How Does American Football Work?

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American football may seem as complicated as solving a Rubik’s Cube, but once you have a general understanding for the game, it really is rather simple.

The sport is generally played at four different levels: Pop Warner (children aging from 6-14), high school, college, and professional (National Football League or NFL is the most common professional football group).

The football field has a very simple lay out: it is 120 yards long with each end of the field containing a 10 yard end zone. Behind each end zone is a free standing “upright”.  The objective of the game is to progress the ball down the field into one of the end zones thus scoring a “touchdown”. The team that scores the most points by the end of the playing period wins.

The game starts with one team being assigned the ball via a coin toss. Once it has been decided who will be “receiving the kick”, the kicking team will kick the ball to the receiving team and the receiving team will attempt to move the ball towards the far end zone. After this initial “kickoff”, the regular plays of the game will start. The team that starts the play with the ball is on “offense” while the team attempting to stop the offense from scoring a touchdown is on “defense”.

The offense has four tries (called “downs”) to progress the football 10 yards.The 10 needed yards are displayed by a marker, generally shown on the side of the field by two orange signs standing about six feet tall and connected by a thin chain (these markers are referred to as the chains). A third orange marker with a number displayed at the top shows which down it is and where the ball was placed at the beginning of each play.  Each time this ten yard marker is reached, the number of tries the offense gets to reach the next 10 yard marker resets.

If the offense is unable to progress the ball the 10 needed yards, they will generally use their last down to kick the ball as far as possible (called a “punt”). The team that punted the ball now switches to defense while the team that was punted to is now on offense.

In the event that a team is within a reasonable distance to one of the end zones, they may elect to attempt to kick the ball through the uprights (called a “field goal”) for three points instead of the six awarded for a touchdown. One different version of the field goal (called an extra point) is generally exhibited after a touch down. In the case of an extra point, after one team has scored, the ball is kicked from 10 yards away from the end zone and is worth a single point.

In regards to fouls, every time a player breaks one of the many rules of the game a referee will throw a yellow flag in the air. Minor fowls lead to a change in the placement of the ball in comparison to the chains, making it either easier or harder for a team to gain the needed ten yards depending if the foul was on the offense or defense.

By far the most important aspect of American football is how loud fans are in the stands. Be sure to support your team with as much cheering as possible and you will be sure to enjoy with great American pass-time!