Everything You Wanted to Know About American Football, But Were Afraid to Ask

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In the United States, some could say that American football has replaced baseball as the national sport. It has risen in popularity for a variety of reasons, including its fast-paced action, impressive athletes, and physical gameplay. In some ways, American football is a lot like soccer, the game the rest of the world calls football. It is a game based on scoring, dominating possession of a ball, and controlling the field. If you have never seen American football, or are intrigued in watching it for the first time, you may be wondering if you’ll be able to keep up with the rules and gameplay. Below is everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the game, including some stuff you may have never thought to ask.

What is the Origin of American Football?

The game of American football is relatively young when compared to other popular games played today. It was the combination of soccer and rugby, two games that were popular in the late 1800s. While the game played back then bears only a small resemblance to what we think of as American football now, it did lay the seeds for what was to come. The first professional football game was played on November 12, 1892 when the Allegheny Athletic Association played the Pittsburgh Athletic Club.

What is the Standard Field for American Football?

American football is played on a field that is 120 yards in length and 53.3 feet wide. The two ends of that field are called the “endzones.” These endzones are where the scoring happens in American football. The field is broken up into ten-yard increments to help facilitate the game.

What is the Breakdown of an American Football Team?

Like soccer, an American football team can never have more than 11 players on the field at one time. Depending on various formations and strategies, these 11 players can be made up of multiple positions. The offensive positions on an American football team are as follows:


  • Offensive Line—An offensive line’s primary responsibility is to prevent the defense of the other team from tackling the person on their team who has the ball. They do this by blocking with their hands and arms. They are allowed to shove and knock the defense off balance, but they are not allowed to hold or tackle them. The offensive line is broken up into five players: Two tackles at the end of the line, two guards next to the tackles, and the center in the middle.
  • Running Backs—Their job is to run with the ball in attempt to gain yardage and score touchdowns. They will also join the offensive line in blocking the defense from time to time. Their third responsibility is to occasionally catch passes from the quarterback when he attempts to pass the ball.
  • Wide Receivers—A wide receiver’s primary responsibility is to catch passes from the quarterback. They run down the field, attempting to elude defenders, so the quarterback will be able to throw them the ball. They will also be called upon to block defenders during run plays.
  • Tight Ends—Like wide receivers, they will run down the field to catch passes from the quarterback. They tend to do a lot more blocking than wide receivers and are often called upon to assist the offensive line.
  • Fullbacks—A fullback’s main responsibility is to knock back defenders and block for the running back on running plays. They also serve as a blocker for the quarterback when he goes back to pass. Some of the more skilled fullbacks are sometimes called upon to catch passes from the quarterback.
  • Quarterback—The quarterback’s main responsibility is to facilitate the offense’s plan. He relays the play called by the coaching staff to the offense and his cadence is what begins the play. The quarterback’s responsibility to is throw the ball down the field to help his team score. He may also advance the ball by running it if all his passing options are negated.


  • Defensive Line—The defensive line can be four people or three, depending on the formation chosen by the coaching staff. This defensive unit has three positions; defensive end, defensive tackle, and nose tackle. The defensive line’s job is to get through the offensive lines’ blocks to tackle the running back or “sack” the quarterback. A “sack” occurs when the quarterback is tackled behind the place where the play originally started while trying to pass the ball.

  • Linebackers—Linebackers are also responsible for tackling the running back and trying to sack the quarterback. They play behind the defensive line and act as the second line of defense. There are two main types of linebackers: outside linebackers and middle linebackers.
  • Safety—There are two different types of safeties; the strong safety and free safety. The safety position is often used as a way to cover wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs trying to catch a pass. They are also the last line of defense against the offense’s running backs.
  • Cornerbacks—On defense, the cornerback is the position most responsible for trying to stop wide receivers from catching passes. They will also attempt to tackle the running back if they break through the defensive line and linebackers.

How is the Game Played?

Despite initially seeming complex, the game of American football is quite easy to understand. The game starts with a coin flip. The winner of the coin flip decides whether they want the ball first or if they want to allow the other team to start with the ball. If the team that won the coin flip decides to give the ball to the other team first, they will get it to start the second half. Each game has four fifteen-minute quarters divided into two halves.

In American football, each team has four opportunities, or “downs”, to move the ball ten yards. If they are successful, they get a new set of downs. If they don’t succeed in moving the football ten yards after three downs, a team is faced with a decision. They can punt the ball down the field to the other team, try to kick a field goal for three points, or try to get the remaining yards for a fresh set of downs. Teams that choose the last choice, and don’t get the remaining yards, must forfeit the ball to the other team at the position they are currently.

Scoring results when the ball is run or passed into the endzone for six points, which is called a touchdown. It may also be kicked through the uprights that stand in the endzone for three points. If a team scores a touchdown, they have the option to kick the ball through the uprights from a shot distance for one point or run a short play to get it into the endzone for two points.

The defense may also score points by intercepting a quarterback’s pass and running it back into their own endzone for a touchdown. They may also cause one of the offensive players to fumble the ball and run it back into their endzone for a touchdown. A fumble occurs when a player loses control of the ball before their knees hit the ground.

The Lovely Simplicity and Complexity of American Football

The basics of American football are easy to understand, but the game can be a complex chess match when played at the highest level. The easiest way to build your understanding is to watch many games. Watch all the games you can and discover why this great sport has captivated so many American fans.


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