American Football: A Brief Introduction For Non-Americans

For anyone from outside the United States, American football can be a mystery, and with its relatively low popularity elsewhere, there isn’t very much incentive to try and understand it enough to enjoy it. By learning a bit more about the game, however, you can begin to see why it’s the most popular sport in America, and why events like the Super Bowl are so popular.

Isn’t it just rugby in armour?

Although the two sports have some similarities because of their common origins, there are many important differences. The extensive protective equipment worn in American football is one notable variation, but there’s good reason for it. For a start, American football has a lot of high speed collisions between players who are running towards each other. Also, someone can be tackled even if they’re not in possession of the ball, meaning unexpected takedowns from all angles.

What else is different, then?

Unlike rugby, where only backward passes are allowed, American football players can make forward passes. This is possibly the most important difference, and has led to American football becoming a notably different sport to rugby, with its own unique tactics and requirements. When scoring a touchdown in American football, the player simply has to run over the line with the ball, not touch it to the ground as needed for a try in rugby. Of course, the two sports vary in plenty of other ways, too, as each has its own set of rules and quirks. The best way to get used to how American football works is to watch a few games, and you’ll quickly see that it definitely isn’t just rugby in padding.

What’s the Super Bowl, exactly?

The biggest game of the year; the Super Bowl is the grand final, out of which a champion emerges. Originally, there were two different American football leagues, the American Football League (AFL) and the National Football League (NFL). When they merged in 1970 to form the modern NFL, each formerly-separate organisation retained its own “conference”, and the Super Bowl sees the top team from each conference face off in a final championship on the first Sunday each February. Super Bowl Sunday, as it’s known, is a huge event in American society, and is considered by many to be an unofficial national holiday.