Football(116038)Credit: Wikipedia/Google ImagesCredit: Wikipedia/Google Images

If you can't beat them, you might as well figure it all out and join them

       There is a term - the football widow - that I have frequently come across. Generally, this is not used in any sort of tragic sense, but rather to describe what happens to the wives and girlfriends of obsessive football fans. For 16 weeks of the year, those of us that fall under this particular term must accept the loss of our loved one to a force more powerful than our relationships. NFL football.

       For many women (not all of course) football is a complicated and seemingly pointless sport. To me at least, it seemed like a frustrating sequence of stops and starts, huge men pummeling the crap out of each other, and a plethora of rules that made no sense. What was the big deal?

       When I started dating my now-fiance, it was mid October. He was great - fun, smart, and very attentive. He showered me with attention and made me feel like the most important thing in the world. Except for on one day of the week, every week. Sunday.

        It was a month into football season, and I was very quickly introduced to a strange male tradition that for the life of me I could not understand. Every Sunday, from noon until night, was devoted to NFL football. From the noon game, to the afternoon game, to the night game - hours upon hours spent sitting on the couch, watching football. And not only was there just watching football. There was also Fantasy Football, where he carefully drafted his online team and week after week strategized on who he should put in, who he should bench, and who would score him the most points. The first time I watched a Dallas Cowboys game with him - his favorite team since boyhood - and they lost, I witnessed a level of anger and frustration I had not thought possible from my normally calm and mellow boyfriend.

       However, I soon realized that this was a battle I was not going to win. Football was king. I realized if I was going to stand any chance of enjoying my Sundays from here on in, it might be best to learn a few things.

       Even to those who enjoy it, football is still a complicated sport. It involves immense strategy and yes, there IS a plethora of rules to know (some that I still don't think make sense). At first overwhelming, the best way to figure it out is step by step, piece by piece. These are a few bare-bones basic things to know, things that I time and again found myself asking about. While not in-depth by any means, they help explain a little of what you're seeing, and what the big deal is about.

The Offense and Defense 

       Every football team consists of an offense and a defense. When one team's offense is on the field, the other team's defense will be on the field, and vice versa.

       The offense consists of 11 players attempting to move the football down the field and over the goal line - called the end zone. They accomplish this by either throwing or running the football. The key players here are the quarterback (who is considered the leader), and his wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. The wide receivers and tight ends are generally the ones who catch the football when it's thrown. The running back is generally the guy that the quarterback will sometimes hand the football too to run it as far as he can through the confusing mass of huge men who are attempting to stop him (the defense).  There are also the offensive linemen, who are the equally huge men attempting to block the defense from tackling or intercepting the wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. 

       The defense also consists of 11 players attempting to stop the offense from moving down the field. The key players here are the linebackers, who defend against the quarterback passing and push forward to defend against the running back moving forward. If they also manage to get to the quarterback before he throws the ball and tackle him to the ground, this is called a sack. Cornerbacks and safeties are the guys attempting to block any pass from the quarterback to his wide receivers. They are also the ones responsible for what can be spectacular interceptions. An interception is when the quarterback throws the ball to an intended target, but the defense manages to grab it and try to run it the other way towards their own end zone. Depending on which team he is cheering for, an interception can also be cause for an intense and sudden outburst of either elation or frustration from your guy. Be prepared.


       This has been a part of football that I have to clarify for myself time and again. I view it as almost mathematical, and therefore complicated. Basically, a football field is 100 yards long. Progress on said football field is also measured in yards. The field is sectioned off in 10 yard increments - so there is the 10 yard line, the 20 yard line, the 30 yard line, etc... all the way up to the 50 yard line, which is the middle of the field. From the 50 yard line it then goes back down to the other 10 yard line at the other end of the field. On each end of the field is the end zone. The offense has four downs to move the ball ten yards. Downs are chances.  I find it easiest to think of them as chances when trying to understand what the announcers are talking about.  If they are successful in moving the ball ten yards or more, they earn a first down, which means another set of four downs to pick up another ten yards or more, in order to get to second down. Failing to do so means they will lose possession of the football. If they are unsuccessful in picking up the necessary ten yards after three downs (or, again, chances), then on the fourth down they will usually punt the ball away - which means they will kick it as far down the field as they can to force the opposing team to begin their attempt further away.

Moving the ball down the field 

       There are two ways to move the ball down the field - the offense can either run it or pass it.

The run is when the quarterback will either hand the ball to the running back and the running back will try to gain yards by running with it, or the quarterback himself will run it as far as he can get - this often happens if no one is open to get the ball to. 

The pass is when the quarterback looks for an open receiver and throws the ball down the field. This can be dangerous, as it risks the ball being intercepted, but can also make for some exciting moments in football. A pass is complete if caught. If the football touches the ground before being caught, it is incomplete. 


       TOUCHDOWN!!!!! Many a time I have been jolted from whatever I was doing, in another part of our home, by this word, yelled euphorically at no one in particular. A touchdown is when the offense manages to get the football into the opponent's end zone, thus scoring themselves 6 points. After scoring a touchdown, there are two other ways to gain either one extra point or two.

       To score an extra point (for a grand total of 7 points) the kicker will come onto the field, and from the opponent's two-yard line, attempt to kick the football in between the two goal posts for the extra point. 

       To score two extra points, the offense can either run or throw the football into the end zone, just like with a touchdown. They get just one crack at this.

       Scoring the extra two points can be much more difficult than trying to score the extra point, so many times the offense will choose to get their kicker out on the field. However, sometimes the game is so close in points that getting the two extra points can cinch the win, so a team will attempt it. 

        A field goal is often the deciding factor in the outcome of a game. A field goal is often attempted if a team has failed to get a touchdown. They can be attempted at any time, from anywhere, but are mostly attempted on fourth down, and from a distance that is reasonable to think the kicker can make it through the goal posts from (i.e trying to kick it 40 yards is reasonable, trying to kick it 60 yards is a feat). A field goal is worth 3 points.

The Fumble 

         The fumble is when the player drops the ball. It can then be recovered by any one on the field who dives on it or picks it up and runs with it. Whoever gets the ball gets possession of it. 


       I found that once I got these basic concepts down, the game started to make sense. And soon became enjoyable. In fact, now after three years, I sometimes even find myself in arguments over who's a better quarterback or which team has a stronger defense. 

       There is by far a million more things to know. But if at any time you find yourself sitting there on a Sunday, confused as can be, ASK QUESTIONS. If there's one thing I've discovered, it is that if there is ever a time when a man actually wants to have a long conversation, it is when he is talking about football.