The Sports Archives – 10 American Football Vocabulary Lessons for New Fans


While baseball may forever remain the U.S.A.’s pastime, American Football has achieved tantamount popularity with the nation as its #1 most popular Major-league sporting activity. So get ready to join the club of football fanatics!

Perhaps you were at a friend’s house one time and caught a glimpse of good-old American Football on the television, or maybe you’ve followed football for quite a long time, but still aren’t entirely familiar with the intricacies of the game. While it is certainly one of the easier sports to comprehend both as a spectator and as a player, football still possesses the precise, detailed complexity that defines any great sporting activity. What American Football ultimately boils down to is the skill and strategy of each team, and how they will, for a select period of time, be in charge of either moving the football itself to the end zone or preventing the team carrying it from encroaching. Everything else that composes the game is just an addition to play that molds and shapes what the players will do next. Here are 10 of the more vital terms and policies employed in a football game when all of the action happens:

Down – Downs are perhaps the most crucial resource in a game of football, and signify “turns” in which the offense may move the football forward along the field. Once the offensive team has possession of the ball, the players will position themselves along a yard line that coincides with the football in the middle of the field. The offensive team effectively has four “chances” – four downs – at a time to move the ball 10 yards forward. The defensive team must prevent the ball from moving towards the goal by stopping each play that the offensive team executes. Only one play can be executed per down. If the offensive team manages to move the ball 10 yards, the down system is reset and the offense may continue with a 1st down. If the defensive team is successful and all four downs elapse without the ball moving 10 yards, the teams switch and the defense team has a chance at playing offense.

Offense – Shorthand/slang for the team in possession of the football.

Defense – Shorthand/slang for the team defending.


The Line of Scrimmage is the blue line projected on the field below. This line, the yellow line, and the text palette “3rd & 5” are applied digitally to the video feed and are seen in most televised football games. Of course, in person, none of this is visible, but spectators watching on TV can keep up as well as (if not, better) any fan present in the stadium.

Line of Scrimmage – The Line of Scrimmage is an invisible line that runs the width of a football field, and signifies where the football is on the field. The line separates the offense and defense teams from each other up until the offense initiates a play.

 Possession/Interception – Possession is another way of defining which team has control of the ball (and, by extension, conducting the offensive). Generally, the downs dictate when each team plays offense and defense, respectively. However, if a member of the defensive team manages to legally (without penalty) acquire the ball while a play is in effect, the teams automatically switch out and the previously-defensive team now has possession. This is known as interception.

Fumble – If a player is in control of the football and loses/drops it before being tackled or halted, it is known as a fumble. Fumbles are slightly more common in passes, but can happen at any point in time. Typically, when a player is tackled, the play concludes with the ball falling at the respective yard line, but in a fumble, the football is still considered a “live ball,” and can be recovered by either time. Like with interception, it is typically possible for the defensive team to assume possession of the ball if they recover it from a fumble.

Blitz – Blitzing is a tactic often utilized by the defense to confuse the offensive team and disrupt a play. Normally, the defensive team tries to balance its players between pressuring the quarterback and blocking potential pass candidates. In contrast to this, a blitz is generally defined as “a defensive rush executed by more than 4 defensive players.” Timed properly in a game, a blitz can make all the difference, but it is still a risky maneuver – the more defenders that are sent after the quarterback at the start of the play, the less remain to prevent a successful catch if the ball gets away.


This is the weighted, yellow penalty flag referees throw out during play. Even if you missed the penalty happen, if you see this on the field, you’ll know that someone is about to get hosed!

Flag/Penalty – Penalties are issued in football by a referee, usually by way of a weighted, yellow flag that is thrown onto the field. The plethora of infractions in football is notably diverse, but the penalties for such are really not. Most penalties assigned by referees for infractions consist of a loss in yardage – forcing the offense or defense to acquire or concede what is considered a fair distance towards either goal. It is possible, however unlikely, to gain an automatic first down on yard penalties alone.

Roughing/Holding – Football is a contact sport; as such, there is going to be a lot of roughness from both sides, but the aggression does not go unchecked. Roughing is a penalty infraction categorized as the illegal tackling of a player. Tackling is usually legal only on the player in possession of the football. As such, “roughing the ____” is an expression that describes an accidental tackle of a player, be it the kicker, the passer (after a pass), and so on. Holding also involves physical contact, and is categorized as when a player physically handles another player that is not in possession of the ball. It can get uncomfortable dancing around opponents at times, but shoving, tackling, and overtaking receivers or defenders is usually not allowed (unless they have possession, of course).

Scoring – Scoring can be perplexing in football – where do all those points come from? It   is simpler than it seems, really. A touchdown results in the most points, and is simply when an offensive player makes it to the end zone with the ball in hand. A standard touchdown is 6 points, with an optional 7th and/or 8th granted by a “free kick” or, if the offensive team manages to execute another touchdown from short range in one play, respectively. If the team is close to the end zone but short on downs, they may opt to “punt” the ball – kick it through the goal post in the end zone. This is a “field goal” and is worth 3 points if it connects.

Now you know most of the fundamentals needed to grasp football. Get out there and prepare for football season this autumn!

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