Yes, I said it, the “S” word. 8 years of living in America has made me refer to our beloved football as “soccer”, just so that Americans know what I’m talking about. They are claiming the term “football” for their most popular sport, which is American Football, where you don’t necessarily kick the ball like in soccer, but mainly throw and carry it. And still it’s called football here. So for the sake of clarity let me stick to the “S” word for this article.
A new football season has just started and if you’re new to the States and just made some new American friends, it’s highly likely that you will be invited to watch a game sometime. So be prepared to fake some excitement about it, even though you would much rather like to watch a soccer game instead.
Here’s a tip: Learn some of the rules before you go see the game, then it’ll be a bit more exciting. Plan B would be to indulge in the provided snacks and take frequent bathroom breaks. Don’t worry, in about 3 hours it’s all over. That’s the average time an NFL game takes.
3 hours?? How in the world could a game with 4 quarters of 15 minutes each (= 1 hour) possibly go on for 3 hours? Let me explain…
Americans love sports with a lot of action, and violence. However, all the running and spectacular tackles only last for an average of 11 minutes per game based on a Wall Street Journal study. What are they doing the rest of the 3 hours that an average NFL game takes, you ask?
Football is a very strategic game. There are a lot of plays that the players practice in training, that are going to be executed in the game. Coaches are connected to their quarterbacks via headsets and secretly share the next play with them. You might have noticed that they’re covering up their mouths, so that nobody will catch their instructions or the name of the next play by reading from their lips.
Anyways, all these tactics and strategizing eats up a lot of time while the clock is stopped. Other times the clock keeps running, but there are ways to have it stopped by for example throwing the ball off the field or taking time outs. All these pauses are the main reason why a game that should actually last no more than 80-90 minutes stretches out to twice the length.
There are also mandatory and optional commercial breaks. About 10 breaks per half time and the television studios can put in more during every little stoppage of the game.
In soccer, as you know, there are only commercials during half time and not even 15 minutes long. Usually there are interviews and just a handful commercials. Teams are making money by having sponsors all over the place including a team sponsor on their jerseys. This is something that you don’t see in American Football, although I would prefer them making money that way instead of having to see commercials during the game.
In soccer you keep the ball until you lose it or score a goal. It’s that simple. In American Football the team in possession of the ball gets 4 attempts (downs) to gain at least 10 yards. If they succeed, they’ll get another 4 and so on until they score a touchdown for 6 points with a chance for an additional 1 or 2 points. The scoring team can decide between a field goal attempt from short distance for 1 point or another touchdown from the same short distance for 2 points. This one point can sometimes decide about an overtime or even winning the game in the end, but teams usually opt for the easy one point.
If during the 4 attempts the offensive team figures that they’re not gaining enough ground or even lost some yards, they can try to score a field goal. A successful goal brings in 3 points – better than handing over the ball for nothing. The guy who usually kicks the ball during a field goal attempt is often times a former soccer player. They are useful after all.
What about the athleticism of American Football players compared to soccer players? Whenever a wide receiver makes a run over half the field to score a touchdown, they usually have little energy left. Well, enough for a little happy dance to celebrate the 6 points that they just scored for their team. After that he gets a nice little break, because the defense players will now step on the field and the wide receiver can rest on the bench and watch from the sidelines along with the rest of the offensive team.
In contrast, a soccer player is on the field for 90 minutes with a 15 minute break in between and some delays due to fouls, free kicks and corner kicks. He’s in constant movement and let’s say he ran, just like the wide receiver mentioned above, across half the field and manages to score a goal on top of that, he’s not going to settle for a little happy dance. He’s probably going nuts and run even more, jump over the fence towards the fans or does a back flip. Afterwards the running continues until the game ends.
Both sports have amazing athletes, but while a wide receiver’s strength are fast and impulsive sprints, the soccer player scores in endurance.
Quick Cheat Sheet of Rules
100 x 53 yards with markings in 1 yard increments, so that people can keep track off how many yards have been gained or lost. Each side has a 10 yard end zone in which the players need to get the ball into to score a touchdown.
Four 15 minute quarters, with a 12 minutes break at halftime and a 2 minute break after the 1st and 3rd quarter. The team in possession of the ball has 40 seconds from the end of one play to the start of the next play.
If the score is tied after the 4th quarter, the game will go into a 15 minute overtime. Sudden death rules apply in overtime, so the first team to score wins and the game ends immediately.
Touchdown: The team carries the ball into the opponent’s end zone = 6 points.
Extra Point and 2 Point Conversion: After every touchdown the scoring team has the option of bringing the ball into the end zone with one play again for an additional 2 points, or they kick the ball into the goal for an additional 1 point.
Field Goal: During the game the offensive team can try to score a goal whenever they’re in reach. 3 points is the reward, but afterwards the opponent gains possession of the ball.
Safety: If the offensive ball carrier is tackled in his own end zone, the defensive team gets 2 points.
The offensive team tries to gain as much ground to score a field goal or get the ball into the opponent’s end zone. The defensive team tries to either intercept the ball or make sure that the other team is unsuccessful in gaining 10 yards during their 4 attempts. Special teams are in place for situations like field goal attempts, punts or kickoffs.
Another way to gain possession is during a fumble, which is when the ball carrier or passer drops the ball and the opposing team catches it.
Each team has 3 time outs per half time for a total of 6 per game. Time outs not used in the first half cannot be carried over into the 2nd half. If the game goes into overtime they’ll get additional timeouts.
What can Soccer learn from American Football?
This is easy: Don’t overdo it with commercials or you’ll kill the fun. But seriously, soccer desperately needs more high tech to help out the referees in questionable decisions. American refs can look at videotapes in the middle of the game in order to overrule a wrong decision. Hooligans in Europe are just waiting for the referee to mess up, so that they can trash the place and go berserk in the city. In American Football you can bring your kids and even sit in the opposing fan block without having to fear for your life.
I still love soccer, the true football, far more than I could ever love American Football. There are a lot less goals per game, but way more action, that doesn’t need cheerleaders or half time shows to entertain the crowd. And you only have to sit through 15 minutes of commercials, which is plenty for an extended bathroom break after all the beer you’ve been drinking.
What’s your favorite soccer team? And have you found an American Football team to root for yet?