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Welcome to Football for Dummies and Mommies

There is absolutely nothing more frustrating than watching football from the sidelines and not understanding what is
happening. You feel left out when everyone else around you seems to know what is going on. The information that
follows is to help all spectators (moms, grandparents, friends, cheerleaders, some dads and even a person with
“blonde” colored hair) understand the basic game of football. The game of football can be extremely complicated,
but I have attempted to translate the concept of the game for you in the simplest manner. Please be patient as this
is a work in progress.


Football as we know it, is a modified version of the game Rugby, which was invented in 1823 in England. Different
versions of football have been played in the United States since the 1850’s, but it was not until 1873 that the
Intercollegiate Football Association was formed to consolidate the many different rules of the game. By 1882, rules
were further revised to a format that closely resembles those used in today’s game. The first professional football
game was played in 1892. A little bit of trivia… present day football has more rules than any other team sport. (It’s
no wonder you don’t understand what’s happening.)

A football (an oval or elliptical ball streamlined for forward passing), football jersey and pants, cleats, certified
helmet with chin strap and face mask, protective pads for shoulders, hips, tailbone, thighs, and knees and a mouth
guard. Some players opt for an athletic supporter with cup. Unlike other forms of football played around the world,
the very distinctive aspect of American football is that the players are oddly attired in helmets and padding that
gives their shoulders the appearance of supermen.


Football teams move a ball along a field using passing, catching, running, and kicking skills in an effort to score
points. Points are earned by scoring a touchdown (six points), an extra point (worth one or two points), a field goal
(three points), or a safety (two points). A touchdown is scored when a player carries the ball or catches the ball
over the opponent’s goal line in the end zone. The team scoring the greater number of points in the allotted time
wins the game.


A game is generally divided into four quarters (some youth leagues play two halves). Depending upon league
rules, each quarter ranges from ten to fifteen minutes. There is a break at halftime. Usually during halftime, a
team’s cheerleading squad will showcase their skills and talents (which is not as easy as it looks, but that’s another
story for another time). To start a game, a coin is tossed to determine which team “kicks off” first. Teams switch
sides after every quarter and each side is permitted three time-outs per half. If the game ends in a tie at the end of
regulation play, teams may play a 15-minute sudden death overtime period; the team to score first wins.

The field is a rectangle measuring a total of 120 yards long (playing field is 100 yards long) and 53 yards wide.
There are stripes running across the field at five-yard intervals. The short white markings (referred to as yard
markers or hash marks) are marked at one-yard intervals and help the players, officials, and the fans keep track of
the ball. More trivia… all these markings form a grid pattern, hence the term "Gridiron". The numbers on the field
indicate the number of yards to the nearest end zone. On each end of the playing field is the end zone which
extends ten yards. Located on the very back line of each end zone is a goal post. The spot where the end zone
meets the playing field is called the goal line. The yardage from the goal line is marked at ten-yard intervals, up to
the 50-yard line, which is in the center of the field. After reaching the 50-yard line, the yard markers start to
descend (40, 30, 20, 10) every ten yards until they reach the opposite goal line.
Two teams of eleven players each are on the field at one time. The team in possession of the ball plays offense
while the other team plays defense. Both teams line up over the “line of scrimmage”. The line of scrimmage is the
imaginary line along the field where the play begins. Each team has its own line of scrimmage, separated by the
neutral zone. To advance the ball, the offensive team can either run or pass. Each play begins with the snap and
ends when the ball is dead. At the line of scrimmage, the quarterback loudly calls out a play (which is always in
code) and the player in front of him (the center) passes, or “snaps”, the ball under his legs to the quarterback. From
there, the quarterback can either throw the ball or hand it off to a teammate, or run with it himself. The offensive
team must have at least seven players on or within a foot of the line of scrimmage. No player is allowed to cross
this line before the snap.

Substitution of players may take place any time the ball is not in play. Unlimited substitution has caused the game
to revolve around specialized units, the offense, the defense, special teams for kicking situations (punts, field goals,
and kickoffs) and special defenses (short yardage, long yardage, etc.). (Again, the game of football can be
extremely complicated.)

