American football is the latest species in the evolutionary tree of soccer. Its ancestor is rugby, which itself is a descendant of soccer. Football is a true team sport -- no one player can dominate and the team must work together to win. It is also by far the most complex popular sport in the world, with a 220-page rulebook and eight referees on the field at all times.

Football's unique characteristics, both in its own right and as part of the soccer family tree, include:

  • Uncontested possession of the right to score. This means that at any one time, there is one team trying to score (the offense) and a team trying to prevent a score (defense). Compare soccer, where teams frequently alternate control of the ball and either team can score at any time.
  • The concept of "downs" (where the offense is required to move the ball a certain distance (10 yards) in 4 plays to retain offensive control). If the offense cannot move the ball 10 yards in 4 downs, the defense takes possession of the ball and becomes the offense.
    Adjacent to this is the idea of discontinuous play. Football happens in spurts of a play at a time, each play lasting around 10 seconds on average. Soccer, rugby, basketball and most other team sports flow and stoppages of play are rare.
  • The forward pass. In soccer, mere contact with the ball with the hands, or indeed the arms, is a foul. In rugby, passes are sidearm or underhand shoves which must always be to a player behind the ball carrier; overhand throws are verboten. Football survives this action in the lateral; a lateral, like a fumble, is a free ball and the first team to obtain the ball gains possession. However, a forward pass (with other restrictions not mentioned here) is thrown to a player in front of the passer and, if not caught, is considered a spent down and the offense retains possession of the ball. (Of course, the defense may catch a forward pass, known as "intercepting", and gain possession.)

The football branch of the tree sprouted on November 6, 1869, between Princeton and Rutgers. Exactly what the hell they played is unclear, so much so that soccer historians believe it to be the first intercollegiate soccer game. At the time it was called the "Boston Game" after its birthplace at Harvard Yard. Basically, a group of kids at Harvard had a game of rugby described to them by an English student and tried to play it on their own without full knowledge of the rules. Whatever they played, it was the impetus for the development of both soccer and football in the U.S.

Much more information can be found on www.nfl.com and at http://library.thinkquest.org/12590/history.htm.

A Brief History of American Football


Football is generally known as an American sport. But what many people don’t know is that American football was actually developed in many other countries. Just here, in America, were the rules and ideas of other civilizations brought together, modernized, modified, and constructed into one of America’s most popular professional sports.

Many historians believe that American football originated from the ancient Greek game, harpaston. In this game there was no limit on how many players could participate. The object of harpaston, much like American football, was to run, kick, or throw a ball over a goal line. Harpaston also included many other elements of modern American football, such as aggressive tackling. Harpaston was a game played thousands of years ago. But more modern versions of football also existed.

These modern day versions came from the European country of jolly old England. In fact, at times football became so popular that English monarchs such as Edward II and Henry IV banned the sport. They said it distracted the soldiers from the military sport of archery.

By 1850, football had broken up into two distinct sports. The first one, was the football association game (soccer), which is still extremely popular all around the world today. The second one was the still popular sport of rugby. Soccer and rugby then eventually further evolved into what we now know as American football.

Typical positions

A typical setup: (keep in mind there is a great deal of flexibility in postions and number of wide receivers vs. running backs, and even more flexiblity with the defensive package)
          Offense       Defense
                    |
                  WR| CB
                    |
                TE  |     RLB
                  LT| RE               SS
                  LG|
        TB FB QB   C| NT  MLB
                  RG|  T               FS
                  RT| LE
                    |     LLB
                    |
                  WR| CB
                    |
        
                    ^
                    |
             Line of scrimmage
           (where ball is placed)
Key:

On fourth down it is often advisible to punt. Here are the positions on a punt (special teams: punt and punt return units)

          Offense       Defense (punt return)
                    |
                    |      
                 WO |
                    | DL          
                  LT| DL  
               FB LG| DL  B
        P          C| DL                    PR
           FB  FB RG| DL  B              
                  RT| DL    
                    | DL     
                 WO | DL
                    |    

                    ^
                    |
              Line of scrimmage
Key as above plus:

Also part of the special teams are the field goal/point after touchdown (PAT) units:

          Kicking       Blocking
                    |
                    |      
                 WO | DL
                  LE| DL          
                  LT| DL  
                  LG| DL   
        K          C| DL    DS
           QB     RG| DL                 
                  RT| DL    
                  RE| DL     
                 WO | DL
                    | DL 

                    ^
                    |
              Line of scrimmage
Key as above plus:

Hope this helps. Enjoy the bowl games and Happy New Year.

