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Articles: American football

American football

American football is a team-based sport with two teams of eleven players each attempting to move an oval-shaped ball in the rival team’s endzone in order to score points or touchdowns. The game is played on a rectangular field that has elevated goal posts at opposite ends. The object of the game is simply to score more points by the end of the game and stop the opposing team from doing so by tackling the player with the ball. What results from this continuous attack and defense is a game which is both physical and exciting.

American football originates from early versions of rugby, a type of football played in England. The game evolved and finally came into its own when Walter Camp, a Yale and Hopkins graduate who is considered the “Father of American Football”, scripted the rule changes 1880 onwards. These changes gave the game a distinct identity as American Football, the game as we know it today.

It is the most popular sport in the United States and is played at many levels, be it professional football, college football, high school football, or youth football. According to 2012 data, as many as 1.1 million high school athletes and around 70,000 college athletes play the sport in the country. The NFL or National Football League which was formed in 1920 is a professional football league in the US which has 32 competing teams. The NFL has the highest average spectators as compared to any sports league in the world. The popularity of Super Bowl, the championship game of NFL can be assessed by the fact that it is the most watched club sports event with annual revenue running into billions of dollars. The game has huge following in other countries as well, especially Canada, Mexico, and Japan. Its popularity is also spreading steadily in Europe, notably in Switzerland and Germany.

An American Football match

Two teams play against each other and while each team has 11 players, they may field any number of substitutions during the course of the match. Players individually tend to be specialized in certain positions on the field. This allows the teams to have specialized squads: defensive, offensive, and special teams.

The Offence: These are the team’s attacking players who constantly aim to move the ball forward for scoring touchdowns. The most important member of the offensive team is the Quarterback or QB who calls the signals for the plays and also receives the ball when snapped by the center. He runs with the ball, hands it to a running back, or passes it to a receiver.

The Defense: The defense are fast and powerful team members who attempt to stop the other team from scoring points by intercepting passes, tackling the ball-carrier, or by causing fumbles.

Special Teams: These consist of team members who specialize in executing a field goal, or making attempts for extra points, or to punt the ball downfield. Apart from this, they may also attempt to block the rival team’s kicks and punts and return the ball in the opposite direction.

Player Safety

American football is a contact sport and players need to wear protective equipment to prevent injuries. Wearing a football helmet and shoulder pads are a must, while some leagues require additional protection like thigh and knee pads, mouth guards, and chest protectors

The Field

The game is played in a field measuring 120 yards * 53.33 yards which has border markings known as end lines and side lines. Goal lines are marked 10 yards. The elevated goal post lies at the back of each end zone and the ball must be kicked through the goal posts between the uprights and over the crossbar for a successful field goal or an extra point.

The field has white markings for identifying the distance from the end zone. The 50 yard line represents the middle of the field and there is a number and direction every ten yards to show the distance from the end zone in that direction. The Goal line runs along the width of the field and connects the end zone and the playing field.

The oval shaped football is similar to the one used in rugby. It weighs 14-15 ounces and is inflated to 12.5 -13.5 pounds per square inch.

Beginning an American Football match

There is a coin toss before the game and the winning captain decides to kick off or defend and chooses which goal to defend. The game begins with the kick-off where the ball is kicked as far into the opposing team area as possible and that team starts attacking from that position.


Understanding downs and distance is extremely important to understand the progression of the game. A team gets four chances or downs to move the ball 10 yards closer to the rival team’s end zone. The distance is the number of yards that the team needs to cover to reach the end of the 10 yards. Once a team successfully gets to the 10 yards during its 4 downs, it gets 4 more fresh chances.

Main rules of the game

An American Football match lasts for 60 minutes which are split into 4 quarters of 15 minutes each. There’s a 12-minute break or interval in the game at the end of 2nd quarter. Time is measured by the game clock which is stopped and started again based on the directions of a game official. There is also a separate play clock during the game which is used to decide if a delay of game infraction or a deliberate delay has been committed.

There are a number of match officials and their duty is to enforce the game rules, monitor the operation of game clock, and call fouls.

The Tactics

The aim of each player is to contribute to moving the ball towards the opposition’s end zone by running with the ball till you are tackled or throwing the ball to a team mate (offense team) and the defending team’s objective is to try and stop the advance of offensive team. Both teams take turns to play each role. The ultimate objective is to win the game by scoring more points than the rival team by the end of the game. Some of the ways to score points are:

Touchdown: This is worth 6 points and is scored when a live ball advances into, or gets caught in, or is recovered in the rival team’s end zone.

Conversion: Also known as point(s)-after-touchdown or PAT, conversion is scored by the team that has scored a touchdown by a placekick or dropkick through the goal posts. This is worth one point and is usually called extra point.

Two-point Conversion: Two points are earned after a touchdown if the ball is again advanced to the opposing team’s end zone across the goal line.

Field Goal: It is scored by kicking the ball through the uprights or the posts of the opposing team and carries three points.

Safety: It is scored by the defensive team when the ball carrier from the offensive team is tackled in his own end zone. It carries two points.

Becoming a professional American Football player

The competition to get noticed by professional teams is fierce and the only way to succeed is to start early and stay focused. Get selected into high school and college football teams and maintain high level performance to impress NFL scouts. NFL Scouting Combine held annually is the last chance to get picked up by one of the NFL teams if you are in the US. In Mexico, it’s quite a popular sport in universities and now they also have a national team. Canada is another 2nd tier country in terms of the popularity of the sport and there have been instances of professionals from Canada Football League moving to NFL.

Major American Football Leagues and Tournaments

NFL is by far the number one professional league of this sport. Season format of NFL consists of 4 week preseason, 17 week regular season and 12-team single elimination playoff leading to the Super Bowl, the NFL’s championship game. The Canadian Football League is only second to NFL with its championship event known as the Grey Cup. The top league in Japan is called the X League with the main event the Japan X Bowl. The European Football League or EFL is run by the European Federation of American Football and is an annual invitational tournament and the championship game is Eurobowl. The IFAF World Championship is held every four years. It also organizes Women’s World Championship and U-19 World Championship as well as the Flag Football World Championship.

Site reference: American Football: Governing bodies

Site reference: American Football: Competitions and organisers

Betting on American Football

NFL is the most popular sport in US and televised in many countries around the world so betting in the sport is mostly done on NFL matches.

People usually bet on the outcome of match (Money line market). Since usually rival teams vary in their strengths, people may choose to bet in handicap market where both teams are offered associated odds and the bet is won when the opposing team is defeated by a pre-decided number of points (Point spread market). Total or combined points scored by the two opposing teams, is another way of betting in NFL (Totals market). Apart from this, you can also bet on the incidents taking place in the game.