All progress in a football game is measured in yards. Every offensive play, from the line of scrimmage, is called a
“down”. Each time the offense gets the ball, it has four downs (or chances) to try to advance the ball at least ten
yards. If the offensive team successfully moves the ball ten or more yards, it earns a “first down” and the offensive
team gets four more tries to gain another ten yards. However; if, after three downs, the offense does not think it will
reach the first down marker, it may choose to “punt” the ball. If the offensive team succeeds and scores a touch
down or if the offensive team fails to gain ten yards, the offensive team must switch roles and possession of the
football is then turned over to the defensive team.

Determining whether a team has moved the football the required 10 yards for a first down takes speed,
choreography and precision (and two sticks with a chain between them). The “chain gang” consists of three
people: two people hold the chains and the third person (sometimes referred to as the “box man”) marks the
approximate spot of the ball after each play with a down marker. (The term “box man” refers to a cube that once
sat atop the marker and was rotated after each play to reflect the down. Today, a dial flips the numbers, 1 through
4.) On first downs, the box man estimates the spot, using the ball placed on the field or the foot of a side judge as a
gauge. One end of the chains is placed on the same spot, the other stretched 10 yards upfield. The chain gang can
be seen constantly moving up and down the field wherever the ball is placed. If a measurement is needed to
determine whether the football has been brought far enough forward to warrant a first down, the chains will be
brought out to where the football is. One of the refs will pick up the chain at an exact yard line (five yard
increments) on the sideline and then place it on that corresponding yard marker out on the field and then the other
end of the chain will be stretched taut. To determine a first down, the football will need to be located at the end of
the stretched chain or beyond. The chains, it seems, are viewed as accurate arbiters of distance, just as they have
been for more than 100 years.

The offensive team tries to advance the ball down the field-by running with the ball or throwing it, and ultimately
score points by crossing the goal line and getting into the end zone. The offense consists of an offensive line, a
backfield, and wide receivers. The offense works together to advance the ball toward the end zone.

Center: Lines up in the middle of the offensive line. He “snaps” the football between his legs to the quarterback
and then “blocks” the defensive line.

Guards: Line up on either side of the center. They block on passing plays and try to push back the defensive line
to open holes for the running backs.

Tackles: Positioned outside of the guards on the offensive line. Their main objective is to block on running plays,
and protect the quarterback on passing plays.

Tight Ends: Fill out the end of the offensive line. They act as blockers and also as pass receivers.

Wide Receivers (or Wide-Outs): Usually the fastest players on the team. They line up wide of the offensive line
toward the sidelines, and run patterns to catch passes from the quarterback.

Running Backs (Halfbacks and Fullbacks): Positioned behind the quarterback in the offensive backfield. As the
teams’ primary ball carriers, they use speed and strength to “rush” the ball downfield.

Quarterback: Stands directly behind the center. As the offensive leader on the field, he calls the plays, takes the
snap, and then runs, passes, or hands off the football to a running back.

The defensive team tries to prevent the offensive team from advancing the football toward their end zone by
employing the tackle (bringing the ball carrier to the ground). The defense consists of a defensive line and a

Nose Guard: Plays directly opposite the offensive center. His primary job is to prevent runners from advancing
through the middle of the defensive line.

Defensive Tackles: Line up on either side of the nose guard. They try to pressure and tackle the quarterback on
pass plays and stop running plays up the middle.

Defensive Ends: Positioned on either side of the defensive tackles. Ends try to stop ball carriers from moving to
the outside and also rush the quarterback on pass plays.

Linebackers: Play in the secondary behind the defensive line. Linebackers fill any holes that an advancing ball
carrier might slip through and will also “blitz” (see glossary) the quarterback on some passing plays.

Defensive Backs (Deep Backs, Safeties, and Cornerbacks): Part of the defensive secondary. They are the last
line of defense before the end zone and thus cover long running and pass plays.


Point(s) are scored by a team in the following manner:

Extra Point: A point-after-touchdown for one point is awarded for a “place kick” through the goal posts.

Field Goal: Three points are awarded for a place kick from the line of scrimmage that goes over the crossbar
between the uprights of the opponent’s goal post. Field goals are used on fourth down (when the offensive team is
close to the end zone) or on any other down when time is running out.

Point-After-Touchdown (PAT): One point is awarded for a place kick taken from the opponent’s two-yard line
(three-yard line in college). This is awarded to a team that has just scored a touchdown if it goes through the goal
Safety: When a player carrying the ball is tackled in his own end zone after bringing the ball there under his own
power, the defense is awarded two points and receives a free kick from the offense’s own 20-yard line.

