Football is a physically challenging, aggressive
sport played by two teams of opposing
players. Each of the two teams tries to get theball across the opposing team’s goal by running,
kicking and passing the ball.American-style football is often known as “thegridiron sport” because of the design of the
field. The sport is widely popular in the United
States and is gaining fan support in Canada.
Although American-style tackle football, as
it is called, has spread to a few other countries,
it has not achieved the international reputation
of such sports as baseball and basketball.
American-style football is a combination of two older sports, soccer and rugby. Soccer
(still called football in England) and rugby, which developed from soccer, are both more
popular in Europe and other countries than in the United States.
Unlike soccer, a game in which players are forbidden to use their hands but may use
other body parts, football allows perhaps the roughest physical contact of any team sport.
However, two variations on tackle football, called “touch football” and “flag football”
respectively, do not involve tackling the opponent and are less physically challenging toplay.
HISTORY OF FOOTBALL
Football first became popular in the United States in the 1820s, when it was widely
played in colleges and universities. Many colleges, including Yale, Harvard and Cornell,
played an early version of football which incorporated many features of rugby. Football
at this time had no uniform rules and regulations, and games often ended up with heaps
of injured players on the field! To stop this physically violent aspect of football, WalterCamp (now remembered as “the father of American football”) in 1880 made many changes
in the game. Most of these changes regulated the physical violence of the sport and
many have lasted into modern times.
Camp refined the scrimmage (a term borrowed from rugby), a
play whereby the center puts the ball into play by sending it to
the quarterback. In addition, Camp introduced the role of the
quarterback, now considered the most exciting position on the
team. Camp also altered the number of players on a team from
the traditional 15 of rugby to the 11 now used in modern football.
Camp was also the person who finalized the alignment of
the 11 players into 7 forwards, a quarterback, two halfbacks and
Between 1882 and 1888, Camp made three more significant changes in the game. First,
a system of downs and yardage to be gained was finalized. According to the new rules,
a team has to surrender the ball if it fails to gain five yards (later increased to 10 yards)
in three downs (later raised to four). This was the rule that made it necessary to mark the
field with horizontal lines five yards apart, thus givingthe field its traditional “gridiron” appearance.
Another rule Camp introduced was regulations for scoring—
specifically, giving points to different scoring methods.
For example, tackling a ball carrier behind his owngoal line was worth one point. Many of Camp’s
changes in this area still apply today.
Finally, Camp changed the tackling rule to its
present status. In early football, tackling was
permitted only from the waist up. Camp
changed the rule to permit tackling as low as
the knee area. Linemen, however, were required
to keep their arms at their sides, andwere not allowed to block with their arms as they previously had done.
Football has grown steadily in popularity in the United States and Canada, largely because
of television. Thanks to television coverage of this sport, football has grown into
a major industry in North America. Television, in fact, dictates much about how the
game is now played. For example, halftime, time outs and even the overall length of the
game have been extended to allow for TV commercials. As a result, games on television
can last up to three hours.
Television has also made superstars out of many players, giving them a chance for newcareers in the media. Many football players have “retired” from the game, only to reappear
on television as actors and sports commentators.
HOW THE GAME IS PLAYED
The football field is traditionally 100 yards long from one goal line to the other and 160feet wide. The “end zone” extends ten yards past each goal line. In professional football,
the goalposts are ten yards behind the goal lines. The width between the posts is 18 feet
A coin toss determines which team has the choice of receiving the ball or starting the
game with a kick-off. A kick-off occurs when the football is kicked while it is placed on
a tee and sent to the opposing team. The kick-off traditionally occurs on the kickingteam’s 35-yard line. The receiving team is situated 10 yards from the kickoff line.
Once the ball has been kicked off, the
team with the ball tries to advance
down the field in order to score points.
When a player carries the ball into the
end zone or catches a forward pass in
the end zone, he/she scores six points
for a touchdown.
Meanwhile, the defensive team tries
to get into a scoring position either by
intercepting a pass or by picking up a
fumbled ball. The team that scores a
touchdown can get an extra point by
kicking the ball over the crossbar of the goalposts in a move known as a “conversion.”
By running instead of kicking the conversion, two additional points can be earned.
In order to make a first down, the offensive team has four downs, or plays, in which to
advance the ball at least ten yards. Each time that a player makes a first down, that teamgets another series of four downs in which it can gain at least ten more yards.
If a team has failed to gain 10 yards by the fourth
down, it has two options to choose from. The
team may opt to punt the ball to the other team,or it may attempt a field goal. A “punt” entails
dropping the ball and kicking it before it touches
A football game lasts for sixty minutes brokeninto four 15-minute periods, or “quarters.” After
the second quarter, there is usually a 20-minute
The clock may be stopped for any of the following four reasons:
an incomplete pass
a runner goes out of bounds
after a score is made
Teams are typically penalized five, ten or fifteen yards, depending on the type of foul
committed. For example, a five-yard penalty would be given for delaying the game or
for crossing the line of scrimmage before the ball is passed. Ten-yard penalties are typically
given for illegally holding a player on the opposing team.
