So, You Wanna Learn Football? Lesson 1

Chargers placekicking drill - David Binn, Mike Scifres, Nate Keading © by oropeza

Recently, two women asked me to explain football to them. It seems their boss is hosting a football party and they do not want to look “stupid” when watching the game.  The women have been to Super Bowl parties, but their interest in football has always revolved around  food and socializing. I told them I would be happy to give them a quick email lesson that would get them through this office shindig.  This was my email:

Dear…(I left out the names because I don’t want to expose their lack of football knowledge and therefore ruin their credibility with colleagues)

This is a very basic lesson.  It will get you through your party, More detailed lessons will be forthcoming if need be. My best advice is to just watch the people in the room. When they cheer; you cheer. When they curse; you curse.  Don’t volunteer information or opinions and if you find yourself over your head in football talk, jump up and say, “Can I get anyone a beer?”  That will get you out of trouble quickly.

Lesson I

The football season runs from September to February and culminates with the Super Bowl: I know many people would ask, “Who doesn’t know that?”  But you would be surprised who doesn’t know when the football season is. I will admit I have no idea about the NBA or NHL seasons.  To me, these sports seem to consist of five regular games and six months of playoffs. I know this is not correct, but if I don’t get these sports, there are people out there that don’t get football.

Team Breakdown: Offense: The Offense consists of the players who try and score the points.  Each team has to put 11 men on the field and the referees get really pissed if teams miscount. Well, they get pissed if you have too many players; they don’t really care if you have too few players.  The Quarterback or QB is the leader and he is usually the cutest. Okay, that is not a steadfast rule, but he does seem to get the most commercial endorsements and, of course, Victoria Secret Models (Tom Brady).

The QB grabs the ball from the Center – the guy in front of him who passes the ball through his legs. Yeah, I don’t know who came up with this either. It’s stupid. Anyway, the QB passes the ball to the Wide Receivers, Tight Ends and sometimes Running Backs. These guys are fast and very nice looking in their uniforms. Take a look; you will agree. The QB can also hand off the ball to the Running Back and sometimes a Full Back who will try and run the ball toward the end zone. On the offense, there are also guards and tackles whose job is block the other team and try to keep them from flattening their QB.

If a team takes the ball into the end zone, they get six points. I have always wondered who decided a score was worth six points. Why not make it one point or ten points? Anyway, after a team scores a touchdown or TD, they need to make the extra point which requires the field goal kicker (See below) to kick the ball through the goal posts. The team can also opt to run a regular play to try to get in the end zone again for an additional two points.

Each team’s offense gets four downs in an attempt to score. They accrue yardage which is why sometimes you hear “It’s 3rd and 2″ which means they are on their third down and need just two yards to convert to another first down.  You might also hear announcers say “3rd and long” or “3rd and 15″ which means the offense screwed up and are going backwards on the field which is usually not considered a good thing.

If the team hasn’t scored a TD before they reach 4th down and they don’t want to give the ball back to their opponent, they can try and kick a field goal, which if successful, gets them three points. If they are too far down the field for a field goal, a team must punt the ball away to the opposing players. Punting requires putting the Special Teams Unit on the field.

Special Teams: Special Teams is neither Offense nor Defense. They are mainly the expendable players, and I can’t prove this, but I think they are the players the coach likes least because they are the players who go out there knowing there is 50 percent chance they will get a concussion on any given play. The Special Teams player’s main job is to stand there and take blunt force trauma when the opposing team’s players  run into at them at 50 MPH.  A punter (kicker from the team that couldn’t score but who is not the field goal kicker unless it’s an emergency then he’ll do both) will kick the ball to the opposing team and the guy at the other end of the field waves his hand which means fair catch which means the big men racing toward him cannot squash him like a bug. If he doesn’t wave fair catch — well, he is on his own and will probably rue the day he decided to make football his career choice.

While the punting team is out to “get” the guy receiving the ball, the receiving team is out to block the punt which sometimes entails running over the punter, and punters are often skinny, little people. It really is sort of scary when one gets mowed down. So, close your eyes if that occurs.

If a team does score a TD, the field goal kicker – not the punter – kicks the ball off to the opposing team and they run it down the field as fast as they can until they are tackled.

Defense: These are the players who stomp on the other team to prevent them from reaching the end zone and scoring. There are 11 players on defense too.  They have names like Nose Tackle, Linebacker, Safety, and Cornerback.  As a novice, just know the entire defensive line’s job is to tackle or pummel people and try to grab the ball away from the other team and cause a fumble which means the ball comes loose from the offense and mayhem ensues as all these grown men pile on top of each as they try to capture the unsecured football.

I know it sounds silly, but it is quite exciting to see those fumbles and I myself have been known to yell in sports bars. “Fumble! Get the Freaking ball NOW!”  Well, I don’t say freaking and I tend to get very emotional during football games and insult everyone from the coach to the refs to their pets to their mothers which is why I probably shouldn’t go to sports bars.

Defenses can also try and intercept a pass and if this happens, the defense becomes the offense and runs to the end zone to score. Yes, football is complicated and next lesson we will go over some rule infractions. Knowing and recognizing rule infractions makes you look really good.  Honestly, and I have had this happen on more than one occasion, if you yell the words “illegal block in the back” in front of a lot of men, they find you incredibly sexy and  will buy you drinks. It’s a great scam if you are low on money.

Anyway, rules and penalties is lesson two. Have a blast at the party and let me know how it goes and under no circumstances say anything like “Football is stupid” or “I am bored.”  That could get you fired.

Take care,


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14 thoughts on “So, You Wanna Learn Football? Lesson 1”

  1. Maybe I have ADD, but football is too slow for me, most of the time. Of course, it would help my interest level if there were any good teams nearby! The Chiefs are trying to set new scoring records for the opponents; my Jayhawks are still in recovery (Oh, who am I kidding…football is not their sport). And so I am a college basketball fan…GO HAWKS!

  2. Everything I need to know about football can be summarized in one word, cheerleader. ‘Enuf said. 😉

  3. I’ve never understood American Football – less now than I did before! Forgive me if I’m wrong but the amount of body armour and helmets seems to be in inverse proportion to the amount of body contact that takes place in the actual game. Whereas, if you watch a simple game of Rugby Union (plenty to be seen right now with the World Cup going on) there is an enormous amount of scrummaging and physical conflict with nary but the occasional scrum cap or gumshield worn by the combatants.

    I suppose helmets and shoulder and knee pads raise the audience expectation that they’re going to see some dismemberment.

    1. Billy,
      I do believe the Cleveland Browns are a team on the rise. Colt McCoy appears to be a great asset and his leadership seems to be doing wonders there. Don’t count them out just yet. It’s true, it might be another year or two to see the real awakening, but I think they are coming back!

  4. Dear Donna,

    Thank you for such a wonderfully lengthy explanation of this horrible er.. exciting sport. I must have contracted a popular disease known as ADD since I could not manage to get past the first paragraph of “Lesson I” without banging my head on the table. Therefore, I will miss you sorely during the months of September to February. Please take care and send thin mints. I am still unable to locate the girl groups who are supposed to be selling them. Thank you!


    1. Ah, Mae you have no idea what you are missing for along with the watching of the games, there is unbelievable food. Since you cannot be a part of this tradition, I have hidden the girl scouts from you as well. 🙂

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