Sunday, February 3, 2013

Super Bowl XLV: Language Inspired by (American) Football

It's that time of year again. If you're not American, then you probably won't know what all the fuss is about or why you should even care. The Super Bowl is one of the biggest sporting events of the year, and it's big bucks for the advertisers involved in a spectacle that involves a lot of guys chasing an egg-shaped "ball" which they rarely touch with their foot.

It's really popular in the US... not so much elsewhere.
Between the "commercials", some guys play football. We've heard that the foot in football refers to the length of the ball rather than the interaction between the body part and the ball.

For those who have no idea what's going on and why the referee is dancing so much, we've got a few definitions of words particular to this sport.

Within the U.S. and Canada, the sport is of course referred to simply as football, whereas in English-speaking countries where another type of football is more popular, the sport tends to be called American football. This is true in the UK where football refers to what Americans call "soccer", as well as in Ireland where football can refer to either soccer or Gaelic football. Australia has Australian (or Aussie) rules football, which bears little resemblance to any of the previously mentioned sports, but let's not muddy the waters.

Without going into the rules too much, the objective of (American) football is to score more points than the opposing team. There are 11 players on each team. In play, the team with the ball is referred to as the offense, while the team without possession is the defense.

The offense has four opportunities known as downs, to progress ten yards with the ball. They're called downs because in rugby football, or simply rugby, the players could consent to stoppage of play once held by the opposition by saying "held", with the opposing player agreeing to this by saying "have it down". All the British frivolities have been removed for the catchier and more American "down".

You'll see the downs counted based on how many downs have transpired and how much distance is left to cover the minimum requirement of ten yards. 1st & 10 would indicate the first down and that there are ten yards to cover, which is always the case. 2nd & 5 would indicate that it's the second down and the team has five yards to cover. If they are less than ten yards from the goal line the number will be replaced with goal, so 1st & Goal, for example.

Beware of pickpockets.
During their stint with the ball, the offense is trying to reach the end zone, obviously named for being the zone at the end of the field. Once there, they can score a touchdown simply by being in the end zone. In rugby this would be called a try. Although the tradition of placing the ball down no longer applies, it's still a touchdown.

They can also score points by kicking the ball through the posts. This is known as a field goal since it's a goal scored from the field, duh!

Perhaps the most important term to be acquainted with is scrimmage. This refers to an imaginary line that is parallel to either end of the field and represents the divide between the two teams. When they line up to start each play, you can imagine the line of scrimmage running between them. It's very similar to the rugby word scrum, which is short for scrummage which comes from skirmish.

So as the Ravens take on the 49ers, if you still have no idea what's going on you can take solace in the fact that it's only once a year and the ads usually are pretty good.