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The Iconic Edition
|9 Feb|6 mins

What’s the Deal with the NFL? A Beginner’s Guide to Gridiron

Don’t look like a complete rookie come Super Bowl time next year. 

Baseball may be colloquially referred to as America’s favourite pastime, but when it comes to the raw numbers, it’s ‘football’ that those Stateside hold closest to their hearts.

American football, also commonly referred to as gridiron, is currently the top viewed sport in the US, while the preeminent professional competition – the National Football League (NFL) – has the highest average attendance (over 65,000) of any professional sports league in the world, as well as the highest revenue.

What’s all the fuss about? Read on to make sure you don’t feel like a complete rookie come next year. 

The Basics
One 11-man team (the offence) has possession of the football and tries to advance it down the 100-yard-long field by running with it or throwing it, with the aim of crossing the goal line and getting into the ‘end zone’ for a ‘touchdown’ (worth 6 points).

The other 11-man team (the defence) has the goal of trying to stop the offensive team, ultimately dispossessing them of the ball. If the team with the ball scores or is forced to give up possession, the offensive and defensive teams switch roles (the offensive team goes on defence).

The offensive team attempts to gain as much ‘yardage’ as it can, advancing towards the end zone. The offence has four downs, or chances, in which to gain 10 yards. If successful, the offence earns a first down, and another set of four downs. However, if it fails to gain 10 yards, it loses possession of the ball. If the offence reaches fourth down, it usually punts the ball (kicks it away) down the field, thus forcing the other team to begin its drive further down the field.

Images with thanks to Getty.

As far as positions go, you’re probably familiar with the leader of the offence, known as the quarterback. Once in possession of the ball, the quarterback can hand off the ball to a running back, throw it to a receiver, or run with it.

The two ways the offence may accidentally turn the ball over to the defence are the fumble, and the interception. The former is when the ball carrier or passer drops the ball. Any player on the field can recover the ball by diving on it or running with it. The team that recovers a fumble either gets or retains possession of the ball. Meanwhile, the defence can regain possession by catching (intercepting) passes. Both fumble recoveries and interceptions can be run back into the end zone for touchdowns. 

The opening kickoff for just about all games, including the showpiece Super Bowl, takes place between 3AM and 11AM here in Australia. While it’s certainly not primetime Down Under, the silver lining is that most sports bars will have the games playing due to the difference in time zone. Which makes it the perfect opportunity to get the party started early.

Hut! Hut!

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