Football is the smell of sweat and mowed grass. Football is going to school long before everyone else--running hard in 90-degree heat in a padded, phenolic plastic helmet that tears your ears when you try to take it off. A jersey hanging from shoulder pads like a table cloth at a french bistro.

Double sessions. Making a cut. Then another. Sweat saturated pants full of pads. The plastic-reinforced jock strap that turns any man into a warrior. Cleats full of mud that stop gripping in the rain.

Football is the meat mountain named Tom who makes up for his sub-protozoan IQ by using his body weight to maul the crap out of anyone who reminds him he's going to get two-hundred combined on the SAT, then cries when he gets bumped to second team. Football is getting light headed after twenty minutes of wind-sprints, being gang-tackled by a thousand combined pounds of adolescent sinew, then suffocating in your own salty sweat and panic when you land on the ball and your diaghaphram spasms so the air won't fill your lungs.

I remember the coach grabbing my face guard in his fist, using the leverage to give my head a chiropractic twist while he screamed in my face. Because we know that in football, the louder you scream, the harder you hit, the faster you run, the stronger you get. Finding cleat gashes in your calves you didn't know you got. Brown and green streaks that run from your thigh pads to your hip guards to the bloody skin on your chest.

Football is asking yourself over and over why you're doing it--and then decking 300 pounds of charging Mike Reynard in a tackle that makes everyone cringe with delight. Football is running toward the end of the known world, looking over your right shoulder, seeing the ball float into your arms, tucking, and watching the ground come up to close off the light in your helmet as you're tackled from behind after a fifty-yard gain. And it's all just practice.

By October the air turns cooler. The baby fat's been beaten off. Nothing but muscle and the will to use it. Practice is shorter and more focused. Each game is different. All the plays are memorized. No more yelling at each other on the field. You're a cog in a coherent unit. You know where you're strong and where you're weak. You're improvising. Thinking like each other.

Stuff comes out. Didn't know it was there, buried under years of reading and book study. Everyone thought you were a nerd. One sorta big nerd.

Lower your shoulder and bury it in the gut of the guy with Bob's jersey in his fist. Get up and watch Bob run. Take the guy down again when the referee's back is turned. Next play, bring your fists up under his chin strap and send him reeling backward over his ass.

Coach pulls you off to the side. Grabs your face mask and tells you to cut that shit out, grinning the whole time. It's that kind of testosterone-driven bravado that gets you penalized, gets you talked about next practice, makes everyone glad you're on their side.

Next time, double teamed, your face in the turf while one of the bastards in the pile jabs a punch between your pads nobody can see. Head spinning from the hit, the world turns and it takes a second to figure out which end of the earth to put the feet on.

When you come up smiling is when everyone worries. Then Zippy Lennis laughs. Then Rosie. Then Cuff. Then Joey. Then you've got the whole offensive line giggling like maniacs and the guys from St. Joseph's don't know what hit 'um when Regan's pass goes straight and bullet hard into the numbers. Button hook. Five steps out, turn, catch, get slammed. Get tough. They can hit all they want when you got girls screaming and everyone's father's cheering. They pound your sides where there's no pads. Dig their cleats into your legs when they get up.

Get up laughing, winning. Losing. I don't care. Oh, I'm bleeding? Little baby wanna see some blood? Come over here I'll show you what yours looks like.

I was never a jock. I did it because nobody thought I could, not even me. I did it because I got to wear the jersey to classes Friday before game day. I did it because when everything green was dying in the fall, I sat next to the girl in the sweater, long brown hair falling from under her knit hat, her silly white gloves and breath condensing in tiny white clouds, and for once saw someone's eyes sparkle looking at me.

The old man stands in the seats with his arms over his head screaming. Ma gasps and holds her fists to her chest every time I wind up at the bottom of a pile. People I don't know cheer at things I do, and there was no victory earned or loss suffered alone. Guys who'd never talk to me in school throw the block that makes the hole I run through.

Blood trickling down my arm, eyes sweat-blind, Cathy-whom-I-could-love smiling from the side when I get up and pull the dirt from my face mask, John throwing the pass where he knows I'll be instead of where the play says I should be.

It don't hurt, ma.

In Dan Shaugnessy's most recent article, appearing in today's Boston Globe newspaper, there's a quote from Tom Brady. The quote reads, "Obviously, when you are losing you are not doing enough. This is the ultimate team sport. You've got to have everyone going in the same direction." Tom Brady, you might remember, was the rookie who last year lead the New England Patriots to a Superbowl win last January, when he was put in as a replacement for Drew Bledsoe, now quarterbacking for the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots have lost their last four games, and the reality of the NFL has come crashing down hard upon them.

