A ball, four downs, and the road to glory. Here’s our guide to understanding American professional football and its championship game, the Super Bowl.
THE BASICS OF AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL
* The professional football league in the United States is called the National Football League (NFL).
* There are 32 teams in the NFL. 16 are part of the American Football Conference (AFC) and the other 16 are grouped into the National Football Conference (NFC).
* Every team plays 16 games.
* At the end of the regular season, 12 of the 32 teams move onto the playoffs. Six are from the AFC; the other six are from the NFC.
* The SUPER BOWL is the championship game, the final contest of the post-season, which pits the winner of the AFC (in this case the Kansas City Chiefs) against the winner of the NFC (the San Francisco 49ers).
THE RULES OF AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL
* Every American football game – including the SUPER BOWL — is divided into four 15-minute quarters.
* Your standard American football field is 100 yards long – with an end zone (a scoring zone) on each end of the field.
* The objective of American football: 11 men – THE OFFENSE – try to move forward and score against 11 other men – THE DEFENSE – by passing or running with an oval-shaped ball, known as the football.
* How it’s played?
THE OFFENSE – which is helmed by a team leader called THE QUARTERBACK – gets four tries (AKA downs) to move the ball 10 yards.
If THE OFFENSE succeeds in doing so, THE OFFENSE gets four more downs/attempts/tries to move the ball forward another 10 yards.
This continues until THE OFFENSE scores or THE DEFENSE shuts them down, which then usually forces THE OFFENSE to kick (punt) the ball downfield to a player on the opposing team. When it comes to punting, the idea is to try to kick the ball as far as possible (within the field of play), making it harder for the opposing team to score.
* PLEASE NOTE… While THE OFFENSE gets four tries to advance 10 yards. The third try, or down, is important. If a team doesn’t advance the required 10 yards after the third down, they typically punt/kick the ball to the other team. The reason is that if the team doesn’t advance 10 yards by the fourth try, the opposing team will get possession where the ball was last spotted.
* How does a team score in American football?
Scoring can happen by kicking the ball through the goal post — also called the uprights — which nets THE OFFENSE 3 points.
THE OFFENSE can also run or catch a football in the end zone for 6 points and follow that up with a bonus point (kicking the ball through the uprights) or a two-point conversion (running or passing the ball into the end zone).
Another way to score is a 2-point safety… That’s when THE OFFENSE is pushed back into its own end zone by THE DEFENSE and can’t complete a play past its own goal line. An example is when THE QUARTERBACK is sacked (tackled) in his own end zone. That’s 2 points for the opposing team!
Want to learn more about American football?
Here’s an informative, yet slightly satiric, animated short showing how the game is played:
THE IMPORTANCE OF FOOTBALL AND THE SUPER BOWL IN AMERICA
If you get the hang of American football, it’s a fun game to watch and play.
The sport is part of most communities and many children start playing at an early age. Legends are made in high school and college with the best of the best having a chance to play in the National Football League. The dream is to play and win the Super Bowl. It’s not easy to get there, and many famous players never advance to the big game.
So far 53 Super Bowls have been played. The next one – between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers – takes place at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Kick-off (the start of the game) is scheduled for 6:30 PM (Eastern Standard Time) this Sunday, February 2nd. If the game is not televised in your area, check with streaming options or your favorite watering holes.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR THIS SUPER BOWL
* The match-up this year features 24-year-old quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ golden arm versus San Francisco’s dangerous defense and running game. San Francisco has five Super Bowl rings (1982, 1985, 1989, 1990, 1995) to Kansas City’s one (1969).
* In between the game — after the first two quarters are played — there’s a rest period called “halftime.” The halftime show of the Super Bowl is a spectacle featuring a special musical performer or guests. This year Jennifer Lopez and Shakira take to the stage together.
* Oddsmakers predict the advantage, as of press time, will go to the Kansas City Chiefs.
* NewsWhistle’s guesstimate? We pick the 49ers to win the game, 28 – 17.
The Super Bowl is one of the biggest televised events each year with a huge built-in audience. For that reason, advertisers pay big money to show their commercials in the United States. How much? Reportedly around US$5.6 million for a 30-second spot, according to BleacherReport.com.
Over the years, carmakers, beverage brands, tech companies and Internet start-ups have hired the best agencies to craft the most original ads around.
Some of the most memorable commercials of all-time have included Apple’s “1984,” Volkswagen’s “The Force” and Coke’s “Hey Kid, Catch!”
For a sneak peak at this year’s commercials, click here.
ON A FINAL NOTE
Much is made of the American’s use of the word “football,” which is confusing because the rest of the world knows football as a different game, which the Americans call soccer.
No one knows for sure how this came to be. For more on this topic, you can click here.
In the meantime, here’s English comedian John Cleese take on the differences between soccer and football.
Lead-In Image: Felix Mizioznikov / Shutterstock.com – “MIAMI, FL, USA – JANUARY 25, 2020: Aerial photo Miami Hard Rock Stadium host to Super Bowl LIV and 2026 World Cup Games.”
Football Image: Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock.com
Upright Image: David Lee / Shutterstock.com
Tom Brady Image: American Spirit / Shutterstock.com
Minions Image: Universal Studios
Photo Below: Arina P Habich / Shutterstock.com – “Game day football party table with beer, chips and salsa.”
This article was originally published in 2014 – with contributions about 2015’s Super Bowl L by Joey Fernandez.