Football (The American Kind)

By Aileen Marshall

Have you ever wondered what your lab mates are talking about when they discuss Sunday’s football game every Monday morning? Or have you seen a game on television and tried to follow it? Have no fear, football is a very exciting and entertaining sport that can be enjoyed by all. The season just started on Labor Day weekend, so here are some “Cliff’s Notes” to help you enjoy the game.

For those who are not familiar with the game, it is played on a 100-yard-long field, with every 10 yards numbered. At each end of the field is a 10-yard-long “end zone.” The last yard line on each end of the field is called the “goal line.”  Goal posts are at the back of each end zone. Each game is divided into four 15-minute quarters, with a “halftime” period after the second quarter. Each team defends its half of the field. The object of the game is to get the oblong-shaped ball into the opponent’s end zone and score points.

The game begins with a “kickoff”—one team kicking the ball towards the opposite end zone. The position of the ball on the field at the beginning of each play is called the “line of scrimmage,” where the ball is placed after the last play ended.  Usually a play starts with a “snap,” in which a player on the offensive team snaps the ball to the “quarterback,” the pivotal position. The quarterback can either throw the ball (a “pass”) to a teammate, or a “receiver,” or hand off the ball to a teammate (a “running back”) to run with it. The offense is allowed four tries, or “downs,” to move the ball ten yards.  After the team advances ten yards, they are rewarded with another four downs. If they fail to move the ball ten yards by fourth down, they lose possession of the ball to the other team (a “turnover.”)

A play in which the ball is kicked between the goal posts is called a “field goal” and earns three points. Running with the ball into the end zone, or throwing the ball to a teammate who catches it in the end zone, scores a “touchdown,” worth six points. After a touchdown, the team is allowed to kick from the 2-yard line through the goal posts for one “extra point.” All this time the opposing team has its defensive players on the field to stop the advance. They do this by hitting, or “tackling,” the other team; or by catching, or “intercepting,” the ball.

American football is a derivative of rugby. It started in colleges in the 1880s. The game was so rough that in 1905, eighteen college players died from injuries. This led to better rules and equipment to protect the players. Professional games started in the Midwest in the early 1900s.

Professional leagues have come and gone, but in the 1960s, two professional leagues existed, the American Football League (afl) and the National Football League (nfl).  The first match up of these two leagues was called the afl-nfl World Championship Game, played on January 15, 1967. This later became known as Super Bowl I, as that was the name that the media and the public used. The two leagues merged later that year to form the current National Football League, the NFL, which consists of the two conferences, the American (afc) and the National Football Conferences (nfc).  The champions of these two conferences play each other in the Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl is a championship match of the two best teams after five months of football, including pre-season. The Super Bowl has long been one of the most watched television shows, last year viewed by almost 134 million in this country alone. It is broadcast in 234 countries in thirty-two languages.

Vince Lombardi was the head coach of the Green Bay Packers when they won the first two Super Bowls. After his death in 1970, the trophy awarded to the winning team was named after him.  Interestingly, no tapes exist of the first two Super Bowls. In those days, no one thought anyone would want to watch the same game again. In addition, videotape was very expensive and regularly taped over. The nfl has a large reward offered for either one of the tapes. One of the most famous Super Bowl games is Super Bowl III, in which Joe Namath of the New York Jets successfully predicted their defeat of the heavily favored Baltimore Colts.

Traditionally, the game has always played in either a warm weather venue or under a dome. However, this year’s game will be played right here in the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on February 2, 2014 at 6:30 pm. The site is decided years in advance.  Interestingly, no team has ever played in its home stadium for the Super Bowl.

Over the years, the Super Bowl has become a major media event.  Many people watch it for the famous commercials and the halftime concerts as much as for the game. Since it is such a highly rated show, advertisers will premier elaborately produced commercials during the broadcast.  The cost of commercial airtime during the Super Bowl has sharply increased over the years. A 30-second spot during last year’s game was reportedly $2.5 million.  Famous commercials include Budweiser’s “Bud Bowl,” Pepsi ads featuring a different celebrity each year, and an Apple computer ad by director Ridley Scott.

The pre-game and halftime entertainment has gone from college marching bands in the early years, to major headliners. The pre-game show and the singing of the national anthem always feature renowned singers like Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. The halftime show is a well-produced concert starring the likes of Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, and Paul McCartney. Janet Jackson gained media attention for her halftime show in 2004 when a “wardrobe malfunction” caused one of her breasts to be partially exposed for a second. This led the Federal Communications Commission to increase enforcement of their standards for television and radio broadcasts.

The commercials and entertainment have become such media events that coverage starts early in the day, while the actual game starts in the evening. It has become common practice to host Super Bowl parties in homes, bars and restaurants, whether or not the local team is involved.  Super Bowl Sunday has become an American holiday with lots of snack foods, excitement and entertainment, as well as the game.

A few sports bars in this neighborhood are likely to be having Super Bowl celebrations. Baker Street Pub, 1152 First Avenue at 64th Street, is probably the closest. O’Flanagan’s, 1215 First Avenue at 65th Street, is worth a visit. The Allie Way at 413 East 70th Street and Phoenix Park at 1074 First Avenue are also worth a trip. Look for celebrations at your local bar this February 2!

September 2013