Friday, October 19, 2007

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

Because my Big Sister (who's 5'4'') wanted me to, I'm writing about football.

She likes football. Or thinks she does. I'm not sure.

Anyway, we talked about starting the game. And we got as far as putting the ball in play.


The most common football play is the run.

The quarterback, who stands behind the center, receives the snap and the play starts.

On a run, he'll usually give the ball to a runner. Often called a running back.

The "back" part is because he's behind (or back of) the line of scrimmage.

Traditionally, their are four backs, though that's not quite as common these days ... or for the last 40 years.

The back that's back the most is the fullback. The one (or two) that are not as far back are the halfbacks. And the back that's closest to the center is the quarterback. And any could take the snap from center.

Or it used to be.

Nowdays, the quarterback is just the guy that takes the snap. Often, there's no "fullback" in the traditional sense. When there is, he's often called the tailback.

But they are all (except the quarterback) called running backs, because the original meanings don't usually apply anymore.

Anyway, the quarterback takes the ball and will usually hand it off to a running back. He can run with it himself, if he wants to, but often, he's some high-paid prima donna who doesn't want to break a nail.

So, the running back takes the handoff (or a lateral or backwards toss from the quarterback) and runs with it.

Other player can block for the runner. They can't grab a defender (that's called "holding" and is a 10-15 yard penalty, depending on where it occurs). They can't block the defender from behind (that's called "clipping" and is a 15-yard penalty). They have to face them man-to-man.

The defender tries to knock the runner down, or out of bounds.

If the runner falls on his own in high school ball, he's down and the play is over. But in the college and pro game, he can get back up and run some more, if he's not down because of a defender's actions.

The runner is down if any part of his body other than hands or feet touch the ground.

Then, the play is over, and they huddle up and do another play.

The pass

It's legal to throw the ball downfield. But there are restrictions.

We talked earlier about ineligible receivers. They can't be downfield when the ball is thrown forward.

Oh, by the way, note that I said "thrown forward." That's a forward pass. When someone says "pass," they usually mean "forward pass."

A backward or lateral pass is not a forward pass, and can occur any time the ball is in play.

A forward pass can only occur if the passer (often the quarterback, but it really can be any player) has not advanced past the line of scrimmage ... and if a forward pass has not already been thrown.

Only one forward pass can occur on a single play.

Only eligible receivers can touch a thrown ball (unless and until a defender touches the ball while it's in the air).

If a pass is dropped without the receiver having obtained full possession of the ball, it's an incomplete pass and the play is over.

If a defender catches a pass, it's an interception, and they become the offense at the conclusion of the play.

Oh, no player (offense or defense) can interfere with another player (offense or defense) trying to catch a pass. Interference can be hitting the man before the ball reaches him. Or it can be waving arms in his face.

The key thing, though, is that both offense and defense are allowed to catch the pass. Hitting a player while you are in the act of catching a pass is not interference. Hitting a player while you are getting ready to catch a pass is.


We said that a pass caught by the defense is an interception.

Well, if a runner (or receiver who has caught a pass) drops the ball, it's a fumble. Either team can recover a fumble.

If the defense recovers the fumble, play continues until the player with possession of the ball is down, then they become the offense.

If the offense recovers the fumble, play continues as normal.


Each team gets four tries to move the ball 10 yards. In the U.S., at least. In Canada, they get three tries.

Each try is a "down." When a team gets possession of the ball, their first play is "first down." And if they get 10 yards, the count of downs starts over.

For example, it's 1st and 10. (First down, with 10 yards to go for another first down.)

The team throws a pass, and it's incomplete.

Now, it's 2nd and 10. (Incomplete pass costs a down, but no gain or loss of yardage.)

They run the ball, picking up 7 yards.

Now, it's 3rd and 3. (They have 3 more yards to go for another first down.)

A pass is complete for 12 yards.

Well, since they got more than 10 yards net yardage on that series of downs, it's 1st and 10 again.

Now, let's say the next play is a run, but the runner is tackled 6 yards behind the line.

It's now 2nd and 16. (They need 16 yards to net 10 total yards, since they stand at -6.)

A pass is complete for 20 yards.

It's 1st and 10.

It keeps going this way until they turn the score or turn the ball over.

Let's say it's now 4th and 4. And they gain 3 yards. Well, they used all 4 downs and didn't gain a net of 10 yards.

The other team takes over possession.

This doesn't happen often, though.

Want to know why?

That's the next post.


  1. [...] Basil writes about football. Here. And here. And here. And, here! [...]

  2. Then you have the end zone dance wherein a player who gets there
    acts like a psychotic.

    And the person who sacks (tackles) the qb and acts as though
    he is the center of the Universe.

  3. I love your football posts. They are great.

  4. Football Week Eight...

    Here are the matchups for today Sunday 10/28/07...All Times are EST DET @ CHI 1:00 PM IND @ CAR 1:00 PM PIT @ CIN 1:00 PM OAK @ TEN 1:00 PM CLE @ STL 1:00 PM PHI @ MIN......

  5. Did you happen to see the 15-lateral play that Trinity College (Div III) ran this past weekend? It was spectacular. The only thing that could have made it better would have been a marching band.

  6. No, I missed that one. I will be looking for it, though. I bet it was fun to watch.


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