During the summer months I’ve been getting to know the ins and outs of American Football, courtesy of a local club, The Kent Exiles. The game is played on a rectangular field and with an inflated ball having the shape of a prolate spheroid (effectively a small rugby ball that can be held in one hand, and its quite a hard projectile!)
Its a tough game, as evidenced by the wear on the helmet!
The aim is to get a ‘touchdown’ in the end zone to score (not unlike rugby) but is usually a battle to gain ground on the pitch in 10 yard ‘lots’.
Its a pitched battle between all the teams’ members, not just tackling the chap with the ball.
If you’re the ‘unlucky’ one with the ball, don’t expect any mercy from the opposition.
You come down hard and fast.
I found this ‘simple’ explanation of the game on the British American Football website.
Football is an explosive game which is great to both play and watch. Even if you are a newcomer to the sport of American football, by following these five simple golden rules you can understand the basics of this great game:
- Teams score 6 points for a touchdown, 3 points for a field goal and, after a touchdown, can kick for one extra point or pass or run for two extra points.
- Teams advance the ball down the field in a series of set-piece plays (called ‘downs’). The play ends when the ball-carrier is tackled to the ground, goes out of bounds, or if a forward pass hits the ground.
- Teams have to gain at least 10 yards in 4 plays to keep possession and earn a new set of 4 downs. If a team gains 4 yards on its first down, they would then be facing 2nd and 6 (2nd down and 6 yards to go to make the required 10).
- On each play teams can choose to run (by handing the ball off to a running back) or pass (the quarterback throws to a receiver). On fourth down teams will usually try to kick a field goal or punt the ball away if they don’t think that they can gain enough yards for a first down. Otherwise, they have to surrender possession of the ball to the opposition at the place of the end of the play.
- Players on the offensive team (the team with the ball) can protect the player with the ball by blocking opposing tacklers. Defenders can use their hands to push or pull opponents out of the way to get to the ball carrier. Only the ball carrier can actually be tackled and pulled to the ground.
Key rules on passing plays:
- There may only be one forward pass per play
- A forward pass cannot be thrown once the ball has gone forward of its starting spot.
- Team mates are allowed to block opposing defenders to protect the quarterback but cannot grasp with their hands or encircle with their arms.
- Defenders can try to disrupt receivers with open hands (put not hold them) until the ball is thrown. After this any intentional contact is deemed illegal and will result in a ‘pass interference’ penalty.
- Defenders can also attempt to catch the ball themselves. This is call an ‘interception’.
- Receivers must have control of the football and get at least one foot in the field of play to have completed a ‘catch’.
Key rules on running plays:
- A player running with the ball can complete as many backward passes (as in rugby) as they like, although this is considered risky as, unlike rugby, players not in possession of the ball can be blocked.
- Team mates are allowed to block opposing defenders to create running lanes for a ball carrier. However, they cannot block defenders in the back or from behind.
- When a quarterback runs beyond the line of scrimmage (the start point of the ball) it is considered a running play and they can no longer throw a forward pass.
For the non-contact version of the game, there are no kicking plays and players are not allowed to block opponents. To make a tackle, a ‘flag’ is pulled from the ball carriers belt.
Got that? There are two teams of 11 players, one that plays offence and one that plays defence (depending on whether they have possession of the ball or not. There’s also a number of referees who can stop the play for all sorts of infringements of the rules by chucking a sort of weighted j-cloth into the air. There’s a lot of stop-start, often more stop. It must be hard on the players, getting ‘cold’ muscles then being expected to burst into explosive action. Great it you like to rumble!
Unlike most Sunday League football, you need a lot more players to make a team (at least 35 I was told) so its quite a commitment to play, and an organizational nightmare for the organizer to get enough players to turn up.
Being a popular American sport, information about how to shoot tends to come from the US, and this blog has been quite useful with a lot of background and hints.
A good general rule of thumb: when your team has the ball, stay ahead of the line of scrimmage (in other words, stay ahead of the direction that they’re driving in). When your team’s defense is on the field, stay behind the line of scrimmage (in other words, you’ll be shooting into the faces of your team’s men).