Touchdown: A touchdown is worth six points when a player carries the ball across the opposing goal line, catches
a pass in the opponent’s end zone or recovers a loose ball in the opponent’s end zone.

Two-Point Conversion: Two points are awarded when a team, that just scored a touchdown, starts a play at the
opponent’s two-yard line (three-yard line in college) and runs or passes the ball over the goal line. When
successful, it looks just like a touchdown. A little trivia… this was first introduced to the NFL in 1994.

Any violation of the rules results in a penalty and/or a loss of a down. To signal that a penalty has occurred, the
referee tosses a yellow flag on the field. The penalty flag is a yellow cloth used to identify and sometimes mark the
location of penalties or infractions that occur during regular play. It is usually wrapped around a weight, such as
sand or beans so it can be thrown with some distance and accuracy.

Did you know?... The idea for the penalty flag came from Coach Dwight Deede of Youngstown State. Prior to the
use of flags, officials used horns and whistles to signal a penalty. Official adoption of the use of the flag occurred at
the 1948 American Football Coaches rules session. The NFL first used flags on September 17, 1948 when the
Green Bay Packers played the Boston Yanks.

What follows is a few illustrations of football gestures or signals you may see a referee do.

Clipping is when a player blocks an opponent below the waist from behind. This illegal block is a personal foul and
is punishable by a 15-yard penalty.

Delay of Game
This may look like “I Dream of Jeannie”, but it is actually Delay of Game. This is a penalty called on a team for
either letting the play clock expire before snapping the ball, having too many players on the field, or calling a time
out after having already used all they were allotted by rule. A delay of game infraction results in a five-yard penalty
against the offending team.
Encroachment (or Offside)
Not to be confused with the Macarena… Encroachment or Offside is when a player goes past the line of
scrimmage and hits someone before the ball is snapped or if a player (besides the center) is in the neutral zone
and crosses the neutral zone prior to the ball being snapped. This violation costs the defense five yards.

Face Mask
(No illustration Available at Time of Posting)
A Face Mask occurs when a player grabs an opponent’s face mask. The resulting penalty is fifteen yards, unless it
is deemed unintentional, then it is only five yards.

False Start
Before the ball is snapped, the offensive linemen must assume a set position. If a lineman jerks his body in any way
or when a player goes past the line of scrimmage without touching someone before the ball is snapped, the offense
is penalized five yards.

First Down
First Down is the first play of every series. The offense must gain ten yards or more in four downs to be awarded
another first down.
No, the referee’s wrist is not injured… Holding is when a player uses his hands to impede the movement of an
opponent by grabbing onto any part of his body or uniform. If the penalty is against the offense, it is a ten yard
penalty. If the penalty is against the defense, the penalty is five yards (10 yards in college) plus an automatic first

Illegal Cut Block

When one player is engaged with another blocker, a second player cannot block the first opponent below the waist.
It is punishable by a 15-yard penalty to the offending team.

Illegal Motion
Illegal Motion is an illegal movement when two or more offensive players are in motion at the same time before the
ball is snapped. It is a five-yard penalty.

Illegal Use of Hands

“Stop”… Illegal Use of Hands is when a player uses his hands or feet in unnecessary ways. It is a ten-yard
penalty to the offending team.
Ineligible Receiver Downfield
Ineligible Receiver Downfield is when an ineligible receiver catches the ball. It is punishable by a ten-yard

Intentional Grounding
Intentional Grounding is when the quarterback still in the area between the tackles (in the “pocket”) and he
purposely throws the ball out of bounds or into the ground to avoid taking a sack (or being tackled). This results in
a ten-yard penalty and loss of down for the offense.

(No illustration Available at Time of Posting)
A player may not bump, grab, or hinder the progress of another player attempting to catch a pass. This violation
may be called against an offensive or defensive player. It yields a yardage penalty or the ball is placed at the spot
where the penalty occurred.

Loss of Downs
Again, not to be confused with the Macarena… A penalty usually consists of some sort of loss of yardage by the
offending team, but it can also include losing a down on certain penalties.
Pass Interference
Pass Interference is when a defensive player interferes with an offensive player who is trying to catch the ball.
Defensive pass interference awards the offensive team to place the ball at the spot of the foul and an automatic first
down. Offensive pass interference results in a 10-yard penalty against the offense.

