Football League season is underway, and many Americans are pumped. But if you don’t understand the sport, it’s easy to feel left out.
Here are some tips to help you go from outsider to Super Fan:
Pick a team.
There are 32 NFL teams. A true Super Fan loves and supports his or her team for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, ’till death do they part. But how do you choose which team to root for? Cheering for the hometown team is always a possibility, but if you don’t have a team in your city, here are some other ways to get in on the fun:
Hop on the bandwagon. It’s controversial, but with this method, you can feel the sweet satisfaction of winning almost any given week. The best teams for these fans are the Pittsburgh Steelers or the New England Patriots. Both teams have won six Super Bowls (that’s the NFL championship game).
Start from the bottom. Pick one of the league’s least successful teams with the hope that one day they’ll win the Super Bowl and you can say to everyone, “I was there from Day One.” This method requires a lot of patience. Shoutout to all the Philadelphia Eagles fans!
If you still can’t decide which team to choose … pick one with a cool logo or uniform.
Get some gear. Many fans wear a team jersey. But there’s a lot of other merchandise that shows your love and loyalty.
For example, Green Bay Packers fans are known as Cheeseheads. Supporters of the small-town Wisconsin-based team like to wear goofy foam hats shaped like a big block of cheese.
“Every game-day, my family sits in the living room with our Cheeseheads and our Aaron Rodgers jerseys impatiently waiting for kickoff,” said Bradley Brown, a 16-year-old Packers fan from Florida. Rodgers is the Packers’ quarterback. More on quarterbacks below.
Learn the basic rules. American football is a complex game with a ton of rules. You need to know just a few to get started; you don’t need to understand them all to start watching.
There are two teams, each with 11 players on the field. The team on offense has the ball and four chances (called downs) to move the ball 10 yards (9.144 m) forward, either by handing the ball directly to a player or by throwing it to a receiver in the field, who can then run forward with it himself from the spot he catches the ball. Once the ball is moved at least 10 yards, the team with the ball gets a fresh set of four downs to move it at least 10 yards once again.
The goal is to cross the goal line at the end of the 100-yard field. That’s called a touchdown, which is worth six points. The team on defense aims to stop this from happening by tackling the runner or preventing a pass from being caught.
After making a touchdown, a team has two ways to win extra points: 1) Kick the ball over a 10-foot-high crossbar that sits between two goal posts from 33 yards away to win one point. 2) From the two-yard line, run the football across the goal line or throw it to a receiver in the end zone. That’s worth two points.
The most important member of the team, the quarterback, is in charge of the offense. He gets the ball from a really big guy known as the center to start each play, then hands the ball off to a player in the backfield or throws it to one down field. If, after three chances, a team still hasn’t moved the ball 10 yards, a player on that team can kick the ball many yards forward (often more than half the length of the entire field) to the defense on fourth down. (The defensive team then becomes the new offense, and the prior offense becomes the new defense, both with a new set of 11 players.) Or, if fourth down occurs near enough to the goal line, usually within 40 yards, a specialist player will try to kick it from the ground through the goal posts for a three-point field goal.
One more significant change: when the teams return to the field after each quarter, they are now trying to score at the opposite end of the field from before.
Find a community. Surround yourself with passionate football fans. You don’t all have to support the same team. In fact, it’s fun to befriend those who root for different teams or even your team’s rival. This way, you can take part in the heated Monday debates at school-and you might gain an appreciation and respect for the teams your friends support.
“As a Patriots fan, I have had many debates with football fans. However, I am glad to say that a lot of them have become my friends,” said Josiah Phillips, a 17-year-old Patriots fan from New York. “When our teams clash, we gather as friends at one of our houses and watch our teams battle to the end.”
Get into the drama. It’s exciting to see powerful runners and receivers move the ball forward on offense-and equally powerful defensive players try to stop them from gaining yards. Part of the fun is not just seeing the two sides make contact, but also hearing the impact itself. Football is a brutal contact sport, and in recent years, there’s been a growing awareness and concern for the serious damage it causes to players’ brains.
“In my opinion, the violent hits are the best part of football. Of course, it depends on whether the person (hitting or getting hit) is on your team,” said Calvin White, a 16-year-old from New York. “As long as no one gets terribly injured, the hitting is the best part.”
Eat the Food. Lots of it. Kyle Eastman, a 17-year-old New Yorker, states, “NFL game day is basically a showcase of traditional American foods. I love some chips and dip along with a hot dog or burger.” Don’t stop there, though; the options are unlimited.
Watch the Super Bowl. The biggest American sporting event is the hottest ticket in town. Nearly 110 million viewers tune in on TV.
Even non-fans don’t want to miss the funny and quirky advertisements and the star-studded halftime show. It’s not only a treat for U.S. football fans, it’s a global phenomenon. Like the Oscars.
Make a commitment. Tune in whenever your team is playing. Unlike baseball, which has 162 regular-season games, or basketball and hockey, which each have 82 games, NFL football has only 16.
Most of the weekly games are on Sundays, but there is also a single game played each week on Monday and Thursday nights-rain, snow, or shine. Don’t worry if you miss a play. Instant replays and video clips of the highlight at halftime are almost as much fun as watching the action in real time.