Football dictionary: Football terms for non-fans

Are you going to a Superbowl party this year, despite the fact that you have no idea who’s playing or what the heck the Superbowl even stands for? Don’t worry — here’s a quick cheat sheet of common football terms you need to make sense of the Superbowl.

Bored woman watching football


The National Football League (NFL) is divided into two conferences, the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). The Super Bowl is the championship game
between the best teams from the AFC and the NFC so that the winner is supposedly the best team around.

Binge eating

OK, this one isn’t a technical football term but if you’re going to a Super Bowl party, it’s most likely on the game plan anyway! The Super Bowl is the number two day in American food consumption
with Thanksgiving as number one. Be prepared, wear pants with an elastic waistband.

Blind side

If you haven’t seen this feel-good, tearjerker yet, grab some tissues and get ready for a crash course in football terms. Aside from the big screen, the blind side is the side opposite of the
direction a player is facing, usually referring to a quarterback. Basically, it’s what he can’t see.

Fantasy football

This online game consumes the men in our lives from roughly July to June. Players pick their own teams and compete with teams built by others. Used in a sentence: Fantasy football websites are to
sports minded folks what celeb gossip sites are to everybody else, well, if celeb gossip sites involved betting.

First and anything

This refers to the down (of which there are four per possession) and how many yards are left until the team gets a first down and the opportunity to continue moving the ball down the field.

First down

There are four downs per possession. Think of them as chances. The ball must be moved 10 yards forward in order to get a first down. If the team is unable to do this in four tries, the ball goes
back to the other team.


When any offensive player (*as in, a player on the offense, not one who lets loose a string of profanities) loses possession of the football. If someone at your Super Bowl party drops a chip loaded
with seven layer dip, yelling ‘Fumble!’ would be an appropriate use of the term. You’ll seem hilarious and knowledgeable.

Hail Mary

-When a quarterback throws a long pass without a real target, usually with only a few seconds left in a quarter or half, just praying to the football gods that someone from his team catches it.


In some circles this refers to that unfortunate side effect of low-cut jeans when half your backside hangs out. In the Super Bowl crowd, this is an older term for an offensive player who carries
the ball and is now typically referred to as a running back.

Nickel back

-Yes, this is the name of that band whose songs you embarrassingly know all of the words too. But, it’s also an extra linebacker used in certain plays. And that linebacker probably knows all
of the words to Photograph, too.


A penalty called when part of a player’s body, usually a defensive lineman, is over the line of scrimmage (the line between offense and defense) when the play starts. This is a no-no, gotta
stay on your own side of the line, boys!

Personal foul

-An illegal act that puts the well-being of another player in unnecessary risk. This also can refer to the time your boyfriend’s snarky sister called you out for buying your top at Costco in
front of the entire party! 

Tight end

While this may be the only real reason you watch football in the first place, this term actually refers to an offensive player who is a receiver and a blocker. Thanks, but we still like the first
explanation, yowza!


When any part of the ball, carried by a player who is in bounds, crosses the goal line and results in a score. Watch closely, all the ball has to do is pass inside the bright orange pylon at the
edge of the end zone. You’ll know this has happened because everyone at the party will be fist pumping and high fiving.  

This is enough to get you started. Just remember, when all else fails, turning to someone and saying, ‘I bet I can eat more bean dip than you can,’ is always an appropriate Super Bowl viewing
conversation starter.


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