American football is the most popular sport in the USA with Canada being in on it as well. Beside the professional leagues, this sport is played in almost every college in the US. The NFL, which is the most popular league has an annual revenue of over $10 billion. On top of that, the league has the highest average attendance, compared to any other professional sports league in the world.

American Football Intro
Welcome to American Football

American football is played by two teams consisting of eleven players. They play on a rectangular field that has two goalposts at each end. The idea is to carry the football over the opponents end zone for a touch down. Additionally, the ball can be kicked through the goalpost for a field goal. Keep reading to learn more about American Football and its origins.

American Football History

The sports initially evolved from classic European football (soccer) and rugby. The first American football match was played between the college teams Rutgers and Princeton. Back then, the game had two teams of 25 players each. It wasn’t allowed to pick up and/or carry the ball. However, you could kick or bat the ball with hands, feet, head or sides.

A lot of collegiate games were played after that and the host school got to choose the rules. With time, a standardized set of rules was created; however, they were far from the modern ones used today. The first important changes were to reduce the amount of players to eleven and to remove the “scrum”. Something called a “snap” was introduced that allowed the teams to hold possession. The “scrum” is still used in rugby; however, it got replaced by the “snap” in American football.

American Football History

Nevertheless, American football was still way to violent because teams were abusing the “snap”. To avoid losing one team would just hold possession without trying to score. This type of play led to a lot of serious injuries and deaths in the sport. In 1905 a record 19 fatalities happened and president Theodore Roosevelt made a threat that he will abolish the game if serious changes weren’t made to it. From then up to around 1925 when professional American football took hold, a lot of changes to the rules were made. Below we will explain the modern rules of the game.

American Football Rules

A lot of changes happened to the rules of American football through the years but all of them made the game better. Here are the most important rules that everyone needs to know before watching or playing a game.

American Football Rules
  • Games last for four, 15 minute quarters. There is a 15 minute rest during half-time. Additionally, there are 2 minutes of rest after every quarter.
  • Each team has 4 downs to gain 10 or more yards. To achieve that the ball can be carried or thrown. If a team fails to advance the required yards, they will turnover the ball to the opponents.
  • At the start of every game is the coin toss to decide which team receives the ball first and which side of the pitch they want to start from.
  • The game begins with a kick-off where one team punts the ball down field for the other team to then run back with the ball as far as possible.
  • On fourth down the offence has the option to either try to make up the yards they are short or to kick the ball. If they decide to kick they have two options; to punt or to try for a field goal. In American football, if a team is closer than 40 yards to the goal, they try to score a field goal.

How to Play

The main goal of American football is very similar to other sports like hockey, basketball, rugby, etc. All you need to do is outscore the opponent to win the match. However, this sport has an interesting way to scoring, unlike any other. For instance, scoring a touchdown will get you 6 points. This happens when a player carries the ball over the opponents end zone.

After a touchdown is scored, the scoring team has an opportunity to kick the ball through the goalpost for an additional point. The ball must pass between the upright posts for a successful kick. On top of that, players can score a field goal by kicking the ball through the goal from anywhere on the field. This is usually done when a team gets within 40 yards of the opponents goal and it counts as 3 points. Last but not least, if the team that’s on defense successfully tackles an attacking player in their own end zone, its called safety and they earn 2 points.

Pitch Rules, Players, and Equipment

American football games are played on a rectangular field that’s 110 meters long and 48.8 meters wide. On the field every 5 yards (4.8 meters) are market which makes counting the 4 downs much easier. Goalposts are located at the center of the plane of each of the two end lines. The crossbar of these posts is 10 feet (3.0 m) above the ground, with vertical uprights at the end of the crossbar 18 feet 6 inches (5.64 m) apart for professional and collegiate play and 23 feet 4 inches (7.11 m) apart for high school play. The uprights extend vertically 35 feet (11 m) on professional fields, a minimum of 10 yards (9.1 m) on college fields, and a minimum of 10 feet (3.0 m) on high school fields.

When it comes to equipment, the most important one is the football itself. American football has an oval ball, similar to the ones used in rugby or Australian rules football. The ball has slightly different dimensions in different types of play; however, the weight of the ball is always between 400 and 430 grams. The players wear matched jerseys and protective padding because the game can be very physical.


The players in American football are divided in three categories: offensive unit, defensive unit, and special teams unit. The job of the offensive unit is to get the ball as far as possible up the field and try to score a touchdown. The defensive unit tries to stop the opponents offense from scoring. They tackle players and try to force the opponent to commit a turnover. The special teams unit on the other hand, handles all the kicking in the game. They are in charge of executing field goal attempts, punts, and kickoffs.


American football is a complicated game and because of that a lot of officiating is required. There are seven of them on the field and each has a different task.

  • Referee – He is in charge of controlling the game. Makes the most important decisions and handles the communication between all the officials.
  • Umpire – He is closest to the main referee as he stands opposite him. Mainly he watches the contact between the offensive and defensive players. He gives out most of the holding penalties. More or less, he is the assistant to the referee.
  • Back Judge – Stands behind the umpire and makes sure the defensive team has no more than 11 players on the field. He also monitors field goals and pass interference.
  • Head Linesmen Stands at the end of the line of the scrimmage and helps the line judge.
  • Side Judge Stands downwards of the head linesmen and pretty much doubles the work of the field judge.
  • Field Judge – Mostly controls the play clock, counts the number of defensive players on the field, and watches for offensive pass interference.
  • Line Judge – This judge supervises player substitutions, the line of scrimmage during punts, and game timing.
  • Center Judge – The center judge is an 8th official who is used in top level college play. He has a similar job like the umpire with assisting the main referee.

American Football Organisations and Tournaments

As we mentioned at the beginning, American football is the most watched sport in the USA. That’s why the best leagues in the sport are located there. Sports betting on the sport is also quite popular thanks to these leagues. They are best known as the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and the NFL (National Football League).

National Collegiate Athletic Association

American football is extremely popular in most colleges all around the USA. Its so popular that it stands as number three in popularity on the territory. The only two things more popular than it are the NFL, which is professional American football, and professional baseball. The league is divided into three divisions and the strongest Division I is divided into two more sub-divisions. They are known as theFootball Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). The champions of all divisions are sanctioned through a NCAA play-off system.

NCAA Football
NCAA Division I

National Football League

The NFL is the most popular league in the world when it comes to American Football. It has the highest average attendance per game compared to any other league or sport in the world. The league is divided into two conferences, each with 16 teams. They are known as the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference. After the regular season, the teams go into the play-offs where a victor from both conferences rises.


The two teams that win their respective conferences face each other in a tournament known as the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is played every year and its the biggest event in American football and among the biggest events in the whole world. The winner of the Super Bowl gets the Vince Lombardy Trophy.

International Play

American football is not very popular internationally. There was an attempt to create an NFL league in Europe; however, after several years it was disbanded in 2007. The European Football League (EFL) is the only real league that’s active right now in Europe. Similarly to the NFL, they host an Eurobowl tournament that decides the champion. Nevertheless, it’s popularity is not even close to the one of their American counterparts.

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