Super Bowl crib sheet
A football game is divided into two halves of two quarters apiece. Each quarter is 15 minutes of playtime, but there’s about three minutes of real time for every minute of actual play. You’re looking at a three-hour game, longer depending on the half-time show.
Only 11 players are allowed to be on the field at one time, but you’ll see several dozen big burly men on the sidelines waiting for their chance to get into the game. Players are divided up onto three different teams depending on their specialized rolls: offense, defense and special teams, which punts the ball, kicks field goals and executes other specialized plays.
A regulation football field is 360 feet by 160 feet—massive, right? Teams line in on opposing sidelines, and the field is bookended by two endzones. To score points, a team has to make it into the endzone, whether a player runs the ball in, catches the ball within the box or kicks the ball through the upright goalpost.
Starting the game
The game starts with a coin toss to determine which team will “kick off” to begin the game. The team that wins the toss will either go onto offense, and receive the ball, or go onto defense, and kick the ball off.
Basics of play
A team on offense gets four “downs”—or chances—to move the ball ten yards down the field. They can do this by running the ball, known as “rushing,” or by throwing or “passing” the ball. The quarterback calls the shots.
A play ends when the player with the ball is tackled by the defense, runs out of bounds, scores, or the ball flies out of bounds or touches the ground before being caught.
If the offensive team progresses 10 yards down the field, they are given another set of four downs and the action begins again. If they don’t, they will usually punt the ball to the team on defense. What’s the point? To score, of course!
A touchdown occurs when a player runs the ball into the endzone or catches the ball in the endzone. It is worth 6 points, with another point being rewarded if the team’s place kicker successfully kicks the ball through the uprights. The team can score two extra points—a two-point conversion—if they successfully run or pass the ball into the endzone again, rather than kicking for the extra point.
A field goal occurs when a team’s kicker kicks the ball through the uprights. It is worth 3 points.
A safety occurs when a defensive player tackles an offensive player in the offense’s endzone. This is rare and worth two points.
Terms you need to know
Line of scrimmage – The position on the field where the play begins. Teams line up opposite each other.
Snap – The ball is put into play when a center on the offensive team “snaps” or passes the ball backward to the quarterback.
Interception – When a player on the defense catches a pass thrown by the offense, this is an interception. The team on defense receives the ball and goes onto offense.
Fumble – A fumble happens when a player on the offense drops the ball.
False start – This occurs when a member of the offensive team moves before the ball has been snapped, and results in a five-yard penalty.
Pass interference – In American football, you’re not allowed to hinder a receiver’s ability to catch the ball. That means no tripping, tackling, blocking or pushing, no matter if the player is on the offense or the defense.
Sack – A triumph of a good defense is sacking the quarterback, or tackling him behind the line of scrimmage, before he is able to bring his arm forward to pass the ball.
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