The point of this is not the Patriot's current woes in the league, but what he said instead. Professional football? The ultimate team sport? Interestingly enough, my boys and I were discussing this topic last night. One of my friends mentioned Major League Baseball, which is nowhere near the ultimate team sport. Another of my friends put it best when he called baseball the best co-operative sport, a bunch of individuals doing their individual best for the good of the team. This is very true, as baseball is mostly a two on one duel, with the battery, the pitcher and catcher, versus the batter at the plate. The battery wants the batter out and the batter is trying to get on base so he can score a run more easily. The teamwork in baseball is mostly on the defense, as the fielders commit double plays and put-outs and the starting pitcher working with his relievers and the closer as a pitching unit. Baseball would not be the best teamwork sport.

What about the NHL? Hockey, along with lacrosse, ultimate frisbee and soccer I all consider similar sports. All these sports are more team interactive than baseball, as each team member has to work together to make the team win the game. With each sport to do well you must know each of your teammates, how well they work, how fast they run/skate, how well they receive passes, etc. There was a hard push that soccer was the ultimate team sport (we concluded we know little to nothing about rugby and cricket, so those sports were not part of the considerations, we Americans don't see those too much). However, all these sports are similar, and so I counted them as one.

Where does football fall in all this mess? Well football is an insteresting sport, it's similar to a controlled war without weapons , where both armies fight and push against each other in a battle for land. Each play could be broken into a touchdown run, no matter where it is on the field. Each play could also lead to a devastating loss of yardage or a loss of possession of the football. Baseball is the only sport with similar delays in-between the action. However, football boils down to the individual again, doing his best for the good of the team. As a football player, it is your duty to do what you're supposed to when necessary, like the army. If you're a wide receiver, ya gotta run that pattern correctly, a lineman has to make his block, and stop the defense from getting close to the quarterback or halfback. There's a lot of trust involved in football, because all it takes is one person to screw up even the most perfectly designed play.

Football could be the ultimate team sport, as that phrase is rather ill-defined, and it probably boils down to opinion anyway. Do you need a team of all-stars to win in football? No. With the Angels' win over the San Francisco Giants in the World Series this year, and the Patriots' win last season, it's been proven recently and repetedly that the underdogs, the no-name guys can win the whole enchilada. However, I do have to agree with Tom Brady, just because of the way the Pats came together last season. They were a unit, a solid team with no fractures, lead by the unlikely, doing the unexpected. Is that teamwork? What about Hockey and it's one-timers? Or soccer and the amazing set up passes and headers off the corner kicks?

I specifically did not mention basketball, as that is not played as a team game at the professional level, in my eyes, and with the skills the ref's show, barely a sport at all. If it was a team based game, why would Latrell Sprewell be employed by anyone?

American Football is also the name of a late-90's Chicago-based "emo" band fronted by Mike Kinsella (Cap'n Jazz, Joan of Arc). Steve Lamos and Steve Holmes completed the trio, taking up rhythm guitar and drums. Other than a single for their label, Polyvinyl, American Football only released one album, a self-titled release of 12 songs constructed throughout their college years at University of Illinois-Urbana.

American Football took the generic emo formula perfected by bands like Sunny Day Real Estate and removed the distortion leaving a layer of clear melodic guitar riffs. Upon hearing their music, you'll realize that only rarely do Kinsella or Holmes play actual chords. 99% of the guitar work consists of beautiful picking of delicate and complicated riffs.

Kinsella's vocals are pretty shabby but it's pretty clear he doesn't want to take attention away from the beautiful polyrhythyms of the guitars. You could probably place American Football as the polar opposite of Fugazi on the "emo" spectrum. Ian McKaye created an abrasive and angular sound where Kinsella's music is melodic, flowing, and generally apolitical.

The track "Let's Just Pretend" showcases Kinsella's mastery the best. When I first heard the opening melody while walking to class with my iPod, I felt my knees become weak. I felt like I had the muscial equivalent of a triple orgasm. Except no mess to clean up...

However, after releasing their first album in Sept. 1999, everyone graduated and went their separate ways. Mike Kinsella did a short stint with his brother, Tim, in the Owls, and now is the force behind Owen, a solo acoustic guitar "singer/songwriter" project. According to the band, any further musical output is "indefinitely postponed".

Turn based rugby.

(BrevityQuest07. I should mention at this point that I'm British and as such this is what it seems most like to me.)

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