Today, women make up about 50 percent of NFL fans. We are here, we are awesome, get used to us. If you are, like me, a dedicated football fan, you can stop reading here. This is not for you. This article is for those who know close to nothing about the game but want to have a basic understanding before Super Bowl 50 on Sunday. The list below is for you if you know there’s a field involved, know the players are large men in tight pants and know there might be a ball somewhere. You might not care who wins, but you do care that the Super Bowl is an excuse to eat chips … and pizza … and hopefully cookies or something. Here are a few basics to get you through the day.
1. Who’s playing?
The Carolina Panthers are playing the Denver Broncos. Boom.
2. Is that interesting?
Yup! The Panthers lost a lot of good players to injuries this season and have been more or less carried to the Super Bowl by their young and hugely talented quarterback, Cam Newton, who is trying to win his first championship. The Broncos, meanwhile, have future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning is 39 years old, which is right at the upper limit for a quarterback. He has one Super Bowl ring but will likely be retiring after this season and is hoping to go out with a second. See? Interesting!
3. What the heck is the goal here? Can a gal get an overview?
When I first started watching football with my dad when I was a kid, I thought football was men running into each other, moving a few feet and doing it again.
That’s basically true. What you have when the guys line up on the field is the defense of one team versus the offense of another. The offense gets four tries (or “downs”) to go 10 yards. They will do that by either having the quarterback throw the ball or having him hand off the ball to the running back to see how far he can run with it. If they get 10 yards on any of those downs, they start again with a first down and four more chances. The goal is to move the ball along the field by getting down after down until they are able to get it in the end zone for a touchdown.
If the offense doesn’t get their 10 yards within four downs, then the teams switch — that offense leaves the field and their defense comes on to play the other team’s offense.
All together, the game goes for four quarters of 15 minutes each, for a total of an hour of game time in the world of pretend. In reality, these one-hour games can last up to three hours. So many chips.
4. What about points?
The two most common ways to score are with a touchdown, worth six points, and a field goal, worth three. Field goals (when the kicker tries to get the ball through the goalposts — often called the “uprights”) are typically used when the offense doesn’t think it can score a touchdown but have managed to move the ball far enough downfield to be within field-goal range, which is basically the point where their kicker has a shot at making the points.
Immediately after a touchdown, the offense has two options for scoring additional points: the extra point or the two-point conversion. The extra point is the one teams choose most often. This is when the kicker tries to aim the ball through the uprights. If he does, the offense gets one point, for a total of seven on that score. A two-point conversion, on the other hand, is basically like trying to score another touchdown, except there’s only one chance and they’re only a few yards from the opponent’s goal line. If they succeed, they’re up a total of eight points. Because math.
There’s also something called a safety, which is worth two points, but I’ll skip that, as they are both not that common and hard to explain and understand. If your team gets one, just cheer and grab another chip.
5. A quick and broad breakdown of offensive positions:
Quarterback: dude throwing the ball.
Center: dude who gives the ball to the QB.
Offensive line: the enormous gentlemen trying to protect the quarterback so he can throw.
Receivers: the guys running down the field trying to catch the ball thrown by the QB.
Running back: If the QB, instead of throwing the ball, hands it off to a guy who is built like a tank and tries to run through a pile of 300-pound men, that tank is the running back.
6. A quick and broad breakdown of defensive positions:
Defensive line: Enormous men, some of whom are remarkably agile, trying to either sack the quarterback or stop the running back. (A sack is when the QB is taken to the ground while he still has possession of the ball.)
Middle linebacker: the quarterback of the defense — you may see this guy behind the defensive line, yelling and pointing at things. He gets the defense set up against whatever play the offense is going to try to run.
Corners: Guys paired up with the receivers to try to prevent them from catching the ball.
Safeties: The last line of defense. There’s the strong safety, who is usually patrolling the “strong” side of the field (the side where the offense has lined up its tight end — don’t worry about it. Chip, please), and the free safety, who may be so far back he doesn’t even show up on your TV screen. His job is to follow the ball and go where it goes. He’s the last stop against the offense.
7. What are “special teams”?
There’s offense, defense and special teams. The guys on special teams are the ones who play during kickoff, punt returns, field goals — all kicking plays. Usually your star players aren’t on special teams because no one wants, say, Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas getting hurt returning a kick when they could be using him to score a touchdown. Special teams players are highly skilled and can make a difference in the outcome of the game.
8. So if my team is up 21–3 at the start of the fourth quarter, we’re golden, right?
Ha! You’d like to think so, but in football, most games aren’t over till the last second is off the clock.
Let me tell you a little story about a Seahawks fan named Meredith Bland. Last season, she was watching the NFC championship game between her Seahawks and the Panthers, and she was feeling sad. You see, her team was down 19–7 with four minutes left to go. It looked bleak. But then a series of miracles happened, and the Seahawks won 28–22. The lessons: Never give up, and never get comfortable. Man, is this a great game?
Have a great Super Bowl!