American Football 101



The playing field in American Football is 100 yards long and 160 feet wide. The center of the playing field is the 50 yard line. Every 10 yards the field indicates how many yards it is left to reach the opponent’s end zone. The end zone is located at both ends of the pitch. The end zone is important because points can be scored there. Behind both end zones is the goal. The shape of the goal is similar to the rugby goal, say a big U. This goal is used when the team decides to make a field goal instead of a touchdown. The goal is scored when the ball disappears by the U. The goal is also used to score a point after touchdown. On both sides of the game is the out-of-bounds area. If a player steps on it with the ball, he is out-of-bounds and the game stops.

Aim of the game

An attacking team must try to reach the opponent’s end zone to score points. An attacking team gets 4 attempts to bridge 10 yards. If this is successful, the team gets another 4 attempts to bridge 10 yards and this time from the position on the field where the attacker was tackled by the defending team. If the attacking player is in the opponent’s end zone with the ball, the team scores a touchdown. An attacking team can also score a field goal. In this case, an attacking team shoots the ball into the goal. A team can decide to do this if they still have not bridged 10 yards to 3 attempts. However, the score from a filed goal is only half of the score from a touchdown. If the attacking team has scored a touchdown, it may also make a point after touchdown. This point can be scored by shooting the football into the goal from the 10 yardline.

Beginning of the game

The winner of the toss may receive the ball first and sets up the attacking group. The defending team kicks off. They do this by shooting the ball from their own 30 yard line as deep as possible to the opponent’s half. The attacking team tries to catch the ball and run as far back as possible. Where this player is stopped by the defending team, the attacking team gets a first down, 4 attempts to cross 10 yards. Also, the attacking team can choose not to catch the ball. Automatically the attacking team then gets 4 attempts to cover 10 yards on its own 20 yardline.

4 Attempts/Downs

The attacking party has 4 attempts to gain 10 yards of ground. An attempt ends when the attacking player is tackled or runs with the ball out of bounds. A tackle is valid if the attacking player touches the ground with both knees. Even if a thrown ball does not arrive, the attempt is over (incomplete pass). In these attempts, the attacking side must ensure that a defender does not catch and intercept the ball. The attacking side then takes over. If 10 yards have been bridged, the attacking side gets a first down and thus another 4 attempts to bridge 10 yards. The attacking party gets the first down at the place where the attacking player has stopped.

If, after three attempts, the attacking player has still not reached 10 yards, there are three possibilities. 1. The attacking team may continue hoping to bridge the remaining yards. If it fails to do so, the opposing team receives a first down at the place where the last attempt was stopped. 2. The attacking team can shoot the ball as far as possible towards the opponent’s half. If the opposing team catches the ball, they may try to run the ball back as far as possible. The attacking team must of course prevent this. 3. The attacking team may try to make a field goal. If they shoot the ball between the goalposts, a score is scored.

Scoring Points

Most points can be scored when a team makes a touchdown. A touchdown scores 6 points. A touchdown is made when the attacking team holds the ball in the end zone of the defending team. After a touchdown, the attacking team gets a try at a point after touchdown. They get the point when the ball is shot between the goalposts. The attacking team can also opt for a 2 point play. They then have 1 attempt to get the ball into the end zone. However, this seldom happens, because it is much more difficult than a field goal attempt.

With a field goal, 3 points are scored.

Theoretically a defending team can also score 2 points. This happens when an attacking player is tackled in their own end zone. In practice, this seldom happens.


The teams face 11 players. The Quarter Back is the playmaker. The Quarter Back has radio contact with the coach and determines the way of play. The QB receives the ball from the center who throws it between his legs to the QB. The QB can choose to give a pass on a receiver or he can choose to give the ball to a back who tries to run through the defense of the opponent. The guards in the offensive line must guard the QB so that it is not tackled and has time to give a pass. The defensive team consists of 4 lines that try to reach the QB of the attacking team. Behind them are the linebackers who have to neutralize the attacking receivers. And further back in the field are the cornerbacks who try to intercept distant passes.

Duration of the contest

The match consists of 4 quarters of 15 minutes. The total playing time is 60 minutes. Between the second and third quarters, the game is stopped for a break of 20 minutes. The players then disappear into the catacombs. Often an American Football game takes about 3 hours due to delays, timeouts, and challenges. The maximum time between a first down and a second down is 25 seconds. So the Quarter Back has 25 seconds to form the starting line-up for the next attack. The last 2 minutes of a game is important. The attacking team can stop the clock by giving an incomplete pass or running out-of-bounds. It only starts running again when the ball is brought back into play.

If both teams are tied after the fourth quarter, an overtime is played for profit. The overtime consists of 15 minutes. The team that scores first wins the game. If there is no scoring in the overtime the game ends in a tie. In practice, this happens very rarely. If after an overtime in the playoffs is not scored, another overtime is played. This lasts until there is a winner.


At an American Football game there are 4 referees running around. They manage the rules of the game. They judge whether the 10 yards have been bridged, whether a pass is caught inbounds or out-of-bounds and they pay attention to things that are not allowed. The following is a list of situations that give rise to a penalty:

  • False start: A false start is made by a defender who moves to the QB before the ball is thrown backwards. He then makes a false start. Sanction: 5 yards back
  • Delay of game: The attacking team needs more than 25 seconds to start the game. Sanction: 5 yards back
  • Grounding the ball: The Quarter Back must give a pass to a defender, or give the ball to a fellow player. If the QB throws the ball anywhere to avoid being attacked by the opponent, he gets a penalty: 5 yards back and lose the down.
  • Pass Interference: The defender is not allowed to tackle the attacker before he has caught the ball. Of course, the defender can try to catch the ball himself. Sanction: 15 yards back
  • Holding: If an attacking lineman uses his hands to block a defender, it’s holding. Sanction: 10 yards back
  • Illegal Block: If a player is blocked in the back the attacking player gets a penalty: 10 yards back
  • Unnecessary Roughness: If someone is tackled who no longer has the ball. Sanction: 15 yards back
  • Facemask: When the front of the helmet is grabbed during a tackle. Sanction: 5 or 15 yards back
  • Unsportsman-like conduct. Misconduct. Sanction: 15 yards back