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American Football Explained: NFL in a Nutshell

Lauren Rosegreen
American Football Explained: NFL in a Nutshell
Author: Lauren Rosegreen
18.04.2019 08:21AM

Part 1 of our North American Sports Series

See Part 2 on Basketball Explained: NBA in a Nutshell.

22 players. 3 hours. 1 goal… to win.

When you touch down in the States, experiencing an American Football game should be on your bucket list. For non-Americans, it can seem a little perplexing (a team of full-grown adults with a funny shaped ball, running head-first into each other on a field)? But American Football is much more than tight white pants and big helmets. It incorporates tactical plays, requires physical and mental toughness and is pretty easy to follow.

So don’t worry, Smaller Earth won’t let you drop the ball when it comes to knowledge on American Football. Prepare to be bowled over, as we’ve come up with a game plan to cover everything you need to know, to be in the know.

The Rules

Let’s kick things off by getting to grips with the rules of American Football. From offence to defence and everything in between, check out this video to become a pro in the sport.

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National Football League (NFL)

To get the ball rolling, you have to know about the National Football League. With 32 teams, the NFL is the biggest American Football league in the US. Each year, there are a series of games played to determine which 12 teams reach the playoff knock-out rounds. The final 2 teams then play in the Super Bowl championship.

We love NFL games as the stadium opens 2 hours before kick-off, so you can get a picture with the mascot, meet cheerleaders and still have plenty of time to grab a hot dog before the game starts. During the game, the lively atmosphere doesn’t stop. You’ll hear upbeat music in between ‘play’, have the opportunity to win prizes and may even feature on the big screens during ‘kiss cam’. (Don’t worry, we’ll cover the vocab in a short while)!

The Superbowl

Though you may think ‘Superbowl’ sounds like an oversized piece of porcelain, to Americans, the Superbowl is bigger than the World Cup Final & the Tennis Grand Slam combined. Each year thousands of Americans gather round for 4 epic hours of sport, television commercials and a show-stopping halftime show.

Smaller Earth recommendation: Going to watch the Superbowl can be heavy on the bank balance with tickets starting off at around $5000! If your wallet doesn’t quite stretch that far, we suggest throwing a Superbowl party. Chicken wings, red cups and all of your closest mates (you can even kick things off with a few American-style games)! Get the Superbowl on your TV and make sure you have enough nachos to go around.


Now we’ve covered the basics, check out our definitions guide to American Football and you’ll be speaking the lingo like a local in no time.

Dance Cam:

Keep an eye on the jumbotron (huge video display screens). When the cameras turn to the fans with the caption ‘dance cam’, be ready to show off your best dance moves, especially if the camera pans to you!


An attempt made to advance ten yards or more towards an opponents goal line.

End Zone:

The marked area at each end of the field that the ball must reach to score a touchdown.

Field Goal:

A goal scored by a place kick when a team fails to reach the 10-yard line after 4 downs.

Kiss Cam:

Check out the ‘Dance Cam’ definition but instead of dance moves, get those lips at the ready. If the camera lands on you, pucker up and kiss the person next to you.

Place Kick:

When the ball is kicked after being placed on the ground.


A plan of action used to strategically get the ball down the field.


Directing the team’s offensive play, the quarterback is usually perceived as the popular star player. Think the ‘Zac Effron’ of the American Football world.

Touch down:

When a team gets the ball into their opponent's end zone (worth 6 whole points)!

Fun Facts

So now you’re an expert, why not go further afield and impress your friends with some fun American Football facts? Here's our top 6 for you.

  1. Games last around 3 hours, but the amount of time actually spent playing on the field is only around 11 minutes.
  2. College football can be more popular than the professional league. In 2018, the Texas Longhorns college football team brought in $144.5 million for their university.
  3. Though the ‘Underwear Olympics’ may conjure up some interesting images for non-Americans, it is actually an event where college players are tested and graded by NFL scouts. Confused? Basically, it’s college guys lifting weights and running really quickly around the field.
  4. Each April, 5 million people tune in to the NFL draft to see which college players are selected by each team (based on the scores achieved in the Underwear Olympics).
  5. Michigan Stadium is the largest college football stadium with a whopping capacity of 107,601!
  6. The NFL also play games in London and Mexico! So if you missed out on going to a game in the US, there are plenty more opportunities to tick it off the bucket list.

So there you have it! You’re now a pro with all things American Football, so it’s time for us to take a hike. We’re sure that after your first American Football game, it will become a habit that you’ll never kick.

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