For all my British friends I am once again going to attempt to explain the greatest game in the history of the world, American football. This is revenge for all the years they have tried to explain the rules of cricket to me … although even they don’t understand them all.
One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is why is it called football when you don’t kick the ball with your feet? I’m glad you asked, so let’s settle this once and for all. Way back in history there was a game similar to modern rugby. For this game they used a ball that was basically the same shape as the one they use for rugby today. You could use either your hands or your feet to advance the ball, and the game became known as rugby football. They kept changing the rules over the centuries, but the ball didn’t change very much. American football is loosely based on rugby football, and the shape of the ball is similar, so the game became known as football. Anyway, everyone knows that a ball game that uses your feet should properly be called soccer, and not football.
The average football game takes three hours and twelve minutes to play. If you were to count the amount of time when the ball is actually in play, you would see that the game really takes about eleven minutes. What do we do with the other three hours? We watch commercials—about one hundred of them per game. This seems fair, since football players are paid millions of dollars and the teams have to get the money from somewhere. We now have networks where you can watch just the action and see the entire game in about twelve minutes. This is un-American. This is probably done for the people who e-mail you and get angry if you don’t respond to them within 14 microseconds. I know some of those people, and I purposely ignore their e-mails because I know it drives them insane.
One of the best things about football is that you have time to make a sandwich, get a beer, go to the bathroom, get another beer, check your e-mail, post something about the team on Facebook, and get another beer without missing any of the game. Can’t do that in soccer now, can you? You even have a halftime break, which takes about 20 minutes, in case you need a little extra time to finish those chicken wings.
The extra time also gives us the opportunity to completely dissect the previous play. We have instant replay, so we can watch it over and over and over again from multiple different angles. This is important because football is a game of inches, and inches really count. For example, when a receiver catches a pass on the side of the field, he has to have both feet in bounds when the catch is made. With instant replay, we can see whether the referee got the call right or not.
But it’s more complicated than that. In order for it to qualify as a catch, the receiver must have “control of the ball.” No bobbling. If the receiver has both feet in bounds but doesn’t have control of the ball, and he falls but gets control of the ball before he hits the ground, but one of those feet slips out of bounds, it’s not a catch. This can make for lengthy intellectual discussions about the rules of football. These discussions usually take the form of shouting, casting aspersions about an opposing player’s mother, and throwing crab dip at the television. Often these discussions are accompanied by lots—and I mean lots—of swearing. Football is not a game for the faint of heart.
Most casual fans don’t realize this, but there is also voodoo involved in professional football. My team, the New England Patriots, won their first Super Bowl in 2001. As a faithful fan, I immediately bought my championship gear—a hat, sweatshirt, sweatpants and other items bearing the team logo. Even today, if the Patriots are losing it’s usually because I’m not wearing all of my team gear. I am thumbing my nose at the gods of the gridiron, and my team is suffering because of my negligence. I have no choice but to run to my closet and put on as much good luck gear as I can find. Only then can my team recover and possibly win—assuming, of course, that I’ve made this week’s ritual sacrifice, which generally involves some type of animal blood and a virgin, if one can be found.
The most fun to be had is with traditional rivalries, and a good example is Boston vs. New York in any sport. We just hate anything having to do with New York. It’s ingrained in us from early childhood. Even growing up, my town had a traditional rival a few miles down the road. High school football games between our two towns attracted massive crowds of thousands of people. To this day, I cannot shop, have dinner or a cocktail, or even drive through that town without wanting to make obscene gestures at everyone I see. When they see the stickers on my car from their rival town, even small children gesture right back at me, and that’s the way it should be.
Yes, football’s not for everyone, but ask any red-blooded American male what he’s doing on Sunday and he’ll tell you: “I can’t do anything, man, the GAME is on!”