The Basics Rules of American Football
American football is an amazing sport in which each team tries to push the other team behind and gain every inch of the field, and finally, score a touchdown or a field goal.
American Football can be very confusing. It can seem particularly baffling to non-Americans who have not grown up surrounded by references to the game. It is understandable that a game in which commentators frequently use bizarre phrases such as “roughing the snapper” and “hiking the ball” should seem alien to an outsider. However, while trying to understand every regulation of the sport can be time consuming and frustrating, the basics are relatively easy to grasp.
Talking of rules, the first set of American football rules was constituted in 1876. It was loosely based on the Rugby Football Union’s code from England. Over the course of time, several new rules were introduced and existing rules were changed; all of which was done to make this sport free and fair. Of these, the ones that were initiated by Walter Camp, like the number of players on the field and snap, set the ball rolling.
Players & Equipment
Whilst there are only 11 players from each team on the field at any team, an American football team is actually made up of 45 players. The teams are generally split into three groups of attacking (generally smaller, stronger, faster type of players, including a quarterback who is said to run the attacking plays and throw the ball to their teammates), defence (larger, more powerful players designed to stop players from running) and special team players (responsible for the kicking and punting side of the game with a mixture of larger and faster players).
An American football field is generally around 100 yards long and 160 yards wide. Lines are drawn on the field at 10 yard interval to indicate how far each team has to go before reaching the end zone. The end zones are added at each end of the pitch and are roughly 20 yards in length each. Posts can also be found at each end of which the kicker kicks the ball over.
In American football, the field (also known as the pitch) is 120 yards long and 53.3 yards wide. The 10-yard area at either ends is the scoring area, which is referred to as the ‘End Zone’. At the end of each End Zone, there are the goalposts with a crossbar at 10 feet and uprights extending 30 ft. The lines that are marked along the end of the field are known as the ‘end lines’, while the same at sides are known as the ‘side lines’.
The game is divided into four quarters of 15 minutes each, with a break of 12 minutes at the half time (i.e., after the end of the second quarter), and 2-minute breaks at the end of the first and third quarters. In case of a tie, a 15-minute quarter is played to decide the winner. While the concept of sudden death, wherein the team scoring first wins, comes into play during the preseason and regular season, the overtime continues until the tie is broken in playoffs.
The game clock is controlled by the referee, who stops it every time there is an incomplete pass, timeout, or other similar circumstances, and therefore, you must have noticed that a professional game often goes on for 2-3 hours; at times, even more. Each team is allowed 3 timeouts in each half, which makes it a total of 6. If the game goes into overtime, each team is allowed 2 more timeouts.
When a player scores a touchdown six points are awarded to their team. A touchdown can be scored by either carrying the ball into the end zone or receiving the ball from a pass whilst in the end zone. After a touchdown has been scored the attacking team have opportunity to kick the ball for an extra point. The ball must pass between the upright posts for a successful kick.
A field goal can be scored from anywhere on the pitch at any time (usually on the final down) and a successful kick will result in three points. A safety is where the defensive team manages to tackle an attacking opponent in their own end zone; for this the team will receive 2 points.
Rules of American Football
- Games last for four 15 minute quarters. A 2 minute break between the 1st & 2nd and 3rd & 4th quarters is had along with a 15 minute rest between 2nd and 3rd quarters (half time).
- Each team has 4 downs to gain 10 or more yards. They can either throw or run the ball to make the yards. As soon as the team gains the required yards then the downs reset and the yardage resets. Failure to make the yardage after 4 downs will result in a turnover.
- There are hundreds of different plays that players can run on any down. Plays are made up by the teams and often have players running all over the place (routes) in what is essentially organised chaos. The head coach or quarter back calls the on field plays for the attacking team whilst the defensive captain calls the plays for the defensive team.
- At the start of every game is the coin toss to decide which team receives the ball first and which side of the pitch they want to start from.
- The game begins with a kick-off where one team punts the ball down field for the other team to then run back with the ball as far as possible.
- On fourth down the offence has the option to either try to make up the yards they are short or to kick the ball. If they decide to kick they have two options; to punt or to try for a field goal. Depending on their position on the pitch will usually dictate their paly. Anything within 40 yards or so of the opposition’s goal posts will result in a field goal attempt. Further back will likely mean they take the punt option.