Personal Foul
A personal foul is a foul that might cause injury to another player. When a player intentionally commits a serious
penalty, it is punishable by a 15-yard penalty.

Roughing the Kicker

Roughing the Kicker is when a player flagrantly runs into or hits the kicker after the ball has been kicked. It is a
personal foul and results in a 15-yard penalty against the offending team.

Walk like an Egyptian?? No, a Safety is when a defensive player tackles an opponent in possession of the ball in
his own end zone. The defensive team is awarded two points. A safety is one of the rarest ways to score.
Time In
When time has elapsed during a time out and play commences.

Time Out
A Time Out is when there is a break in the action requested by either team or one of the officials.

A Touchback occurs when the ball is ruled dead on or behind a team's own goal line. This generally occurs after a
kickoff, punt, interception, or fumble. After a touchback, the ball is spotted on the offense's 20-yard line.

A Touchdown is a scoring play in which any part of the ball, while legally in the possession of a player who is in-
bounds, crosses the plane of the opponent's goal line. A touchdown is worth six points, and the scoring team is
given the option of attempting to add one or two bonus points on the next play.
No, the referee is not dancing an Irish Jig… Tripping is when a player uses his leg or foot to trip another player.
Tripping results in a 10-yard penalty against the offending team.

Unsportsmanlike Conduct
Unsportsmanlike Conduct is a dead-ball foul in which a player (in the judgment of an official), taunts or otherwise
acts in an unsportsmanlike manner. It is a personal foul and results in a 15-yard penalty against the offending


