NFL UK: American Football Rules for Beginners
THIS weekend, the NFL comes to Wembley stadium for a series of league fixtures.
There’s been a number of games in England and this year, the NFL is pulling out all the stops to showcase gridiron in the UK. It is the eighth successive year that regular-season NFL games will occur at the home of Association Football, with the Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins kicking things off on the 28th September before the Atlanta Falcons tackle the Detroit Lions on 26th October and the Dallas Cowboys go toe-to-toe with the Jacksonville Jaguars on 9th November.
With over 225,000 tickets sold for the games, the NFL annual jaunt to Blighty is not to be sniffed at.
Things are growing so rapidly that there’s talk of another UK franchise (you may remember the London Monarchs et al) and the possibility of a Super Bowl at Wembley.
However, there’s still a lot of confusion over American Football on these shores, so here at Anorak, let us try and clear some things up for you in a language that you’ll understand (because American Football fans are impenetrable when they try and explain it).
We’re going to miss a lot out, because these hints and tips are just for those complete novices who want to make sense of the game and thus far, haven’t been able to.
Why Is It Called Football When They Use Their Hands?
It just is. If you’re asking the question just to be a wise-ass, shut your face. Everyone’s already made that joke.
American Football is different from a lot of sports because there’s so many bloody players. That’s because you have one team that is designed to score points (the offence) and one to stop the opposition when they’re attacking (the defence). Both sets of players aren’t on the field at the same time. Basically, one team’s defence and offence will take it in turns. Offence is when you’ve got the ball, defence is when you haven’t. There’s also people who are hired only to kick the ball when needed. Yes. That must be quite boring. Now, here’s some of the positions you’ll care about when you’re starting out.
Quarterback – The leader. The dude who decides what tactics are being implemented. The man who throws the ball to everyone.
Running back – A player who runs with the football in his hands like a lunatic.
Wide receiver – Wide Receivers run really fast and the QB throws the ball at them a lot, for the WR to catch and score touchdowns. There’s other ways of scoring touchdowns, but it is the WR players you’ll immediately recognise.
Everyone else – There’s a load of other people there who are designed to run at people or be really large immovable objects. You’ll learn their positions once you get into it.
Common America Football Terms
Downs – Right. You know what a touchdown is, but what about the rest? Well, here’s some of the biggies. The game is played by a series of downs and yards. Basically, you’ve got four goes to score a touchdown and each attempt is a ‘down’. If you get beyond a certain point, which is marked by a yellow line on the telly, or a marker at the side of the pitch, you get another five goes. If you don’t manage to score after four downs, you have to kick it to your opponent or whatever. Basically, if you advance up the pitch for 10 yards – so, lets say a Quarterback runs for 10 yards with the ball in his hand, or throws it to someone else who is stood 10 or more yards away, you get a first down, thereby getting another four goes. You keep doing this ’til you score, don’t advance far enough or the defence mess up your plans.
End zone – that’s where you score a touchdown.
Incompletion – The Quarterback throws it to someone, but no-one catches it or whatever. Or maybe they threw it off the pitch. Either way, that’s an incomplete pass. You can’t progress unless someone catches it. An incomplete pass means you go to your next ‘down’ or chance.
Fumble – Does exactly what it says on the tin. If someone drops the ball while in possession of it, the defence (the defending team) and offence (the attacking team) can go at it, jumping all over each other in a bid to get the ball. Imagine a pile-on at school.
Interception – A pass thrown by the Quarterback (he does all the throwing) gets caught by a member of the opposition.
Sack – When the Quarterback (or QB) gets the ball tossed to him so he can throw it to someone, if a defender batters him before he throws the ball, he’s been ‘sacked’.
Snap – You know when they all crouch down and someone starts shouting numbers loudly? Well, when someone throws the ball out of that nonsense to the QB, it is called a ‘snap’.
What Are All Those Lines On The Pitch?
They’re just marking out the yards on the pitch, that’s all. You can worry about that later.
Penalties in American Football
For a game that is as brutal as American Football, there’s a lot of things the referee can penalise you for. A favourite phrase for new fans of the sport is ‘unnecessary roughness’ because it sounds a bit dirty. Here are some others.
Encroachment – When someone is throwing it through their legs to the QB, encroachment is when someone from the defence starts flying into an opponent before the ball has been ‘snapped’.
Holding (defensive) – Defenders aren’t allowed to hold an offensive player unless they’ve got the ball.
Holding (offensive) – An attacking player isn’t allowed to use their hands, arms or whatever, to prevent a defender from tackling whoever has the ball.
Personal foul – A personal foul is when someone plays far, far too rough. The kind of tackle that looks like they’re going out to injure someone rather than try and win the ball. In football, think of a two-footed lunge or someone trying to elbow you.
The Different Types of American Football
In association football, you have teams from all manner of divisions, some that are even ‘non-league’. Well, in American Football, things are a bit different. Basically, there’s the divisions that make up the NFL. Think of them like groups in the World Cup, where they’re all equal and playing for a place in the knock-out section. Then, there’s college football, which are university teams, when the NFL ‘draft’ their players from.
The American Football draft is bizarrely socialist for such a commie-hating country. The beginner’s guide is this: If you are one of the best players in College Football, the teams who are the shittest in the NFL get to choose you first. That way, good teams don’t end up with a monopoly on the best players. For example, Detroit Lions have been poor for a while and, thanks to the draft, currently have two of the best players in the league. This way, there’s a more even spread of good players and a better variety of teams who win the Super Bowl. Nice isn’t it?
Want to pick a team to support? Well, there’s a list of them here and people choose their favourites for a whole variety of reasons. A lot of Brits like San Francisco 49ers because they were good in the 80s when they were on British TV. Cincinnati Bengals are loved because it is really, really fun to shout “TOUCHDOWN! CINCINNATI!” in an American commentator voice. Some support the teams that are famous for music (so a lot of people support the Oakland Raiders because NWA made their kits so famous in the ’90s). Basically, it is an arbitrary choice, but good people don’t support Dallas Cowboys because they’re seen at arrogant like Man United fans and the Washington Redskins have a pretty racist name. Other than that, go nuts!
Can’t be bothered trying to remember all that? Here’s American Football in a nutshell. The QB has 4 chances to throw it to someone to score a touchdown or whatever. It’s that uncomplicated. And please don’t listen to anyone who says “well, that’s not strictly true” about any of the above, as they’re just trying to show off. This article is your way in, you’ll pick it up once you’ve decided you like it (or not).
Now, go and enjoy one of the most tactically fascinating and brilliantly bombastic sports in the world!