Football: An Oblivious Girl’s Guide

Football has officially kicked off and I have a confession. I didn’t like football when I started high school. In fact, I hated it. Every Sunday after church, my dad would turn on the TV to watch the Cowboys instead of spending time with ME. I accidentally joined the marching band my freshman year (I honestly had no idea what color guard was, I just wanted to dance), which led to me going to EVERY SINGLE GAME. Well, I had nothing better to do in the quarters around halftime, so I ended up reluctantly watching. If you know anything about me, I get really “spirited” really fast. I ended up immersing myself in the game, and by my junior and senior year I was a sports-focused photographer for the yearbook. Told you, I get spirited.

I get a lot of comments from my friends about how they wanted to learn or watch football with me, just so they could understand what was happening. I too started out as an oblivious girl, so I can emphasize. It’s a complicated game to explain, so here goes:


  • Offense – The team with the ball (aka possession) (11 players)
  • Defense – The team without the ball (11 players)
  • End Zone – The strips on either end of the field. Usually painted in the team’s colors. Cross one of these for a touchdown
  • Run/Running/Running Play – when the ball is carried around the field
  • Pass/Passing/Passing Play- when the ball is thrown around the field
  • Down(s) – chances the team has (explained in detail under gameplay)
  • Snap – what starts a play
  • Tackle – what the players do to stop another player. Usually a defensive player tackling an offensive player to keep the from gaining ground.
  • Penalty – what happens when a team breaks a rule.
  • Line of Scrimmage – the imaginary line where the play starts from
  • Fumble – When the ball carrier loses the ball. Either team can gain possession
  • Interception – When the defensive team catches a pass meant for an offensive player
  • Punt – kicking the ball away
  • Sack – when a quarterback get tackled before he can get rid of the ball
  • Red Zone – the area of the field between the 20 yd. line and the goal.


  • Touchdown (6 Points) – A touchdown is when the team with the ball catches/carries the ball into the other team’s end zone. After a touch down teams can either kick for an extra point or try for a 2-point conversion.
    • Extra Point (1 point) – Kicked from the 3-yard line (College) or 2-yard line (NFL)
    • 2- Point Conversion (2 points) – Trying to get the ball into the end zone for 2 points. Attempted from the 3-yard line (College) or 15-yard line (NFL)
  • Field Goal (3 points) – Usually if a team doesn’t get a touchdown in 3 of 4 tries they can try for a field goal. The ball is kicked from the line of scrimmage. Usually if a team is within 30ish yards of the end zone, they’ll attempt a field goal (unless the have a good long-range kicker who can kick from further away)
  • Safety (2 points + turnover of possession) – a safety happens when an offensive player gets tackled By defense in his own end zone.


  • Regulation – Four 15 Minute Quarters (Promise you it actually lasts longer than 15 minutes… the average football game is 3 hours long). 2 quarters (one half) is separated by a 12- (NFL) or 15- (College) minute intermission (halftime).
  • Overtime (OT) – If the game is tied at the end of regulation the game goes into over time. These rules only apply to regular season games.
    • NFL – If the team with first possession (Team A) scores a touchdown on the opening drive, that team wins the game.If they get a field goal, the Team B gets a chance to play. If Team B scores a touchdown on their possession, they wins. If they kick a field goal to tie, possession goes back the other way. From there, scoring is sudden death, with the first team to break the tie winning. If neither team breaks the tie after 10 minutes of OT, the game ends in a tie.
    • College – Each team gets one possession of the ball. There is no kickoff, the team that wins the count flip receives the ball at the opposing 25-yard-line. They can attempt a 2-point conversion or a extra point kick for the first 2OTs but after that the team has to go fo a 2-point conversion. There are more rules after 5OTs, but I’m not covering them here.

Game Play:

The whole point is to get the football into the other team’s end zone. A team can do this with running plays or passing plays.

The offensive team has 4 downs (chances) to go at least 10 yards. If they do so, they have 4 more downs to go at least 10 more yards. 1st and 10, that means the team is on their first chance, and has 10 yards to go. 2nd and 7 means the team got 3 yards on their first chance, and still has 7 yards left to go to get their 10 yards. Etc.

If a team doesn’t go 10 yards by the 3rd down, they can either: punt the ball away and give the other team possession, kick a field goal from the line of scrimmage, or try to get the missing yards to get the 10 yards. If they make it they keep the ball, if they don’t they turn the ball over at the spot they were at.

Honestly, the concept of downs was SO HARD to write out. Actually, most of this was so hard to write out. This isn’t every everything, just a good base of information to start out with. The best way to learn is to find a friend to explain it to you while you’re watching the game. I’ve found hat any guy is willing to explain, as long as it’s not from square one (this also comes in handy when you need to talk to a guy). Below is a summary that you can save while watching!

I hope you feel less oblivious!

Live fearlessly,
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Football: An Oblivious Girl’s Guide