Whether you are watching football for entertainment, to be in your man’s company, or just to be included in the water cooler conversation, a good understanding of the terms will make the game much more enjoyable.
In this article I will cover the basic terms of football to get you jump-started in your understanding of the game. Because asking questions during the game will not elicit a very thorough answer. For example, “What just happened? I thought kicking the ball through the goal posts was worth one point. How did they get three points?” At that moment you are probably not going to get the answer you are looking for. So let’s get started.
On a very basic note, the playing field is one hundred yards in length and is divided in half by the fifty yard line. Every ten yards is marked or labeled in multiples of ten making it easy for the fans to see how far their team has advanced the ball. The areas at each end of the playing field are called the end zones. The goal of the offense, which is the team in possession of the ball, is to get into the end zone with the ball in hand, which is a touchdown. The goal of the defense, the team without the ball, is to guard their end zone and keep the offense out.
The team on offense gets four downs or four chances to move the ball ten yards forward, and if they are unsuccessful the ball goes to the other team.
If they are successful in moving the ball ten yards forward you will hear the referee yell, “First down!” First downs are very good! It simply means the team with possession has just been given another four downs or four chances to move the ball forward another ten yards.
On the other hand, let’s say the offensive coach realizes his team is not going to make a first down in their first four tries. They have two alternatives on how to give up possession. Depending on how far they are from the uprights, the big yellow Y’s at each end of the field, they can kick a field goal for three points or punt the ball to the other team.
Let’s talk a little more about scoring. A touchdown is worth six points. The extra point is earned after a touchdown when the kicker kicks the ball between the uprights; the extra point is worth one point. Most of us already know that, but have you ever seen the offensive team make a touchdown and then on their very next play they run the ball right back into the end zone and get two points for that? My team did exactly that, just as I was beginning to understand the game, and I thought, “What is that all about? Are we making up the rules as we go?” Not exactly, it is called a two point conversion. Most offensive coaches will run that play if they are desperate or if their team is doing very well and appear to be unstoppable.
Timing in a game of football is like a dollar, it is made up of four quarters. Each quarter is fifteen minutes long, and each team is issued three-time outs per half or six for the entire game. If you have watched football for any length of time you have realized that time outs can be strategically used to stop the clock in order to regroup or set up the next play.
Well, there you have it! Those are the basics and it is enough to get you started. Now that you are armed with terms and a general overview start paying close attention and you’ll see the “lights coming on” as you watch your next game.