Astroturf: An artificial surface used instead of grass on many football fields.
Audible: Verbal commands shouted by the quarterback to his teammates at the line of scrimmage to change a
play on short notice.
Backfield: The area behind the line of scrimmage.
Backs: The running backs; the halfback and the fullback.
Ball Carrier: Any player who has possession of the ball.
Beat: When a player gets past an opponent trying to block or tackle him.
Blackout: When a regional network television affiliate is forbidden from showing a local game because it is not
sold out.
Blitz: A play where the defensive team sends secondary players rushing towards the line of scrimmage into the
backfield as soon as the ball is snapped to try to “sack” the quarterback.
Blocking: The act of preventing a defensive player from getting to the ball carrier. Offensive players use their
arms and bodies (but may not hold an opponent) as a means to impede defenders from making tackles, moving
them away from the path of the ball carrier.
Bomb: A very long forward pass thrown to a receiver sprinting down the field.
Bowl Game: A college football game played in late-December or early-January, after the regular season, between
two successful teams.
Bump-and-Run: A technique used by pass defenders, where they hit a receiver once within five yards (1 yard in
college games) of the line of scrimmage to slow him down, and then follow him to prevent him from catching a
Buttonhook: A pass pattern in which the receiver runs straight ahead several yards, then quickly turns around to
catch the pass.
Call a Play: To instruct players to execute a pre-planned play.
Complete Pass: A forward pass to a teammate who catches the ball in the air.
Conferences: Professional and college teams are divided into groups, the National Football League (NFL) is
divided into National and American Conferences.
Controlling the Game Clock: Tactics used by an offensive team to either save or use up time on the game clock,
which often dictates its choice of plays.
Cover or Coverage: To prevent a player from gaining yards. In pass coverage, a defender follows a receiver to
prevent him from catching a pass; in kick coverage, members of the kicking team try to prevent a long kick return.
Cut Back: A sudden change in direction taken by a receiver to make it more difficult for defenders to follow and
tackle him.
Dead Ball: Declared by an official at the end of each down after a player has been tackled and the ball is no longer
in play. A ball becomes live as soon as it is snapped for the next play.
Division: In college football, it is a grouping of teams where Division I contains the most competitive teams and
Division III the least competitive. In the National Football League (NFL) it is sub-groups within conferences, such
as the Eastern, Northern, Southern and Western Divisions.
Double Coverage: When two defensive players cover one receiver.
Down: The offensive sequence of plays starting from the line of scrimmage that begins with the center’s snap and
ends when the ball is dead. (When on offense, each team has one of four chances to gain 10 yards.); Also, the
state of a player who has just been tackled; Also, a ball that a player touches to the ground in the end zone to get a
Down the Field: In the direction of the opponent’s goal line.
Draft Choice: A player chosen by a professional sports team from a pool of college players in an annual draft.
Drive: Describes a series of plays an offensive team puts together to advance toward the goal in an attempt to
Drop Back: When a quarterback, after taking the snap, takes a few steps backward into an area called the pocket
to get ready to throw a pass.
Drop Kick: A type of free kick where a player drops the ball and kicks it right after it hits the ground; rarely used
today. Doug Flutie successfully completed a drop kick in 2005 for the New England Patriots.
Eligible Receiver: The rules allow all offensive players to be eligible to catch a forward pass except linemen and
the quarterback. If a player wishes to become eligible, he must notify the referee and stand at least one yard
behind the line of scrimmage before the snap.
End Line: The boundary line that runs the width of the field along each end.
End Zone: The area between the end line and goal line bounded by the sidelines, which a team on offense tries to
enter to score a touchdown.
Extra Point: Additional point(s) can be scored by a team after it has scored a touchdown, either by a point-after-
touchdown (one point) which is scored for a “place kick” through the goal posts or a two-point conversion (two
points) which are scored for running or passing the ball over the goal line.
Fair Catch: When a kick returner decides to catch a punt or kickoff and not advance it, he signals for a fair catch
by raising one hand in the air and waving it. This prevents the player from being tackled by an opponent.
Field Goal: A place kick from the line of scrimmage that goes over the crossbar between the uprights of the
opponent’s goal post. Field goals are used on fourth down (when the offensive team is close to the end zone) or on
any other down when time is running out. It is worth three points.
Field Position: The location of a team on the field relative to the two goal lines. Good field position for a team is
near its opponent’s goal line, while bad field position is close to its own goal line.
First Down: The first chance out of four chances that a team on offense has to advance 10 yards down the field.
As soon as it gains those yards, it earns a new first down.
Forward Pass: A pass thrown by a team closer to the opponent’s goal line. A team is allowed to throw only one
forward pass per play and it must be thrown from behind the team’s line of scrimmage. Once the ball has crossed
the line of scrimmage, a forward pass is not permitted. If the ball is not caught, it is considered an incomplete pass.
Forward Progress: The location to which a ball carrier has advanced the ball, even if he was pushed backwards
after getting there.
Foul: A violation of the rules of football by a team or player, punishable by a penalty.
Franchise: A team; the legal arrangement that establishes ownership of a team.
Free Agent: A player whose contract with his most recent team has expired, allowing him to sign a new contract
