Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Football III. For my Big Sister. Who's 5'4''

My great-grandparents lived in a log cabin. Ma and Pa, we called them. That's what their children (my maternal grandmother and her sisters) called them. And that's what their children (my maternal grandmother's children, and all their cousins) called them.

And, that's what the great-grandchildren (me, my sisters, and all our first, second, third, and so on cousins on that side of the family) called them.

Well, when Pa died, in 1967, Ma had to give up the house. The log cabin.

She went to live with her daughters. They all lived in three separate counties in southeast Georgia, usually with one for two weeks, then the next, then the next, and so on.

When Ma came to visit, she had her chair in front of the TV.

She'd sit there with her sewing or knitting ... and her snuff can. And she'd watch TV.

Wrestling, usually. Or "rasslin'" as it was often called. Georgia Championship Wrestling, hosted by Gordon Solie. If you never heard a wrestling match called by Gordon Solie, you missed a truly great experience. He was the best.

But I digress. We're talking about Ma watching TV. Actually, we're supposed to be talking about football. But we're almost there.

Ma would watch whatever was on TV. And, sometimes, on Saturdays or Sundays, there'd be football.

One day, Ma was watching the game, then suddenly called my name.

"What do them fellow do when they squat down there and look at each other?" *

Well, here's what they do.


Following a kickoff, the teams line up to put the ball in play.

One team has possession of the ball. That's the offense.

The other team is defending a goal. That's the defense.

The offense puts the ball in play by lining up, and one man, the center, moves the ball to another player behind him, and play begins.

The offense must have at least seven men on the line of scrimmage.

The line of scrimmage is an imaginary line that runs through the football, from one sideline to another.

Seven (or more) offensive players must be lined up in a row on the line of scrimmage. Any less, and it's an illegal formation. More is okay, but there are impacts of that.

For example, the offense must move the ball downfield by running, or by successfully throwing the ball.

Anyone can run with the ball. Only certain people can catch the ball.

To catch the ball legally -- that is, to be an eligible receiver -- you must line up behind the line of scrimmage, or be one of the players lined up on the end of the line of scrimmage.

The center, the man who puts the ball into play (by "hiking" it), must, of course, be on the line. He can be on the end, but that's very uncommon.

A normal formation has the center, then a "guard" on each side, then, outside each guard, is a "tackle." Normal formations have additional players on either side of the tackles, called "ends."

Ends are eligible. Players behind the line are eligible, with one exception we'll talk about later.

Any player who lines up on the end -- even if he is the center, guard, or tackle -- is eligible. It's practically unheard of for a center to be an end. Likewise, for a guard. But it's more common, though rare, for a tackle to be an end.

When a tackle is an end ... called a "tackle eligible" play ... there must still be six other men on the line of scrimmage. And that means another player who would often be eligible is, for that play, an "exterior lineman," and ineligible.

Also, in pro ball, quarterbacks who line up immediately behind the center are ineligible. If he lines up farther back ... often called a "shotgun" formation ... he is eligible. In high school and college, a quarterback is always eligible.

Ineligible receivers may not run downfield if the ball is thrown forward (a "forward pass"). If the ball isn't thrown, they can run downfield.

And, under no circumstances can an ineligible receiver catch a forward pass. They can legally catch a pass deflected by a defender, but not directly from the passer.


Before putting the ball in play, each side gets together, often in a "huddle," to receive the play. Depending on the particular play, everyone has a different role to play and action to perform.

On the offense, some will run with the ball. Others will run downfield to attempt to catch a pass. Others will stay back and block for others who have the ball.

On the defense, some will "rush" the quarterback. Others will follow a receiver or guard a particular area or "zone" of the field from a pass (called a "zone defense"). And, sometimes, lots of players rush the quarterback. That's called a "blitz."'

In high school, the offense has 30 seconds to put the ball in play. In college, 25 seconds. And 45 in the NFL.

But all that happens after the teams line up. And squat down and look at each other.

And there's more that happens when the ball is put into play. More on that later.


  1. This is why I don't like football. I watch the super bowl each year for the commercials and because someone usually throws a party but the game of American style football, I can't stand.

    The rules are too arcane. It takes an associate's degree to have even the barest understanding of the game and I just don't have that much time to invest in what is, fundamentally, a bunch of grown men running in circles and beating each other up over an inflated scrap of leather.

    Maybe if the rulebook were shorter than an unabridged dictionary, I might be more willing to try and milk some enjoyment out of it. Maybe if the game system weren't so complicated that the officials have to get together and discuss the implications of regulations the same way that lawyers mediate contract disputes I could get into it.

    Now actual football, the one played one's feet, using a round ball and without pads, that's a sport I can sink my teeth into.

  2. [...] writes about football. Here. And here. And here. And, [...]


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