Fifteen-yard penalties are given for the most serious
offenses. They include blocking from behind,
butting another player with a helmet and running
into/tackling the passer once the ball has been
EQUIPMENT AND CLOTHING
Because of the rough nature of football, modern players
wear a good deal of padding and protection, including
helmets, face masks and pads that cover the hips, shoulders,
knees and forearms. Flak jackets also are used to cover
the ribs and mouthpieces protect the mouth and face. Now thatartificial turf is so widely used on playing fields, special cleated shoes are also worn.
Players wear a uniform characterized by tight pants ending just below the knee. Numbers
are sewn on the fronts and backs of the jerseys for identification purposes. Quarterbacks
and kickers are 1-19, running backs and defensive backs, 20-49, centers and linebackers,
50-59 and linemen, 60-79. Wide receivers and
tight ends are numbers 80-89 and defensive linemen/linebackers
use numbers 90-99.
FOOTBALL NOTES AND NEWS
For many people, football—especially professional football—
has replaced baseball as the “National Pastime.”
Monday night football on television has become an
American institution, and all across the country people
gather around TV sets to watch their favorite teams perform.Television coverage is one of the major reasons for football’s popularity: football is a
dramatic sport, with lots of body contact and heavy action. Baseball, on the other hand,
is less visually dramatic for some, and, as such, less exciting. Baseball and football fans
will argue both sides as long as there are games.
Every year professional football culminates in the Super Bowl where a national champion
is crowned. In January, 2001, the Baltimore Ravens, capping the most dominant
defensive season in NFL history, rode two long returns for touchdowns 36 seconds apart
in the third quarter to an insurmountable lead and cruised to a 34-7 victory over the New
York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. The lone score that Baltimore allowed in SuperBowl XXXV came on a kickoff return. The Ravens’ defense swiped four Kerry Collins
passes, returning one for a touchdown.
Jamal Lewis ran 3 yards for a touchdown with 8:45 to play to
put the game out of reach at 31-7, and kicker Matt Stover
finished the scoring on a 34 yard field goal with 5:28 left on
the clock as the Ravens, who set a record for the fewest points
allowed in an NFL regular season, finished 13-4. Ravens linebackerRay Lewis was named the game’s most valuable player.
His play, especially in the first half, made him as deserving as
any individual Raven player. Some analysts, however, say that
the honor should be shared by all of his defensive teammates,defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, and the rest of the
Baltimore’s defensive coaches.
Despite all the attention that pro football gets, there would be no NFL if there were not
colleges to discover, train and develop new football players. Consequently, colleges all
over the country are proving grounds for new players, some of whom dream of a pro ball
career. NFL scouts are constantly on the watch for talented players who want to be
drafted into the pro ranks.
College players operate within either of two associations: the NCAA (National Collegiate
Athletic Association) and the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics).
Season play leads to annual bowl games, in which college teams that have won
their division title compete for the season championship. The winners of major bowl
championships in 2000 included: Orange Bowl: Oklahoma, Sugar Bowl: Miami, Fiesta
Bowl: Oregon, and Rose Bowl: Washington.
The most coveted award for college football is the Heisman Trophy. Listed below are
some recent winners:
Year Name College Pos. NFL Team
2000 Chris Weinke Florida State QB Carolina Panthers
1999 Ron Dayne Wisconsin RB New York Giants
1998 Ricky Williams Texas RB New Orleans Saints
1997 Charles Woodson Michigan CB Oakland Raiders
1996 Danny Wuerffel Florida QB New Orleans Saints
High school football is also exciting to watch or play. Few activities are more fun than
rooting for your team. Many professional players start their first serious training in highschool. Remember also that standouts often receive athletic scholarships for college.
WHAT TO DO:
The following questions will help you to have a greater appreciation and understanding
of football. Write your answers in the spaces below the questions. If there is not enough
room, write on the backs of these sheets. Be neat, spell correctly, and write in complete
1. What are some of the benefits to be derived from playing football?
2. Why is American-style football often called the “gridiron sport?”
3. What is the composition of a typical football field and where is the “end zone?”
4. What is a kick-off in football?5. How is a first down made and what advantage does it give the team that makes it?
6. What options does a team have if it has not gained 10 yards by the fourth down?
7. For what four reasons may the clock be stopped?
8. Fifteen-yard penalties are given for what kinds of offenses?
9. What kinds of protective gear and clothing does a football player need to wear?
10. Name at least one way in which television coverage has affected the game offootball.
Short Answer Questions:1. He is the father of American football
2. The offensive leader on the field
3. Number of minutes played in football game
4. When a defensive player catches a pass
5. There is usually only one of these on the field for the offensive team
6. The number of yards needed for a first down
7. 160 feet is the ____ of the football field
8. After this quarter there is a halftime break in the game
9. Football is called the ____ sport because of the field design
10. Length in yards of a football field
11. What a team often does if it does not make a first down on the third attempt
12. American football is a combination of soccer and this sport
13. There are ususally two players on the field in this position
14. This player has a jersey number lower than 19
15. A type of football game that does not involve tackling
16. When the center sends the ball to the quarterback
17. Kicking the ball over the crossbar for an extra point
18. The number of forwards in football
19. Number of yards a team is penalized for a delay of game
20. The number of attempts a team has to make a first down