with any team that makes him an offer.
Free Kick: A type of kick taken to start or restart play after a team has scored, with no defenders closer than 10
yards away. This includes a kickoff and a kick after a safety.
Fumble: When a ball carrier loses possession by dropping the ball or having the ball knocked away before a play
ends. The first player to regain possession of the loose ball is said to make the recovery and his team now
becomes the offensive team. If the defense recovers the fumble, it is considered a “turnover” by the team that was
on offense.
Goal Line: A line drawn across the width of the field, 10 yards inside each end line, which a team must cross with
the ball to score a touchdown.
Goalpost: A tall metallic structure that stands at the back of each end zone. It consists of a crossbar and two
uprights that extend upward from it, supported directly above the end line by a base. Teams try to kick the ball
above the crossbar and between the uprights to score a field goal or extra point.
Going for It: When a team facing a fourth down decides to try for a new first down instead of punting. If the team
fails, it loses possession of the ball.
Hand Off: A running offensive play where the quarterback hands the ball to a teammate.
Hang Time: The length of time a punt is in the air.
Heisman Trophy: An award presented annually by the Downtown Athletic Club of New York to the best college
football player in the country.
Holding: A foul where a player impedes the movement of an opponent by grabbing or hooking any part of his body
or uniform. This foul is punishable by a penalty: 10 yards if against the offense, or 5 yards (10 yards in college)
plus a first down if against the defense.
Home Field Advantage: The benefit of fan support, familiarity with its surroundings and the lack of required travel
a team receives by playing games in the area where it is based.
Home Game: A game played in a team’s own stadium.
Huddle: Players gather in a circle before each down to hear instructions from the quarterback for the next play.
In Bounds: The region of the field inside the sidelines and end lines.
Incomplete Pass: A forward pass that is not caught and touches the ground.
Intentional Grounding: A foul called against a quarterback who purposely throws an incomplete forward pass
solely to avoid a sack. This foul cannot be called if the pass lands at or beyond the line of scrimmage.
Interception: When a forward pass is caught in the air (picked off) by a defender whose team immediately gains
possession of the ball and now becomes the offensive team.
Kicker: The player who place kicks the ball on kickoffs, field goals and extra points.
Kickoff: When a player kicks a ball from a tee at his own 30-yard line (35-yard line for college teams) to the
opposing team. It occurs at the start of the game, the second half, overtime, and to restart play after each score.
Lateral: When a player with the ball tosses a pass to a teammate backwards from the team’s line of scrimmage or
parallel to it. Unlike a forward pass (which can be thrown only once per play), players may lateral the ball as often
as they want.
Line of Scrimmage: It is the imaginary line along which both teams set up across on each down. Each team has
its own line of scrimmage, separated by the neutral zone. The offensive team must have at least seven players on
or within a foot of this line. No player may cross before the snap.
Lineman: A player who starts each play within one yard of his line of scrimmage.
Live Ball: A ball becomes live as soon as it is snapped or free kicked (as in a kickoff).
Loose Ball: A ball that is not in possession of either team, such as after a fumble or a kickoff, it can be recovered
by either team.
Man-in-Motion: A single player on the offense who is permitted to move prior to the snap. He may only run
parallel to the line of scrimmage or away from it.
Midfield: The 50-yard line, which divides the length of the field in half.
Necessary Line: The imaginary line the offense must cross to achieve a new first down.
Neutral Zone: The region that contains the ball as it sits on the ground before each play; it is the one-yard area
encompassing the line of scrimmage which separates the offense from the defense.
National Football League (NFL): The major professional football league in the United States. There are 32
teams in the league and it’s headquarters are in New York.
NFL Championship: The game held from 1933 through 1965 to decide the champion of professional football. It
was renamed the Super Bowl in 1966.
Nickel Defense: When a team on defense brings in a fifth defensive back to replace a linebacker on the field to
increase its pass coverage.
Offending Team: The team that committed a foul.
Offside: When any part of a player’s body is beyond his line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped. It is a foul
punishable by a five-yard penalty.
On Downs: The term used to describe a team’s loss of possession if it fails to reach the necessary line on a fourth
down play.
Onside Kick: On a kickoff, when a team makes an attempt to regain possession of the ball by kicking it only a
short distance forward. This allows its players a chance to recover the ball. The ball must travel at least ten yards
before the kicking team can recover it.
Open Receiver: A player who has no defender closely covering him.
Out of Bounds: The region of the field touching or outside the sidelines and end lines. As soon as a ball carrier or
the ball itself touches out of bounds, the play is over.
Pass Defender: A defensive player who covers an opposing receiver.
Pass Patterns or Pass Routes: Pre-determined paths a receiver will follow which helps the quarterback quickly
locate him so he can more easily throw him the ball.
Pass Protection: When offensive players block to keep defenders away from the quarterback on passing plays.
Pass Rush: When the defensive team rushes past the blockers in an attempt to sack the quarterback before he
makes a pass.
Personal Foul: A foul that might cause injury. It is punishable by a 15-yard penalty.
Picked Off: When a forward pass is caught in the air (intercepted) by a defender whose team immediately gains
possession of the ball and now becomes the offensive team.
