Football is a uniquely American sport and often a favorite of kids. Whether they are playing or watching their favorite pro team, understanding the rules is the first step to enjoying the game.
The Object of the Game
The object of the game of football is to score points by getting the ball over your opponent’s goal line. The ball can be carried, thrown or kicked over the goal line and into the end zone, a 10-yard area beyond the goal line. In order to get the ball to the goal line, the team that has the football has four chances -- called downs -- to move the ball at least 10 yards down the 100-yard field. If they cannot gain at least 10 yards in four attempts, the ball is turned over to the other team.
Starting the Game
There is a coin toss at the beginning of the game, and the team that wins has the choice to kick the ball to the other team or to receive the kickoff, getting the first possession of the ball. At the start of the second half of play, the team that received at the start kicks off. The receiver who catches the ball can run with it down the field toward the other team’s goal. Members of the defensive team can stop the runner by tackling -- or knocking down -- the ball carrier. Play stops at the point where the ball carrier is tackled.
Playing the Game
The ball is placed at the point where the receiver was tackled. This point is called the line of scrimmage. Players line up on either side of the ball for the first down. A member of the offensive team -- or the team that has the ball -- places his hands on the ball. When the play starts, this player -- called the center -- tosses the ball between his legs to the quarterback, who is positioned behind the center. The quarterback can then throw the ball to another player, or run with it. If the ball travels 10 yards or more, either by being carried by the quarterback or caught or carried by another player, there is another first down. If the ball travels less than 10 yards before the ball carrier is tackled, it becomes second down. The ball must be moved a total of 10 yards in four downs in order for the offense to get a first down and retain control of the ball.
Football is a very physical game, and there are a lot of rules designed to protect players from getting hurt. For example, when tackling an opposing player, a player cannot grab the other player’s face mask or shoulder pads. Players cannot tackle a player who does not have the ball from behind, and they cannot interfere with the kicker or a player who is receiving a pass. Violations are punished by the offending team having to move back on the field, further away from the opposing goal.
When the football is carried or passed into the end zone it is a touchdown, and 6 points are awarded to the offensive team. After the touchdown, that same team has the opportunity to score either 1 or 2 additional points. Kicking the ball from the 2-yard line through the upright goal posts scores 1 point. Carrying or passing the ball into the end zone scores 2 points. A field goal -- when the ball is kicked through the upright goal posts in the end zone -- is worth 3 points. A safety -- when the player holding the ball is tackled in his own end zone -- scores 2 points for the defensive team.