In our last installment, we learned the Who, What, When, Why and Where of the Super Bowl. Now it's time to get down to the basics of The Game.
I'm going to teach you the basics of the game through the referee's hand signals. Once you learn what the hand signals mean, the game will suddenly make a lot of sense. Plus, you'll be able to impress your friends with your superior knowledge. Just trust me on this one.
Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. As with most games, the team to score the most points wins. So how do you score those points? There are three basic ways to score in football:
1) Touchdowns and Extra Points,
2) Field Goals, and
3) my personal favorite, the Safety.
Touchdowns and Extra Points
When the Referee extends his arms straight up, like so, it is indicative that the team on offense has scored either by a touchdown, extra point, or field goal. (If you have children, you will also recognize this motion for "SOOOOOO Big!" ) We'll get to field goals next, but for now let's focus on touchdowns and extra points. There are two basic ways to score a touchdown- running the ball and catching the ball.
Running the ball in
In the National Football League, you can score on a run if you are holding the ball and it passes into the end zone with you still holding it. What matters here is that the BALL enters the end zone.
And what does "entering the end zone" mean? Picture a football field. Now- the area at each end of the field is called the "end zone." See that large white stripe around the end zone? Imagine that an invisible wall is rising up out of it. In football, we call that the "vertical plane" and once the ball penetrates the vertical plane, a touchdown has been scored. Ball + end zone = touchdown! Easy enough, right?
Catching the ball in the end zone
Additionally, a player can catch the ball while in the end zone for a touchdown. For a catch to count, the playing must have control of the ball AND both feet must touch the ground inside the end zone. Both feet don't have to be touching the ground at the same time- the right foot can land and then the left, for example. Also, they just have to touch the ground. A ballerina-on-her-toes type of landing is perfectly acceptable. All that matters is that both feet touch the ground while the receiver has control of the ball.
So, if either of those things happen, the ref will do this, the fans will cheer, and the team will get 6 points!
After scoring a touchdown, the scoring team is given the opportunity to try for an extra point. Also known as a try or a p.a.t., point after touchdown. This is typically done as either a kick for one point or a two-point conversion for (shocking!) two points. Most of the time, the team will opt for a kick rather than the two-point conversion.
With a kick, the team's kicker simply has to kick the football through the goal post, i.e. the large, yellow Y-ish-shaped thing at the back of the end zone. If the ball goes through the up-rights, as they are commonly called, then the team gets one point. This is a fairly easy way to score, so there is little risk involved in choosing this.
For a two-point conversion, the team essentially has to score another touchdown. The ball is placed on the two-yard line and the team either tries to run the ball or throw the ball into the end zone. It is riskier, but the reward is greater. Obviously, there is strategy involved in whether to go for one or two points, but for now, just know that these are the two options you are likely to see.
When the team doesn't have enough time or can't get close enough to the end zone to score a touchdown, they can try for a field goal. This one is pretty easy- all you have to do is kick the ball through the goal posts, just like the extra point we just discussed. A team will usually attempt a field goal once they get to about the 35 yard line, give or take some. Obviously the closer the team gets to the end zone, the more likely they are to score. The farther away, the less likely they are to score.
A field goal is worth 3 points and a successful field goal kick is indicated by the same "so big" arms motion as the touchdown. If a field goal is missed, it is either called "wide right" (to the right of the uprights), "wide left" (to the left of the uprights), or short. If this happens the ref will extend his arms out in front of his body and wave them back and forth.
The safety is rare, but it yields the best of the hand motions. A safety occurs when the defense tackles an offensive player who is holding the ball in the offense's end zone. Confused? Yeah, it's confusing.
In football, the team that is on defense (trying to keep the other team from scoring) is guarding their own end zone. So if the Saints' are about to score a touchdown, it will be in what we call the Colts' end zone. But in order for a safety to be scored, the offense has to be in their own end zone. So for the Saints to score a safety, the Colts would have to be on offense and the Colts' player holding the ball would have to be tackled in the Colts' end zone. If a safety is scored, the ref will clap his hands above his head. I call this one the "genie in a bottle" motion.
Safeties are the result of strong defensive play in combination with the offense having bad field position. If that doesn't make any sense, it will soon enough. Hopefully. ;)
So there you have it- the fundamentals on how to score in a professional football game. You are now one step closer to understanding the game!