When I first moved to Barcelona, a very wise friend told me “la mejor manera de aprender un idioma es dormir con el diccionario.” For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, she basically told me to get a Spanish boyfriend. Apparently, this was the easiest way to “immerse” yourself in the culture. While, sadly, I had to settle for going to class, odd conversations with taxi drivers and the angry mujer at the fruit and veggie stand every Sunday; practice was the key. Oh, and time! If you can’t seem to find a boyfriend who knows the game well enough or, even more importantly, has the patience to walk you through the three-hour game at a newbie pace; then stick with me! I’m kicking off football season with the top 10 things you need to know (if you don’t already) before you head to the first game.
How to Score
1) A touchdown is worth 6 points. This, my friends, is when one of those good-looking men runs or catches the ball in the end zone and does that adorable celebratory dance. Please, Google Victor Cruz victory dance!
An Extra Point and the Two-Point-Conversion are worth 1 or 2 points, respectively. Immediately following a touchdown, the ball is placed at the opponent’s two-yard line, where the offense has two options: First, the offense can kick an extra point, also called the point after touchdown, conversion, or PAT (pronounced P-A-T not Pat). Second, the offense can also score two points by running or throwing the ball into the end zone in the same manner as you would score a touchdown. Since going for two points is more difficult than kicking an extra point, the offense generally chooses to kick the extra point.
2) A field goal is worth 3 points. They can be attempted from anywhere on the field on any down, but generally are kicked from inside the defense’s 45-yard line on fourth down. For a field goal to be “good”, the kicker must kick the ball through the goal-post uprights and over the crossbar.
3) A safety is worth two points. This occurs when an offensive player with the ball is tackled in his own end zone.
How many men on the field?
4) There are 11 players on the field for each team (sounds like a fantasy right?!) If a 12th man is on the field after the snap (start of the play) that team will be penalized.
5) The games consist of four 15-minute quarters with a 12-minute “half-time” between the second and third quarters (so make sure you plan accordingly when running to the restroom, concession stand or fridge!) There are also two 2-minute breaks at the end of the first and third quarters for the teams to switch sides.
6) A game starts with the kickoff. The ball is placed on a kicking tee at the defense’s 30-yard line, and the kicker kicks the ball to the offense. A kick return man from the offense will try to catch the ball and run it as far as he can before being tackled or going out of bounds. Wherever he is stopped is the point from which the offense will begin its drive (series of offensive plays). When a kickoff is caught in the offense’s own end zone, the kick returner can either run the ball out of the end zone, or kneel in the end zone to signal a touchback (no this is not some new bedroom tactic, it’s a sign to stop the play). The ball is then placed on the 20-yard line and that is where the offense will begin play.
Let’s get down!
7) Football series operate in a matter of downs (aka tries, attempts, etc.). The offense essentially gets 4 tries to go 10 yards. If they can keep possession and gain 10 yards, then they start over back at the first down. And this continues until they hopefully score or they lose possession. It may sound terribly confusing when the announcer is saying 3rd and 5, but it’s actually quite simple, they mean that the team is on their 3rd down and need 5 more yards to get another first down. So it’s like the same as traffic school, if you make enough progress you ticket is wiped off your record and you’re back to a fresh start!
*Now that yellow line that appears out of thin air on the TV screen, that’s the line indicating the first down. So that’s their fresh start! If they can get across that line, they get to start at first down again.
8) The yellow flags being thrown by the referees like a scene out of Cops are indications that there has been a penalty. Now there are tons and tons of rules and it seems as though they’re adding to the rulebook each year. So stay tuned for those to come.
The red flags, my personal favorite (red is such a power color), are the coach’s challenge flag. This means they can challenge the refs on a call on the field. If the refs agree that the coach was right, then hooray! If they don’t overturn the call on the field, then that coach and his team are charged a time out.
*Speaking of time outs, each team gets 3 per half, just about as many mental timeouts you’re allowed when you’re on a horrific first date.
9) Each team has 3 units:
- Quarterback “QB” passes, hands off, or runs the ball.
- The Center snaps (hurls the ball behind him, through his legs) to the QB and blocks the oncoming defense.
- 2 Guards and 2 tackles keep the QB protected and defense away.
- Wide Receivers catch the ball thrown down field by the QB.
- Running Backs take the ball from the QB and try to run through the defense.
- Tight Ends block the defense but can also act as a receiver for the QB
- Linebackers defend against the passing QB and push forward to stop a running back or tackle the QB
- The Defensive Line (ends and tackles) battle head-to-head (like rams on national geographic) against the offensive line.
- Cornerbacks and Safeties are the last guys back defending the end zone and pass from the QB to the wide receivers.
- The kicker (or placekicker) he’s the one who tries to kick the ball through the goal posts.
- The punter is the guy who comes in when a team can’t score or get another first down and they’re in terrible position, so he punts the ball (a la a soccer goalie) down field.
- The long snapper is responsible for hurling the ball to the punter and kicker (similar to the center but much longer distance).
- The holder is the guy who has to catch this snap and hold the ball kicker (cue the “laces out Dan” saga from Ace Ventura).
- This team is also responsible for kick offs (which happen every half and after a team scores), so when there’s a kick off, one special team is kicking to the other special teams line up, whose job is to return the ball.
Turnovers…and not the Apple kind:
10) This happens when the offense may accidently turn the ball over to the defense. This can happen 2 ways:
- The Fumble: When the ball carrier or QB drops the ball. Any player can recover it but if the defense is the first person on the ball, they gain possession. (Cue the Mark Sanchez NY Jets “Butt Fumble” from last season).
- The Interception: This is when the defense catches a ball thrown by the other team’s QB.
Football happens to be one of the most complicated sports to really learn. There are more plays in an NFL playbook than George Clooney’s little black book, so be patient. However, if you’re one of those smarty pants who likes to study and absorbs info overnight (I was always so jeally of you in college) then I highly recommend checking out Holly Robinson Peete’s book “Get Your Own Damn Beer, I’m Watching the Game.” She’ll teach you rules, lingo and even break down the option for you. But if you’re more slow and steady wins the race, then we will work our way up to the nitty gritty over time ladies. Stick with me!
And remember: When in doubt about what just happened, take cues from the crowd. Just remember, this isn’t a Katy Perry concert, so not everyone is cheering for the same team. Be clear who you’re “rooting” for and join in a moment or two late. After all, they call it fashionably late for a reason.