Maybe it’s the running back rumbling down the field, tacklers pinging off him like hailstones, or the football flying 60 yards in the air to a speeding receiver. It could be the brute force of a linebacker, eyes gleaming with menace, en route to the quarterback.
Whatever the attraction, the NFL is America’s number one passion and is ingrained in the country’s culture. The top 10 most-watched television shows in America are all NFL Super Bowls. But the NFL is much more than America’s game now – regular season games have been played in London since 2007.
Three sold-out games were played at Wembley Stadium in 2014 and another three contests are on the slate for 2015. The sport of American football is going global, with international efforts in the United Kingdom leading the way.
Expect the Unexpected!
When it comes to sport, there is nothing more exciting than the NFL – and that’s not just because of the incredible action on display every Sunday evening.
The phrase “any given Sunday” is not just a well-publicised line from a Hollywood blockbuster movie, it is a credos under which the NFL operates. Having a high-powered sports league succeed with such a level playing field may sound a bit fanciful, but the numbers prove that the NFL really is wide open, exciting and unpredictable.
The NFL is designed with competitive balance in mind. The annual NFL Draft allows the team with the worst record to have the first pick of the talent coming out of the college ranks, all 32 teams share television, ticketing and merchandise revenue equally and they operate within a salary cap, meaning no club can stock-pile the talent at the expense of others.
The results are clear to see. The last 10 Super Bowls have produced eight different winners of the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
You don’t need to know every rule in the book to enjoy the Super Bowl. Here are a couple of key pointers to help you get the most out of the big game in Arizona.
- The offense consists of a quarterback, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and offensive linemen. Their job is to move the ball at least 10 yards in four attempts (downs) or fewer. The offense moves the ball by either running the ball downfield most often with a running back or quarterback, or through the quarterback throwing to a receiver, tight end or running back. Success means they are awarded four more downs. Failure means they must surrender the ball.
- As teams don’t want to surrender the ball in their own territory, they will usually kick the ball away to the opposition on their fourth down. This is much the same as kicking for territory on the sixth tackle in rugby league and is known as a punt.
- The job of the defense – which is made up of defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs is simple. Stop the offense from marching up and down the field and scoring points.
- How are points scored, I hear you ask? A touchdown is scored when a player carries the ball into, or catches the ball in, the 10-yard end zone of the opposition. Contrary to the name, the ball does not need to be touched down to count as a score. An extra point can be added with a conversion kick from in front of the posts. Two extra points can be added if the offense runs another play into the end zone.
- There are a couple of other ways to score points in the NFL. A field goal is like a penalty in rugby and is worth three points. This is usually attempted on fourth down when a team hasn’t made 10 yards but is within range of their kicker. And, finally, a safety is American football’s version of an own goal and is worth two points. If a member of the defense tackles a ball-carrier in the opposition’s end zone, that is worth two points to the defensive team.
- That’s about all you need for now. There are 53 men on each roster but only 11 on the field for each team at any time, the game is split into four 15-minute quarters with a break at half-time after the second quarter.
The Super Bowl
Nobody does razzmatazz like the NFL. And the Super Bowl hits the heights as a spectacle year in and year out.
The Super Bowl not only showcases the very best talent in the NFL and the two best teams in the league competing for all the marbles – it also epitomises the exciting collision of sports and entertainment that makes the annual event must-see television for viewers in close to 200 countries around the world.
When you look at the artists who have either performed before the kick-off or at half-time of a Super Bowl – The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Paul McCartney, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce and Michael Jackson – you get an idea of the kind of A-list event we’re dealing with here.
Factor in that a 30-second television advert slot during the big game will set you back a cool $4 million and you start to get the picture.
It is fair to say that when the Super Bowl kicks off, America grinds to a halt. Here are some quotes that show what the annual NFL championship game means to fans in the United States:
“The Super Bowl has become the closest thing sports has given us to a national holiday. The Super Bowl is the one Sunday every year when the country comes to a near halt and revolves around the NFL’s championship game.” – San Diego Union-Tribune.
“These are the days that define us as Americans: Independence Day, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving Day. And, of course, Super Bowl Sunday.” – Washington Post.
“It’s New Year’s Eve, the Fourth of July and Mardi Gras all rolled into one – the Super Bowl is America’s Game.” – Los Angeles Times.
Americans certainly know how to party on Super Bowl Sunday and nothing will deter them from the big game, which is why Super Bowl weekend is the slowest of the year for weddings in the United States.
While the Super Bowl is the perfect party backdrop each February, it’s popularity and growth has soared over the years due to the exciting product on the field. Super Bowls are so often dramatic, tense and thrilling affairs where the winner gets all the glory and the loser has seven long months to contemplate what might have been. Six of the last seven Super Bowls have been decided in the final minute of the game.
Positional Explanations – Offense
I’ve heard a lot of people liken the quarterback position to a field general. You give the orders and you call the play in the huddle. The quarterback then takes the snap from the center and either throws downfield to one of his receivers, hands the ball to a running back for a running play or runs the ball himself. I think an underrated part of being a quarterback is being able to speak coherently and to maintain a cool, calm demeanour when the bullets are flying. You want to show confidence to everybody else that you know what’s going on even if you don’t know what’s going on. Andrew Luck, Pro Bowl quarterback, Indianapolis Colts.
Running backs are among the most versatile players in the NFL. There are different types of running back in the NFL – there are power runners who can run through opposing defenses, speedy backs who can run away from defenders and others who are a threat to score every time they catch a pass from their quarterback. Different types of backs can be used in different situations.” – Maurice Jones-Drew, running back, Oakland Raiders.
