10 Things You Must First Understand About Football To Understand Anything At All

If you feel left out at parties, are trying to find something in common with that hot new guy/girl at the office, or realize that you could be intellectually stimulated by a new hobby, I have written this column for YOU.

Ladies and gentleman. I have successfully (or more likely unsuccessfully) not written about music for a handful of weeks. I promise, promise this is the last week I tackle anything else besides the notes and tones that I swear are my first love. LLBVal called for this article a few weeks ago, and Susan has been monopolizing my gchat window all week carrying on about her new desire to learn about football. Even my little nephew Josiah has cast aside his Wii controller and, citing a desire to be like the other kids on the playground, wants to figure out this complicated game his peers are beginning to grok.

Although sports knowledge is magically ingrained in some of us, others….nerds, music dorks, non-meat heads, gamers, fashionistas, etc. need some time and maybe a bit of instruction to understand the beautiful dance that is sports in general and – this time of year – football in particular. If you feel left out in at parties staring blankly at the TV, are trying to find something in common with that hot new guy/girl at the office, or realize that you could be intellectually stimulated by a new hobby but don’t know where to start, I have written this column for you.

I present… 10 Things You Must First Understand About Football To Understand Anything At All.

1. Basic Vocabulary.

This seems to be on the short list of major complaints. Wide receiver, touchdown, punt, line of scrimmage, etc. WTF, OMG. What in heavens name do all those dang words mean?!? Unfortunately I can’t provide a complete a list as I would quickly exceed my word limitation. However, I can point you here – a nice online source for your curious mind. AND, hopefully by the time we are done here, your firm grasp of context clues will help you understand a few things you didn’t before. The point is that you are not alone and you are not mistaken. Just like any other foreign language, there are so many damn words to understand that those of us that haven’t learned this second language by the time we are five are severely behind the ball. BUT WE PRESS FORWARD.

2. How the damn league and is organized.

The league has 32 teams. There are two conferences (NFC, AFC) that each have 16 teams. Each conference has four divisions (North, South, East, West) that have 4 teams. Your rivals are first and foremost in your division, then in your conference. “Non-conference opponents” are the least important.

3. How the damn season is organized.

The regular season is 16 games long. There are six teams from each conference (12 teams total) that get to go to the play offs each year. To enter the playoffs you must win your division OR be one of the two best teams left in your conference that didn’t win a division – those guys are called “wild-cards.” After that it’s, more or less, a standard single elimination (win or go home) tournament that culminates in first a conference championship and then in the Super Bowl.

4. How the damn game is organized.

The game is organized into two halves. Each half is comprised of two quarters. If the game is tied at the end of the game, then the teams play “overtime.” Overtime is different for college and the NFL, but more or less it’s additional time to see who can score the most points.

5. Positions/ what the hell everyone’s job is.

“There’s so much damn running around out there, what the hell is everyone doing and who the hell is doing it?!?” Listen, I know it’s confusing but let me break it down. There’s offense and defense. Lets tackle one at a time.

Offense is made up of three kinds of players…
1. The offensive line (fat guys). The offensive line keeps the defense from tackling the quarterback.
2. The quarterback. The game centers around him and he can run, pass, or give it to someone else.
3. Running backs/wide receivers (small fast guys). We call these players “skill position players.” They are the ones that are exciting to watch. Basically the running back (who starts behind the quarterback) runs the ball, and the wide receivers (who start to the far left and right of the quarterback) catch the ball – but it isn’t rare for their roles to be reversed.

Defense is also made up of 3 kinds of players…
1. The defensive line (fat guys). They start opposite the offensive line and try to get to the quarterback/whoever has the ball as fast as they can.
2. Linebackers (really strong, ripped, and fast). The linebackers start a little behind the defensive line. Depending on whether the play is a run or a pass, they might cover wide receivers who are trying to catch a pass or they will find the runner and try and tackle him.
3. Defensive backs (little fast guys). Defensive backs try and keep the wide receivers from catching the ball. They are also a last line of defense in case a runner gets past everyone else.

