Football for Dummies

football basics

It’s that time of year again, when students from all over campus congregate every Sunday (and Thursdays and Mondays) to watch football. This guide is intended for people who know absolutely nothing about football, but would love to learn and have fun watching with friends.

We’ll start with the basics necessary to follow a game:

When a team gets the ball from a kickoff, they have 4 downs (“downs” = attempts), to move the ball 10 yards, at which point they get a new set of downs and have the opportunity to go another 10 yards. 10 yards may not seem like much, but many games can be decided by which teams can stop the other from getting first downs. (For example: If it’s 1st & 10, that means it’s first down and there are ten yards to go. During that play, someone runs for 4 yards, then it’s 2nd & 6. Say there’s a short toss for 5 more yards, then it’s 3rd & 1. Then another short run for two yards means that the downs start over again and it’s 1st & 10)

If a fourth down is reached, the team can either attempt to make the first down, punt the ball to turn the ball over to the other team, or attempt a field goal if they are close enough. If they “go for it” on fourth down and don’t make the first down, the other team takes the ball wherever the player with the ball was tackled so it’s a risky maneuver.


Ideally, teams want to score a touchdown, when the player with the ball crosses the end zone at the end of the field.


If that’s not possible, they can always try to kick a field goal for 3 points, though kicks beyond 50 yards are doubtful.

These are the mechanics of understanding a basic football game. It would be impossible to try to explain the intricacies of the game in a single post. The fun of watching football comes from discovering all the minutiae of the game: penalties, interceptions, fumbles, and so on. To truly enjoy football, pick a favorite team (there’s one for most parts of the country) and go enjoy games with your friends!


Leave a Reply