The Indian subcontinent’s first men’s professional gridiron football league, the Elite Football League of India is set out to roll into its second season this year. After setting the benchmark in its first season in 2012-13, the league is out to stamp its mark on the sports scene in this part of the globe with action that is sure to set your pulses racing. The game in itself is considered as one of the most demanding in terms of sheer athletic prowess, power and thinking ability. With every manoeuvre, the game provides a spectacular illustration of the human ability to compete, comprehend (especially for the signal callers from the side of the field) and push the bar even higher in search of excellence.
But to appreciate it all, the millions in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka need to be aware of the rules of the game. That’s where we come in. The game might seem complex but in fact it’s actually quite straight forward. Read on and I am sure this article will provide you with the basic knowledge which should enable you to grasp the basics of the enthralling game that is American football while also familiarizing you with some of the commonly used jargons in the game.
Unlike cricket, the field for American football has a fixed dimension. The field measures 100 yards long and 53 yards (160 feet) wide. The field is filled with white line markers. For every 5 yards, a line is drawn across the field (called yard lines) and for each yard, a hash mark is drawn on four parts of the ground (as illustrated in the picture above). These markers are there to help the referees, the players as well as the fans to locate where the ball is at all times.
Then there is the end zone (here marked in blue), which extends 10 yards on both sides of the stipulated 100 yards. This area which lies between the goal line and the end line (and surrounded by 4 pylons) is probably the most important area of the field. This is where all teams try to reach; either by running with the ball until tackled, or throwing the ball down field to a team mate.
The aim of the game is quite simple; each team attempts to move the ball towards the end zone of the opposition team.
Just like cricket and association football, each team can field 11 players at a time on the field. However, unlike cricket or association football, there are completely three different sets of players depending upon whether the team has possession of the ball or not. These 3 different sets are called the offense, the defense and the special teams. We will learn more about them later.
• The game of American football is divided into 4 quarters of 15 minutes each.
• Three time-outs per half for each team
• 12 minute half-time interval
• 15 minute sudden-death overtime if scores are tied. There can be no draws in a game.
Downs are the most fundamental aspect of American football but this is also the place where most people, unaware of the game get hung up. However it’s really quite simple. Read this with a little attention and I am sure you will be able to grasp this basic aspect of the game with the utmost ease.
The offensive team (team with possession of the ball) is tasked to move the ball forward in segments of at least 10 yards. They will get at least four chances (or downs) to gain these requisite 10 yards. Every time the ball is advanced at least 10 yards within their allotted four chances, another first down is earned, with four more chances to go a further 10 yards.
If the offensive team fails to move 10 yards within four downs, they will have to surrender possession from where the ball was last spotted. However, the ball is usually punted (kicked away) to the defending team on fourth down so that they start their possessions as far as possible from the opposition’s end zone.
However, if the offensive team is close enough to the defensive team’s end zone, they would rather attempt a field goal (will be explained as we go further). The set of 11 players that both teams send out for kick-offs, punts and field-goal attempts are called special teams.
A team scores what is called a touchdown, when it succeeds in getting the ball into the end zone of the opposition. On achieving the feat, the team is awarded six points. A touchdown can be scored either by catching the ball in the end zone or running past the goal-line and into the end zone of the opposition.
An extra point is earned by kicking the ball through the uprights of the goal post after a touchdown. However, the team can go for two points by taking the ball into the end zone again. The latter ploy though is only brought into play when the team is desperate for an extra point that would ensure a positive result for the team.
A Field goal, as explained before are usually attempted on a fourth down if the kicker is close enough to the end zone to kick the ball through the posts. This will garner the offensive team, three points.
Two points are rewarded to the defensive team when a member of the offensive team is tackled with the ball in his own end zone. This is called a safety.
Some common terms
Kick-off, just as in association football marks the opening of the ball game. It’s basically a free kick that the receiving team can’t make an attempt to block. A kick-off is used at the start of the game and after half-time. A team also will have to put the ball into play via a kick-off following the scoring of every touchdown or a successful field goal.
A fumble in its most simple sense is the act of losing possession of the ball. This might occur while running with it or being tackled. Members of both the offense as well as defense can recover a fumble. Whichever team ends up with the recovery of the ball, will have possession of the ball for the ensuing down. If the defense recovers the fumble, it results in what is called a turnover.
Interception as the name suggests is when a pass is intercepted by a defensive player. Both teams have an equal claim to the ball when it’s thrown. Thus, if any defensive player ends up catching the ball, it results in what is called an interception, thus ending the offense’s possession of the ball.
A punt is usually a kick made on the fourth down because it couldn’t advance 10 yards in the first three attempts (downs). It’s fashioned to be used so by the offense as in most cases they won’t like to run the risk of surrendering possession of the ball to the defence anywhere in their half or close to their own end zone.
A return is the first opportunity for a team to go on the offense. It’s basically the act of receiving (catching) a kick-off or a punt and running toward the opponent’s goal line with the intent of scoring. The run is not counted against the downs for the receiving team and they begin its possession at the spot where the run was stopped. If the run results in a touchdown, the team would be eligible for attempt at extra points followed by a kick-off themselves.
These basic facts and terms should at least provide you with a base to start grasping the game and prepare yourself for season 2 of EFLI. We will be back to give you more basic insights so that you may enjoy the game to the fullest.