Pitch-Out: When the quarterback laterally tosses the ball to a running back.
Place Kick: A kick towards the goalpost for a field goal or extra point. The ball is placed on the ground and held
between the ground and a teammate’s finger or a kicking tee. It is used at the start of each half, after every score,
on field goals, and on extra point attempts.
Play: A spurt of action that begins with a snap and ends with a dead ball.
Play Clock: A clock displayed above each end zone. The time limit a team may take between plays is 40 seconds
(30 seconds in college); the ball must be snapped before the clock runs down to 0.
Play-Action Pass: A passing play after the quarterback has faked a hand-off.
Playoffs: The post-season tournament that determines the champion.
Pocket: The area behind the offensive line where the quarterback is protected by his blockers.
Point-After-Touchdown (PAT): A place kick taken from the opponent’s 2-yard line (3-yard line in college). This is
awarded to a team that has just scored a touchdown. It is worth one point if it goes through the goalpost.
Possession: To be holding the football or in control of the football.
Previous Spot: Where the ball was snapped to begin the last play.
Punt: When the kicker catches a snap from behind the line of scrimmage, drops the ball and kicks it before it
touches the ground. Punting often occurs on fourth down after the first three downs have failed to result in a first
Pylon: A short orange marker located at each of the end zone’s four corners.
Quarterback: The leader of a team’s offense. He takes the snap from the center and either hands the ball to a
running back to run with, passes it to a receiver or runs with it himself. He also communicates each play to his
Reading the Defense: Recognition by the quarterback of the defensive formation in which he may then call an
audible to adjust the offense.
Receiver: An offensive player who catches or attempts to catch a forward pass.
Recovery: To gain or regain possession of a fumble.
Red Zone: The imaginary area between the defense's 20-yard line and its goal line from which the offense is most
likely to score points.
Return: An attempt by a player who has just caught a kickoff, punt or an interception to advance the ball the other
Roll Out: When a quarterback runs parallel to the line looking for a receiver.
Rookie: A first-year player.
Rush: A running play. Also called a pass rush.
Rushing: The use of running plays by the offense to move the ball downfield.
Sack: When a defensive player or players tackle the quarterback behind his line of scrimmage. This will result in a
loss of yards for the offense.
Safety: When a player carrying the ball is tackled in his own end zone after bringing the ball there under his own
power. The defense earns two points and receives a free kick from the offense’s own 20-yard line.
Scrambling: Evasive movements made by a quarterback to avoid being sacked.
Screen Pass: A short forward pass which is usually lofted over the heads of rushing defensemen.
Series: The group of 4 downs each team has to advance ten yards.
Shotgun: To have more time to throw the ball on some pass plays, the quarterback will stand several yards behind
the center to catch the snap.
Sideline: The boundary line that runs the length of the field along each side. When a ball carrier or ball touches or
crosses the sideline, it is considered out of bounds.
Single-Elimination: A tournament where a team is eliminated after one loss.
Snap: When the center, while facing forward, quickly hands the ball between his legs to the quarterback, punter, or
place kick holder.
Special Teams: The group of players who participate in kicking plays.
Spike: When a player throws the ball at the ground to celebrate a touchdown or to stop the clock when there is
less than two minutes to play.
Spiral: A ball that is passed or kicked with a spin on it which propels it further and with more accuracy. The ball
points in the same direction throughout its flight.
Spot: Where the ball is placed after each play, which is determined by an official, to mark forward progress or the
place of a foul.
Stiff Arm (or Straight Arm): A push in which a ball carrier uses his arm to ward off a tackler.
Succeeding Spot: Where the next play would start if no penalty was called.
Super Bowl: The championship game of the National Football League (NFL) that is played between the
champions of the American Football Conference (AFC) and National Football Conference (NFC) at a neutral site
every January or February. It is the culmination of the National Football League (NFL) playoffs.
Sweep: A rushing play in which the player carrying the ball runs around one end, rather than through the middle of
the offensive line.
Tackle: A player position on both the offensive and defensive lines. There is usually a left and right offensive
tackle, and a left and right defensive tackle.
Tackling: When a player carrying the ball is contacted by an opposing player causing him to touch the ground with
any part of his body (except his hands), thereby ending the play.
Territory: The half of the field a team protects against its opponents.
Third-and-Long: When the offense faces a third down (usually five yards or more).
Touchback: On a kickoff, when a player gains possession of a ball in his own end zone and does not run it out or
the kick goes through the end zone. To signal a touchback, the receiving player kneels on one knee in the end
zone and the next offensive play automatically starts at his own 20-yard line.
Touchdown: When a player carries the ball across the opposing goal line; or catches a pass in the opponent’s
end zone; or recovers a loose ball in the opponent’s end zone. A touchdown is worth six points.
Turnover: The involuntary loss of possession of the ball during a play, either by a fumble or by throwing an
interception which results in the defense gaining possession of the ball.
2-Point Conversion: When a team that just scored a touchdown starts a play at the opponent’s 2-yard line (3-yard
line in college) and crosses the goal line to earn 2 points. When successful, it looks just like a touchdown. This
was introduced to the National Football League (NFL) in 1994.
Wild Card: A team that makes the playoffs by having one of the two best records among non-division winners in
its conference.