American football is one of the most enjoyable sports in the world, either to play or to watch. It is strategic, brutal, fast-paced and incredibly intricate. However, it is not a simple game, nor is it familiar to most people around the world. When most people observe an American football game, they only see bodies chaotically crashing into each other time after time, with no apparent direction or purpose.
With the Elite Football League of India set to take the Indian sub-continent by storm this coming year, hopefully that can all change. American football is a growing sport, and more and more people are becoming interested in this strange Yankee export with its Super Bowl and its armor clad players.
With this guide, you can do just that. You can learn the shortcuts for understanding this fast growing sport, and by doing so you will find a new sport to follow, argue about and ultimately fall in love with.
1. Learn the rules
In order to begin appreciating and enjoying American football, the first step that you must take is to learn the rules, as it is with any sport. Like many sports, American football has a plethora of rules, some of which are very complicated and some of which are downright abstract.
However, like many sports, you don’t need to know every little rule to enjoy watching. You don’t need to understand what a foul throw is or the offside rule to enjoy watching soccer (football), or the knock on rule to enjoy rugby. To start with, just learn the basics of the game. Once you do that, the rest of the rules will become apparent to you.
There are many ways you can begin to learn the rules. One tip I would suggest is using video tutorials rather than written text, as visual aids are by far the most useful thing to understanding a new sport. One of the most effective ways of beginning to understand American football, and have a great deal of fun at the same time, is by utilizing number two on this list:
2. Play Madden NFL
Madden NFL is an American football video game series released for a number of platforms including the PlayStation and the X-box. As an incredibly successful series from EA Sports, it is essentially the American National Football League (NFL) version of the FIFA soccer series. If you are open to the idea of trying to become involved with American football, or you are simply a sports nut who feels ashamed that there is a popular sport out there that you do not understand, I couldn’t recommend Madden NFL strongly enough.
Playing Madden was how I came to learn about American football, and it was by far the most useful tool in my arsenal for coming to understand the game. By playing, I came to learn some of the less obvious rules of the game. However, the experience goes beyond simply learning the rules.
The important thing that playing Madden gives you is an understanding of the strategy involved in the sport. You begin to see what a play looks like on offence, and what defenders do to counter those plays. After playing Madden for a couple of months on and off, I began to look at live games differently as I came to understand the tactics that were being used and recognising what each player’s specialty was and how they were used in the offensive system.
Madden is also useful for a number of other things. Yu will begin to understand what the announcers are saying and what they mean when they say it. This may sound like a small thing, but when you are watching a game on television and don’t have a clue what the commentators are talking about, it can be easy to feel confused and switch off as a result.
By playing, you will also begin to familiarise yourself with the star players of the NFL. This makes watching NFL games a lot more fun when you are able to see these players on screen in real life. You might even begin to track the progress of their careers.
Finally, playing Madden can be a great asset in utilizing number three on this list:
3. Choose a team to support
Very few sports fans follow a sport without endearing themselves to a favourite team. Having a favourite team gives you a reason to keep watching the sport, and to take a particular interest in how your team is performing. To begin with, you will not feel that much of an attachment to the team that you select. How could you? You probably know nothing about them and can’t even name most of their players.
Don’t worry about that. Once you have selected a team, for whatever reason, try and keep up with how their season is progressing, watching them as much as possible and taking an interest in their star players. It won’t be long before you really do start caring about their results, and this is coming from someone who has first-hand experience with that.
I would suggest picking a favourite team from the NFL, which is the world’s leading American football league. However, if you are from India, I would also suggest picking a favourite team from the local league, the Elite Football League of India (EFLI). It’s usually best to pick an exciting team with at least one dynamic player (usually the quarterback) that a lot of people know about, this lets you talk about it more. For the EFLI, I would suggest looking for the team that is geographically closest to you.
4. Play NFL Fantasy Football
This is another way to keep you interested in the happenings of the NFL. NFL Fantasy Football is much better than standard soccer fantasy football. There is usually a draft during which you select the players for your team, and you will be the only person in your league to own those players. You then compete in weekly match-ups against other players within the league until a champion is found at the end of the season.
By playing fantasy football, you will again familiarise yourself with the best players in the NFL, and you will have a reason to check scores and individual performances. Coupled with an interest in a team and picking up a controller and playing Madden from time to time, you will become completely familiar with how the NFL works in a matter of just a couple of months.
5. Don’t watch NFL games live
This may seem like a strange one, but it could be important. American football is a long game. Despite there being only four quarters of 15 minutes playing time each, the actual game lasts much longer than an hour. If you are watching a live televised game, a combination of time outs and commercial breaks make it likely to take more than three hours.
If you are new to the sport, this can create a real problem. People who do not yet have a strong bond with American football or perhaps don’t quite understand it yet have a tendency to switch off before half time, effectively halving their exposure to the sport.
To avoid this, don’t watch NFL games live. If you have a recording device, I would urge you to use that and watch games later in the week, allowing you to fast forward through every break and halve the time it takes to watch. If you do not have a recording device or your television doesn’t air NFL games, the best thing to do would be to take to the internet and watch game highlight videos on NFL.com, which will show you all the exciting parts of the game and none of the dull moments.
6. Talk to me
I always have time for somebody who wants to know more about American football, because I want to expose the sport to as many people as possible. I grew up an avid soccer fan in England, and no other sport seemed relevant to me. Then, by a happy accident, I was introduced to American football through the Madden games and the NFL on television. It changed my life, and that is not a writer’s use of hyperbole.
So I know what can be confusing to a new fan picking up the sport who has had no exposure to it before. I know what it is like to have absolutely no idea what a “quarterback” is, and assuming it must having something to do with money (it does not, it is the player in American football who throws the ball).
If you have any questions about the sport at all, even if it is about which team to support or which games to watch, feel free to let me know.
Send me a comment below, or tweet me @MattVincent17.Published 14 Jan 2014, 13:35 IST