We are British. Football, to us, means using your feet to kick a round ball into your opponent’s net. That’s how you win. But there is another kind of football that came creeping onto our shores a few years ago and now has a massive following. American football puzzles a few of us but is a source of fanatic loyalty for many.
But to any novices out there who feel a bit lost, NetBet has all the answers for you.
First of all, what are the rules?
We all have a grasp of the basic rules, thanks to all the American TV we watch. Even if your entire frame of reference is the Friends episode, “The one with all the football”, you know that a game involves a lot less flashing and doesn’t end with the two captains fighting over the ball all night.
Like rugby, the aim is to get an oval-shaped ball to your opponent’s end of the field to score points. The scoring area is called the endzone and scoring is called a touchdown which is worth six points. To get to the endzones, players throw and pass the ball during a play, commonly known as a down. After a touchdown, that team can attempt a field goal, where they aim to kick the ball through a fork shaped goal for an extra point. The team with the most points at the end of the game are the winners.
So why is it called football when you pick up the ball?
This question is often posed by Brits with a bit of a smug smile. But just like rugby is also called rugby football, the American game is referring to the kicks from field goals which is a standard method of scoring more points.
What’s with all the gear?
If rugby is a full-contact sport in just shorts and T-shirts, why are NFL players kitted up to the max? Their entire upper body is encased in armour and helmets that make them look very top heavy.
American football is a full contact sport but the impact between players is much more powerful than in rugby. Because each down is set up so meticulously before putting the ball into play, the players have the opportunity to put their entire strength into a tackle, requiring both to protect themselves.
Why does a game last so long?
The short answer is, it doesn’t. The entire game time of an American football match is only 60 minutes, split up into four 15-minute quarters. The clock only runs when the ball is in play, so with all the time-outs, incomplete passes, frequent player substitutions, and a 12-minute half-time break means that 60 minutes can last the whole bloody night.
Why are NFL players so fat? I thought they were athletes.
There are few sports where you watch the star athletes run out in a sea of jiggling tummies. Is it the American diet that is affecting them so? Maybe… but it has more to do with the importance of size in the defensive positions. They are still in peak physical performance for their game, and many still have healthy amounts of body fat.
What’s the connection between football and Thanksgiving?
As a nation, the majority of our exposure to American football is Thanksgiving specials on our favourite TV shows. So often the source of comedy comes from the grumpy dad trying to watch the game and the stressed mother trying to tear everyone away from the TV to eat dinner. We may know the rules of football and that Thanksgiving is all about pilgrims and Native Americans, but why do these big events happen together.
It all goes back to the birth of the sport in the late 1800s. Thanksgiving was a day nearly everyone had off from work, so it became a tradition which spread to the colleges and became a permanent fixture in the professional leagues. Today the Thanksgiving matches last most of the weekend and teams have been known to play in throwback uniforms.
If it’s an American league, why are there NFL games held at Wembley?
There’s no doubt about it, the sport is gaining immense traction outside the US, especially in the UK. A decade or so ago, there was very little local American football to follow in the UK, so many fans supported a US team which meant watching a game through until morning.
In 2007, the NFL embarked on their International Series to allow fans from overseas to watch the games live (and without having to stay up all night). Wembley kicked off the first ever NFL game to be played outside of North America with the New York Giants beating Miami Dolphins 13-10. Ever since, Wembley has been playing host to these games, always amid fears that the pitch will be too damaged for the stadium’s usual football matches.
Does the UK have any teams?
Yes! The British American Football Association has leagues for teams all over the UK, for men and women, and for all ages. There’s sure to be a team near you that would welcome a new fan.