It’s Football, Not Rocket Science!

You don’t have to be a Rocket Scientist to understand (American) football. Granted, it does have a language all its own and there are more rules to learn than in some of the other major spectator sports, such as baseball, basketball and hockey. But the good news is, with a little patience, and a little desire, you can learn football.

Whether you’ve never watched a game in your life and have been wondering what all the fuss is about (and there is a lot), or watched a game or two and have given up because you just don’t get it, the bottom line is, you can do it!

Since trying to explain the game goes way beyond the scope of this article, let me just start with a few very basics, so that the next (or first) time you turn the TV on to watch a game, you will have some understanding of what is being shown on the screen or is being said by the commentators:

The score of the game is shown, so if for example, it shows as Chicago 7, Detroit 0, you will know that Chicago is winning 7 – 0

The time left in the quarter (there are four quarters in a game) is shown winding down, so if it shows as 12:38, you will know that there are twelve minutes and thirty eight seconds left to play in the quarter (each quarter in a professional game is fifteen minutes long as dictated by the game clock). The quarter that the game is in is also shown, i.e., 2nd

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The down and number of yards to go for a first down are shown – this requires a little explanation. Each time a team takes possession of the ball (is on Offense), it is given a series of four plays, called downs to advance the ball at least ten yards. The first play in the series is first down, the second is second down, etc. If it is able to advance the ball at least ten yards in the series, it is awarded a new series of downs beginning with first down. If it can’t advance the ball at least the ten yards, it may have to give up possession of the ball. The down and number of yards to go for a first down is shown, i.e., 3rd & 7, which means it is third down, and the Offense needs to advance the ball at least seven more yards for a first down.

When the commentators say they’re “moving the chains”, it means that a team has made a first down. The chains they are referring to are two poles connected by a ten yard chain, held along the sidelines; one chain is spotted where a series starts, and the other, where the Offense must move the ball to make a first down. Each time a team makes a first down, the chains are moved ahead, thus “moving the chains”.

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The yellow line on the screen that runs across the field is not really on the field, but rather the result of modern technology. It shows the TV viewers where the Offense needs to advance the ball for a first down.

The number of seconds that the Offense must start the next play (as dictated by the play clock) is sometimes shown winding down, i.e. 4 …… This means that the Offense has four seconds to start the next play; otherwise it incurs a penalty (an infraction of the rules). The Offense has 40 seconds at the end of a play to start the next one.

Any time you see the word “FLAG” or hear the commentators say there is a flag on the play, it means that one of the players (on either team) has committed a penalty.

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by Howard A Becker