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Question: I'm trying to understand American Football. Some basic assistance please

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 19 Jan 2011 10:17 UTCWed 19 Jan 2011 - 10:17 am UTC 

Very late last year for the first time we got regular transmissions of NFL games.  Apparently one of the three networks/16 channels( the free networks) decided that there was not enough sport to cater to its 24 X 7 sports channel and went for the NFL. (Of course it is our off-season for most physical sports so currently 24 hours is hard to fill I guess, as its the middle of Summer). Tennis Open  is on of course but belongs to another network. We get live football games  direct from US at 8am, then replays of that and other games and then something called "America's Game" which  goes into historic games of last 40 years and then a game analysis show as well. Quite odd considering very few know anything about the game and there was no popular call for such a  near saturation coverage, relative to its exposure here that is.

 Anyway, to everyone's surprise it has become popular, and I am now a fan also.

 However I just have some small queries that I am sure are easy answered that will assist me  to understand the game better , as follows-:
   (a) What exactly are the options in terms of plays available to both teams at the kick offs. IE the ball is kicked by  the main kicker high in the air and lands well up field. What can the receiving team do  when  they catch the ball or pick it of the ground and what can the kicking team do, and why do they let it run along the ground while slowly following it.

   (b)  I  watched a game recently where right in the last minute of the game  the player who caught the ball threw it to another player along side him who then ran with ball before passing it to another player. Umpire stopped play saying it was a "forward pass" and therefore not allowed. Well firstly I did not think ball could be passed more than once and secondly I thought a forward pass was what was required, so what was happening in that passage of play please.

   (c) At what point  in the game can a  team or a player opt to go for a field goal in general play. Is there a particular time only, or is it any time or ??

    (d) I could be wrong on this one but very recently I saw a touchdown scored after  which I thought I saw a play that was not an" extra point" via the usual kick. I mean the team that scored the touchdown then looked like they lined up normally for the extra point kick but actually scored two points by taking it over the  line  again. Is this what happened possibly or did I misunderstand the run of play.

     (e) I need to select a team to support. Who do you suggest? Ideally I think I would like to support a team that has not been  too successful over recent years and needs a break and a bit of good fortune

John From Melbourne




 19 Jan 2011 12:12 UTCWed 19 Jan 2011 - 12:12 pm UTC 

Hi John,

As the first American awake, I can tell you why the game is so popular: 

Even German soccer teams now have cheerleaders:

I think I could answer your questions, except for the last one, but will leave it all to a researcher closer to the sport.  Keep in mind that US football evolved from rugby (pertinent to your Q b).

US football has become quite popular in Germany, not on TV, live games with mostly US players hoping to make it to a major league US team.  One attraction is that the fans are not very partisan, sitting mixed in the stadium, more attractive for a family outing.

Regards, Myo




 19 Jan 2011 14:53 UTCWed 19 Jan 2011 - 2:53 pm UTC 

Hey man, glad to see that you are interested in American football. I have tried to watch soccer and just can't take it. I'll take a shot at your questions.

(a). There is a coin toss before the game starts. The winner can choose to either receive the kickoff or defer to the other team. The team that kicks can choose which goal to defend. There has been a recent trend for teams that win the toss to defer and go on defense first. The thinking being that they don't want to take a chance in turning the ball over due to early game nerves. The team that kicks off to begin the game receives the kick that starts the 2nd half. There are several types of kicks used. A kick deep into the endzone that is not returned is placed at the 20 yardline. If a kick goes out of bounds before crossing the goal line, it is placed on the 40 yardline. If the kicker doesn't have a strong enough leg to kick deep in the endzone, he may kick it high to allow his team time to get close to the receiver as the ball arrives. The ball is not dead until either caught/picked up by the receiving team and then tackled. Or, touched by the kicking team. This is the reason that players stand around and watch the ball roll. The kicking team wants to get every inch of a favorable roll. The receiving team stays out of the way because if they touch the ball it can be recovered by the kicking team. A team can also try what is called an "onside kick". This is a trick play used to allow the kicking team to recover the ball. Once the kick goes 10 yards it can be recovered by either team.

(b). There can be only one forward pass per offensive play. It must be thrown by a player that is behind the line of scrimmage. The ball can be lateraled (passed exactly to the side or backwards) between players any number of times either from scrimmage or any other situation such as a pass interception, fumble or kick.

(c) The team on offense can attempt a field goal (3 points) on any play from scrimmage. However, if the attempt fails the ball is given to the other team at the point of the kick. There is a limit to the distance that a kicker can be expected to be successful. I think the NFL record is about 65 yards.

(d). After scoring a touchdown (6 points) the scoring team can either kick (1 point) or get the ball into the endzone by running or passing (2 points). If the defense recovers the ball and returns it to the other endzone, they receive the points.

(e). I can't help you here. Part of the experience is choosing your favorite team/teams. I lived in Texas for many years and still like the Dallas Cowboys. However, the Cowboys really stunk this year and I find myself liking the Jets. You need to watch more games and find a team that you like. Myo has a very valid point. Maybe your team will be the one with the best cheerleaders. I actually like college sports better than pro. Too bad you don't get college football.