6. Line of scrimmage.

The line of scrimmage is the imaginary line on the field where your team starts. You have four plays to get 10 yards from that imaginary line. Also, to pass the ball you must be behind that imaginary line.

7. “Downs”… What the hell are “downs?”

Maybe the most confusing part..here we go.
As previously mentioned, You have four plays to get 10 yards from that imaginary line (the line of scrimmage). That can also be said as ” You have FOUR DOWNS to get 10 yards from that imaginary line (the line of scrimmage). A “down” is just a play, and because there are so few (four at the most before you lose the ball) each has its own character. Understanding the character of each “down” goes a long way to understanding the ebb and flow of drama in the game. First down is a fresh start and everything is flowers and rainbows. THINGS ARE GOOD. Second down means that you didn’t make a big play and get 10 yards on first down which is totally cool because that is rare. THINGS ARE NEUTRAL BUT YOU ARE WORRIED. Third down means that you better finish off these 10 yards or you have to give the ball back to the other team. YOU ARE WORRIED BUT (depending on how far you have to go) PISSED OR CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC. Fourth down means that you are probably going to “punt” the ball to the other team OR – if you’re crazy – “go for it.” “Going for it” means trying to get the rest of those 10 yards at the risk of turning the ball over without having the opportunity to punt it a long-ass way down the field. If you go for it and fail then you don’t get no punt – that’s why fourth down usually means DAMN! WE’LL GET EM NEXT TIME. LETS GO DE-FENSE!!

8. Points. When and why do you get points?

You can score points in two ways. (There’s a third advanced way that is confusing and i will not talk about it but just know that it exists.) If a person with the ball ends up in the “end zone” (the colored end of the field) that you are headed toward, either because he caught the ball in the end zone, caught it and ran it into the end zone, or just ran it into the end zone, you get a touchdown. A touchdown is worth six points. After the touchdown you get to kick the ball through the “uprights” (the field goal posts) for an additional point. The kick is almost always successful so most touchdowns end up being seven points.

In addition to scoring a touchdown, you can kick a field goal. A field goal is when you kick the ball through the uprights and it is worth 3 points. A team chooses to kick a field goal when it is stopped from achieving a first down BUT they are close enough to the end zone to kick the ball through the uprights.

9. Punts vs. kickoffs vs. field goals vs extra.

There’s four different times a ball is kicked – I know this is confusing, but once again knowing when and why these kicks are happening helps understand the ebb and flow.

Kickoff. A kickoff begins each half and after a touchdown or field goal. YES, THE GAME HAS STARTED or YES, MY TEAM JUST SCORED A TD or SHIT! I HATE THE PATRIOTS (team famous for scoring lots and lots of points and winning lots and lots of games).

Field goals. Although, they look like extra points, they are worth three points and can be attempted at any spot on the field – sometimes resulting in exciting long long kicks. YES, MY TEAM SCORED 3 POINTS or SHIT! I HATE ADAM VINIATIERI (kicker famous for winning games in the final seconds with long, clutch field goals).

Extra points. Attempted after touchdowns. YES, MY TEAM JUST SCORED A TD, or SHIT! I HATE THE PATRIOTS.

Punts. Punts are executed on fourth down after a team fails to progress 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. Punts are the most neutral feeling of all kicks and are very common place amidst the ebb and flow of a game.

10. Changes of possession.

The ball switches teams in a handful of ways. Each is important to understand.

Turnover on downs. This means you have to punt the ball to the other team because you didn’t progress 10 yards from the line of scrimmage.

Touchdown or field goal. You “kickoff” the ball to the other team every time you score.

Interception. When the defense “intercepts” a pass that the opposing quarterback is attempting to make to a receiver.

Fumble. When someone on the offense drops the ball while running (as opposed to an incomplete pass) and the defense recovers.

Lots of words and concepts to understand, I KNOW. Although, hopefully this article is a start. The best thing you can do is curl up on the couch with your significant-football-loving other and watch some game tape. Game tape and a good teacher will go a long way. Eventually you will have a breakthrough, become emotionally attached to a team, and the rest of your life will be filled with the emotional peaks and valleys that rival the worst relationship you have ever had. Good luck!

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Matthew E. White

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