The wide receiver runs a lot. We’re the guys out on the edge who run around, catch the passes and score the touchdowns. The wide receiver runs pre-assigned routes and his job is to catch the ball. But the wide receiver also blocks for his running back on running plays. That is an area of the wide receiver’s job that often gets overlooked. – Antonio Brown, Pro Bowl wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers.
The tight end position is one that is always changing. Today, we’re heavily involved in the passing game and that’s very exciting but traditionally the tight end is attached to the line of scrimmage and involved in the running game. A tight end has to be able to do both – act like an extra blocker on the line and also be a receiver catching passes downfield. – Kyle Rudolph, Pro Bowl tight end, Minnesota Vikings.
The job of the five offensive linemen is to open up holes for the running back in the running game and in Minnesota we remain one of the few predominantly running teams in the NFL. But it is also vitally important for an offensive line to protect the quarterback. The NFL is moving towards being more of a passing league and the quarterback is very important. The other job of the offensive line is to communicate with each other and make sure we are all on the same page with regard to our blocking assignments. – John Sullivan, center, Minnesota Vikings.
Positional Explanations – Defense
My job is pretty grimy. My main job is to keep the offense from advancing the football. Of course, as a defensive player, you want to hit and smash the man with the football. But you have to do that within your responsibilities. Each of us has a gap and each of us has a responsibility. It’s very important to get after the opposing team’s quarterback early and often. – Brett Keisel, Defensive End, Pittsburgh Steelers.
The defensive tackle is the guy in the middle of the defense with his hand in the ground. The defensive tackle lines up opposite the center or the guard and his responsibility is to get after the quarterback or to stop the running backs on running plays. The defensive tackle has to beat the offensive lineman first before taking on the quarterback or running back. It can be brutal along the line of scrimmage – it’s like a mini car wreck on every play. – Kevin Williams, Pro Bowl Defensive Tackle, Seattle Seahawks.
The linebacker has to be able to stop the running back on running plays but also cover potential passing game targets downfield when the quarterback throws the ball. Linebackers are tremendous athletes who have good size and speed – they are often the biggest hitters on a team. A linebacker must have good instincts to diagnose a play and also have the desire to race to the football and make the tackle.” NaVorro Bowman, Pro Bowl linebacker, San Francisco 49ers.
The primary role of a cornerback is to cover the wide receiver on passing plays – we’re like the receiver’s shadow and we can also catch the ball when it is in the air – this is called an interception. The cornerback has to be fast and athletic but he also has to be tough. The cornerback has to be able to tackle the running back on running plays and tackle receivers when they have caught the ball.” – Darrelle Revis, Pro Bowl cornerback, New England Patriots.
Most people think of the safety as the last line of defense and that’s true. But sometimes we have to come closer to the line of scrimmage like a linebacker and make tackles. Tackling is very important for a safety. We also need to defend the deep balls thrown downfield. Safeties are the guys you want to make big plays. – Harrison Smith, Safety, Minnesota Vikings.
So that is the sport of American football in a nut-shell. Now it’s time to meet this year’s Super Bowl contestants. Each year, the champion of the American Football Conference (AFC) meets the champion of the National Football Conference (NFC). And this season has served up the top dogs in each conference as the New England Patriots take on the defending champion Seattle Seahawks.
AFC Champion New England Patriots
- The Patriots – who won 14 games and lost just 4 en route to the Super Bowl – are led by future Hall of Fame head coach Bill Belichick, who has won three Super Bowls in New England.
- Belichick has won more playoff games (21) than any coach in NFL history. If he wins this Super Bowl, he will have won a record fourth Vince Lombardi Trophy as a head coach, tying the great Pittsburgh Steelers legend Chuck Noll.
- New England are appearing in a record eighth Super Bowl, tying the mark set by the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Patriots are 3-4 in their previous seven Super Bowls.
- New England’s star player is quarterback Tom Brady, who will be playing in a record-tying sixth Super Bowl. No quarterback has ever played in more than five Super Bowls.
- Brady holds a host of Super Bowl records, including most pass attempts, pass completions and passing yards. He is 3-2 in the Super Bowl and a victory will see him match an NFL record of four Super Bowl wins for a QB held by Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw and San Francisco’s Joe Montana.
- Brady has more yards, touchdowns and wins than any other quarterback in NFL playoff history.
- Just hours after helping his team to the Super Bowl with a win the AFC Championship Game, Patriots defensive captain Vince Wilfork helped a woman from her overturned car on the side of a Boston-area motorway.
NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks
- The Seahawks – who also won 14 games and lost just 4 this season – are the reigning Super Bowl champions having lifted the Vince Lombardi Trophy in New York last year.
- Seattle are one of the best-supported teams in the NFL. Their fans are known as the 12’s and caused an actual earthquake in the vicinity of their stadium after Kam Chancellor scored a touchdown in the NFC Divisional Playoff game against Carolina.
- The Seahawks are led by head coach Pete Carroll, who used to be head coach of New England before he was fired and replaced by Bill Belichick.
- Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson has won 36 regular season games in his first three seasons in the NFL – that is the most in league history ahead of the likes of Dan Marino, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck and Joe Flacco.
- For the second year running, Seattle boast the best defense in the NFL. They ranked first in fewest points allowed, fewest yards allowed and fewest passing yards allowed. They also ranked third against the run.
- Shy Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has already been fined $150,000 for refusing to speak to the media this season. He was also chastised by the NFL for refusing to cooperate with the media in the build-up to last year’s Super Bowl.
- The Seahawks will be playing in their third Super Bowl. They are currently 1-1 in the big game.
Categories: The Super Bowl