Football played in the USA and Canada was created at Princeton University in 1867 as a soccer variant. By 1922 the NFL (National Football League) was born. This is perhaps the world’s best-known football league. It consists of 32 professional teams from cities throughout the USA.

In 1960 the Super Bowl came into existence—the result of a championship game between the NFL and what was at the time a rival league, called the American Football League.

The field

Many football fields have surfaces of artificial grass. It encourages a faster-paced game than do fields with natural grass. There is, however, a trend toward the latter, which is easier on players’ knees and ankles.

A regulation football field measures 100 yards (91 meters) in length and 53.5 yards (49 meters) in width. White lines at both ends mark the end zones, and a thick white line indicates the borders of the entire field. Other white lines, parallel to the end zones, cross the field at 5-yard intervals. These are crisscrossed by hash marks parallel to the sidelines.

At the back of each end zone, in the middle, is a 10-foot-high goal post.

The game

In the USA two teams, each consisting of 11 players, engage in four 15-minute quarters of play. Halftime lasts for 12 minutes.

A coin toss, which marks the beginning of a game, decides which team will kick off. For this, the ball is set on a kicking tee on the 30-yard line of the team performing the kickoff. The object of the game, of course, is for a team to score more points than the opposing team.

Once the game has begun, the offense has four downs, or plays, to go ten yards. If successful, it receives another set of four downs. If it fails after three tries, it usually punts the ball on the fourth down. (To punt is to kick the ball before it bounces on the ground.) Now the other team begins its own set of four downs.

Scoring points

A touchdown is worth six points. It is awarded to the team that places the ball on or over the goalline. An extra point can also be earned (a PAT, or point after touchdown). Or it can score a two-point conversion, which is a pass or run.

A field goal is worth three points, when a player kicks the ball clean through the goal post uprights and above the crossbar. A safety, worth two points, is awarded to the defensive team, along with possession of the ball, when an offensive player is tackled behind his own goal line.

The players

The maximum 45 players per team are divided into three formations: offense, defense and special teams.

At any given time, 11 players on each team are on the field. One is ‘on offense,’ which means that it has the ball and is trying to score points. It does so by moving the ball closer to the other team’s end zone. The team without the ball is ‘on defense’ and is trying to prevent its opponents from scoring.

The offense

The quarterback directs this unit which includes running backs, fullbacks and halfbacks (the offensive backfield), and also offensive linemen (center guards, tackles and tight ends).

The defense

When its opposing team is in possession of the ball, the defensive unit comes onto the field. It consists of defensive linemen, linebackers and the secondary (the defensive backfield).
Special teams

As their name suggests, these players come onto the field in special circumstances. They are assigned to the kicking or receiving units on a kickoff or punt, or to blocking or kicking units.
This concludes the first of a three-part recap of America’s best-loved team sport. Part two of the series will be devoted to some other members that make up a team and to rules and penalties for breaking them.