Last month came the news that the NFL was going to be playing a regular-season game at Wembley Stadium in London. It's the Giants versus the Dolphins, in what surely will be a rollicking introduction to what the Brits condescendingly call "helmet football." The early prediction: Giants quarterback Eli Manning throws four interceptions, and is the first NFL player ever to be called a "wanker."
So now we've got the folks over at Kissing Suzy Kolber writing a guide to American football for the limeys, which (all things considered) is quite nice of them. But, if it's a tongue-out-of-cheek preview you're looking for, then look no further than the good old BBC. Below is the Beeb's guide to American football, with helpful explanatory comments (in bold) inserted:
11 players from each team on field
Four 15min quarters
Three time-outs per half for each team
15min sudden-death overtime if scores are tied
The purpose of the game is to move the ball towards, and ultimately into, the opposition's end zone. Unless Brett Favre is the quarterback, in which case the purpose is to run around with Benny Hill music playing in the background, then attempt to throw the ball 147 miles per hour in the general direction of where a receiver might conceivably be.
This is achieved by either running with the ball until tackled, or throwing the ball downfield to a team-mate. Or, if you're the 2006 Chicago Bears, by waiting for the other team to punt and/or playing in a division with the three worst teams in NFL history.
Downs are the most fundamental, and confusing, part of the NFL rulebook. While the Tuck Rule makes perfect sense.
The attacking team, or offence, needs to move the ball forward in chunks of at least 10 yards, which is why the pitch has yardage markings. Unless the attacking team is the Oakland Raiders, in which case the team moves the ball backwards as often as forwards and in general falls down a lot.
They have four chances, or downs, to gain those 10 yards. When the ball has advanced that far another first down is earned, with four more chances to go a further 10 yards. Or, in the case of the Detroit Lions, four more chances for the other team to score.
If the offensive team fails to move 10 yards within four downs, possession is surrendered, although the ball is usually kicked, or punted, to the defending team on fourth down. While most scoring comes from near the defending team's end zone, a touchdown can be scored from anywhere on the field, and on any down. Although in the game you'll be seeing, a touchdown can be scored, but rarely.
These are the complicated movements involving all 11 players teams use to move the ball downfield. In the case of the Minnesota Vikings, however, these are the simple movements involving three players that are used to keep the ball generally more or less where it was when the play began.
Plays are called by the head coach or quarterback, who is the attacking lynchpin of any team. (Note: Does not apply to Jeff Garcia.)
While the term usually refers to attacking teams, defending teams also use set plays to stop their opponents' forward movement. (Note: Does not apply to the Green Bay Packers.)
The offensive team has 30 seconds to get the ball in play or kick a field goal. If the offensive team is quarterbacked by Daunte Culpepper, the offensive team can also fumble, throw wildly, or call all of its timeouts in the first three minutes of the game.
Touchdown (six points)
A touchdown is scored when a team crosses the opposition's goal line with the ball, or catches or collects the ball in the end zone. (Note to Tampa Bay fans: No, really!)
Field goal (three points)
These are usually attempted on fourth down if the kicker is close enough to the end zone to kick the ball through the posts, or uprights.
Extra point (one or two points)
A point is earned by kicking the ball through the uprights after a touchdown (similar to a rugby conversion). Two points are earned by taking the ball into the end zone again.
Safety (two points)
Awarded to the defensive team when a member of the offensive team is tackled with the ball in his own end zone.
Although there are only 11 players from each side on the field at any one time, an American football team is made up of 45 players, ranging in size, speed and their roles within the team. For example, Pacman Jones' role within the team is "felon."
A team's attacking players who attempt to move the ball forward and score touchdowns. Except, as mentioned, for the Vikings, who do nothing of the sort.
The key man is the quarterback. (In the case of a Brad Childress-coached team, the key man is the coach, unless the team loses, in which case the key man is anybody but the coach. No, never the coach.)
On the quarterback's signal, the centre snaps the ball back between his legs to the QB (similar to rugby league's play-the-ball). In Cleveland, this is followed by total confusion and utter chaos.
The quarterback can then either run with the ball, hand it to a running back, or pass it downfield to one of his receivers. Unless the quarterback is Brad Johnson, in which case the quarterback can do at most one of these three.
The plays used by the quarterback can either be pre-arranged or improvised to take advantage of the game's changing shape. If the plays are being used by Aaron Brooks, they may also be improvised to provide ten years' worth of blooper-reel fodder.
The role of the defence is to stop the other team from scoring by tackling the ball-carrier, intercepting passes or causing fumbles. In the case of the San Francisco 49ers, this is replaced by the role of standing around and being knocked roughly to the ground.
The defence is made up of big, powerful players trying to stop the other team from running the ball, and fast, athletic players trying to prevent the quarterback's passes from reaching his receivers. And then there is Fred Smoot, who lives up to none of these monikers, nor performs any of these tasks.
The defence's power players also attempt to tackle, or sack, the quarterback before he has thrown the ball, while any defender can cause a fumble by knocking the ball from a ball-carrier's grasp.
Responsible for all plays involving kicks or punts.
Special teams play a small but vital role. They come onto the field to execute field goal or extra point attempts, and when the team wants to punt the ball downfield on fourth down. The Bears would like you to remember: small role, so please don't bother practicing them, or we're screwed.
They are also responsible for trying to block the opposition's kicks and punts, as well as attempting to return them as far as possible in the other direction.
On behalf of both us here at TNABACG, and the good people at the BBC: thank you.
We'll see you at Wembley, where hopefully the England rugby team will show up and settle this rugby-vs-football thing once and for all (note: no offense to Jonny Wilkinson and company, but if they do, here's hoping they bring their own ambulances), and perhaps fulfill Eli Manning's greatest dream of being kidnapped while far, far from Giants Stadium.