
- Safety: If the defense tackles a ball-carrier in their own end zone, it is called a safety and the defense is awarded two points. This doesn't happen very often.
There are many rules in American football. Rules apply to who you can tackle, when you can tackle them, how you can tackle them, who is allowed to throw the ball and how long the offense has to start play.
I've been watching football since I was a kid, and I still don't have all the intricacies figured out. If a player does break a rule, he is punished with a penalty of yardage, and sometimes a loss of a down.
Now you know the basic rules of football. But don't just read about it! The best way to learn and enjoy the game is to sit down with some good friends and great food and cheer on your favorite team.