All you need to know about football?

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There are a lot of technical rules to football, but you can ignore them if you don't care why the officials called a penalty. There is also a lot of strategy to the game, and learning about that can be very rewarding, but it isn't necessary.

In order to simply be able to follow the action on the field, this is what you absolutely need to know. It may seem like a lot. Just start by understanding touchdowns, and refer to the rest of the list as situations come up during the game.
Touchdowns:
  • There are ENDZONES at each end of the field. You have one behind you and one in front of you. You start somewhere between them and try to get to the endzone in front of you. If you get there, this is called a TOUCHDOWN. It is worth 6 points.
  • After a touchdown, you can try to add 1 or 2 points to your score. (Teams usually go for 1 point and almost always get it, so touchdowns are generally presumed to be worth 7 points.)

Plays:
  • You don't have to get a touchdown all in one shot. You can work your way down the field. Each time you move the ball, it's called a PLAY. The ball usually stays where it is at the end of each play.
  • Before each play, the ball is placed on the ground. It may or may not be on a line on the field. If it is not, imagine one -- this is called the LINE OF SCRIMMAGE or simply the line. This is what matters; how far the ball moves sideways does not make any difference except for going out of bounds (see next).
  • A play starts when the ball is snapped (hiked) and ends when the ball is dead. This happens with an incomplete pass (see Passes and Turnovers), when the ball goes out of bounds (see Miscellaneous), or when the person with the ball falls to the ground. Kicks have special rules about when the play ends.

Downs, Punts and Field Goals:
  • When you get the ball, you start with 4 tries to move the ball at least 10 yards. (The first try is called 1st DOWN, the second is 2nd down, and so on.) If you succeed in going 10 yards, you get four more downs. If you fail, the other team gets the ball. If you go backwards, you still have to get the ball to the original 10-yard spot, even if it is now much farther than 10 yards.
  • (Wait a minute -- I thought you said you moved the ball on a PLAY, and now you're calling it a DOWN. Which is it? A down is when you have the ball; a play is what you do with the ball. So you run a play on a down.)
  • On each down, the offense has less than a minute to start a play. If they take too long, they are penalized.
  • You'll probably want to kick the ball away on 4th down. Kicking the ball to the other team is called a PUNT. (You would do this if you think the other team will get the ball anyway and you want to make sure it is farther away from the goal.) If you are close enough to the endzone, you can try to kick the ball through the goal posts for a FIELD GOAL (worth 3 points).

Kicking and Kickoffs:
  • When a team kicks the ball, the other team can always try to catch it and run with it.
  • A kick that is dead in the endzone (or goes out of the endzone) is called a TOUCHBACK. The ball is placed at the nearest 20-yard line.
  • The game begins with a KICKOFF. You also kickoff to start the 3rd quarter (and usually overtime), and you kickoff after a score. You usually kick it as far as you can, but sometimes you may want to kick it short and try to grab it before the other team can. This is called an ON-SIDE KICK. This is very risky, so you usually only do it if you're desperate.

Passes and Turnovers:
  • The ball can be thrown FORWARD or BACKWARD. A backward pass is considered the same as handing the ball off to a runner, even if no one catches it (see "fumble" below). There are no special rules regarding backward passes.
  • A forward pass that is caught in bounds is considered completed. If the defense catches it, it is called an INTERCEPTION, and the defense keeps the ball. Anything else is an INCOMPLETE pass. An incomplete pass is dead, and the ball goes back to where it was before the play.
  • The offense can only throw the ball forward once per play.
  • The offense is not allowed to throw the ball forward once it has passed the line of scrimmage (see "Plays").
  • Only certain players on the offense are allowed to catch (or even touch) forward passes.
  • If you drop the ball it is called a FUMBLE. A fumble is live and anyone can recover it.

Miscellaneous:
  • The border line around the field is the out-of-bounds line (called the sideline or the endline). If a player steps on or over this line, he is out of bounds.
  • If you have the ball in your own endzone (the one behind you) and you are tackled or you go out of bounds, the defense gets 2 points. This is called a SAFETY.
  • If you break the rules, the officials will throw a yellow FLAG and call a PENALTY. The other team may accept or DECLINE the penalty, depending on whichever is to their advantage. The ball is usually moved after a penalty is accepted.
  • The game is divided into four QUARTERS. After the first quarter the teams switch directions and keep playing. (The ball is placed at the same spot on the other half of the field.) After the 2nd quarter, you have halftime. The game essentially starts over after halftime except the score stays the same. After the 3rd quarter, the teams switch directions again.

Stopping the Clock:
  • Timeouts can be called by either team but only between plays.
  • The clock stops on an incomplete pass, when the ball goes out of bounds, when you score, or when the other team gets the ball. The clock only stops at the end of a play, never during one.
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