 19 Jan 2011 16:08 UTCWed 19 Jan 2011 - 4:08 pm UTC 

Hi Redhoss,

That sure looks like an answer. 
Just to carp:  in the NFL, play stops after an unsuccessful try for 2 points after a touchdown, even if the defense captures the ball.  At least, that's how I read this:

Makes sense, since the clock doesn't run during the point-after down.

Where I went to college (male), the cheerleaders were the captains of other teams.  But maybe our dates thought that was great  - for them (even though they wore letter sweaters and trousers), and 'cause we couldn't ogle other girls.

Cheers,  Myo




 19 Jan 2011 17:12 UTCWed 19 Jan 2011 - 5:12 pm UTC 

Thanks Myo, the reason that I didn't answer is that I am not an NFL rules expert. I have probably made mistakes in what I have said. I have a problem confusing college rules with NFL rules. I guess from what you posted that by NFL rules the play is dead and the ball can't be returned for 2 points as in college. I think that it is funny when the officials have to get together after a play and discuss the rules. They have made them so complicated that even the game officials get confused and sometimes even wrong. I don't thing the cheerleaders ever get it wrong.




 19 Jan 2011 17:20 UTCWed 19 Jan 2011 - 5:20 pm UTC 

John, I got myself confused when answering (a). I combined elements of a punt and a kickoff. On a punt the ball can be allowed to roll free and eventually blown dead if neither team touches it. However, on a kickoff the ball is live and must be covered by the receiving team or it can be recovered by the kicking team. Like I told Myo I also may have confused some rules between NFL and college. I don't apologise because even the TV expert play by play guys get the rules wrong sometimes. I am just a poor dumb fan. Maybe a real expert can answer your question fully and correctly. Hope you enjoy the playoffs.




 20 Jan 2011 06:36 UTCThu 20 Jan 2011 - 6:36 am UTC 

Thanks Red, ( and MOI also).

 That was pretty good and I think if I print that out and refer to it as I watch the play I should become better informed about what is going on. Cant see why you would not post that as the fair response to the fee I offered.

 The other thing that fascinantes me which is incidental to the rules, is that clearly some of the games are played in 0 degree conditions or perhaps even below zero as I have seen games  where snow is falling. Yet still the arena seems full or near-full of team supporters. The deduction has to be that team supporters are somewhat fanatical types in regards their particular teams.

   Thanks, JFM,   P.S I am sure that MOI would have been a class act as a player in his day




 20 Jan 2011 10:48 UTCThu 20 Jan 2011 - 10:48 am UTC 

Hi John,

I gave up football in sixth grade.  And yes, the fans are quite avid, lots with season tickets, so they accept the cold, but so do fans of other sports up here in the cold climes.  If everyone cheers and jumps up and down, it helps keep warm.
Maybe this is also of interest:
and this:

If you click on a term you can see the hand signal used.  Or print this page and keep it handy:

Cheers, Myo




 22 Jan 2011 07:19 UTCSat 22 Jan 2011 - 7:19 am UTC 

Yes MOI, I did glean the official rules etc via Wiki. As you say they are there to assist if I get completely lost trying to follow proceedings. Today actually I watched a brief history and highlights of the Ravens winning the  AD 2000 Superbowl where a man named Lewis was the driving force behind the ravens success that season.

 John From Melbourne.. P.S cant do much but watch such games as it is already  close to 30 degrees by 9am making any venture into the garden too troublesome.




 24 Jan 2011 15:48 UTCMon 24 Jan 2011 - 3:48 pm UTC 

a) The receiver also has an option for a fair catch. He will wave his arms above his head and catch the ball. The defense can't tackle him, and he doesn't get the chance to run with the ball.


c) To add to redhoss's answer...You have to also take into account the distance from the end zone to the goal posts, which is about ten yards.  So say the ball is on the 30 yard line. The kicker would have to kick the ball 40 yards (plus however many yards he's behind the line of scrimmage) to be able to make the field goal. In addition, the offensive team usually won't try for a field goal until the fourth down.  They will use the first three downs to try to score a touchdown.  If after three downs it's not feasible for the kicker to make a field goal, then he will usually punt the ball to the other team.




 29 Jan 2011 21:55 UTCSat 29 Jan 2011 - 9:55 pm UTC 

Hi John and the rest of you.

Don't bother to watch the Super Bowl this year.  NO cheer leaders!!




 1 Feb 2011 21:38 UTCTue 1 Feb 2011 - 9:38 pm UTC 

Watch a few games and then decide on what the best team to root for is.



Former Researcher

 2 Feb 2011 01:42 UTCWed 2 Feb 2011 - 1:42 am UTC 

e) The Pittsburgh Steelers have historically won many Super Bowls, play what many consider to be a "dirty" brand of hard-hitting football, and their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, has a history of questionable conduct off the field (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Roethlisberger#Off-field_headlines ).  The Green Bay Packers, though no angels, are more of a feel good story; the smallest sports town in all of US Major League sports, they were the lowest ranked seed in their divisional playoffs, winning three games on the road to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time under their current quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

So, in simplistic terms, the Packers are the "good" guys, and the Steelers are the "bad" guys.


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