Meet Me on the Gridiron - Getting Started with Football - Football For Dummies (2015)

Football For Dummies (2015)

Part I

Getting Started with Football

Chapter 2

Meet Me on the Gridiron

In This Chapter

arrow Comparing domes and outdoor stadiums

arrow Taking a look at the field and the ball

arrow Getting a rundown of the many players

arrow Gearing up for football with uniforms, helmets, pads, and shoes

I’ve spent a lot of time on football fields. Although the dimensions are the same, from high school to the NFL, every field seems different. That’s because all across America, the atmosphere inside each stadium, or the architectural character of the stadium itself, tends to be unique to that region. But every field shares some common characteristics.

In this chapter, I explain the basics of a football field and why teams don’t always play on my favorite surface — good old green grass. I also talk about the number of players on the field, what they wear, and that odd-shaped ball they play with.

The Big Picture: Stadiums

As you probably know, a stadium is the whole structure or area in which football and other games are played: the field, the stands, and so on. Stadiums come in all shapes and sizes. The important thing is that they allow room for the 100-yard-long football field, which is, of course, obligatory. (See the next section for more on the football field.)

NFL and college stadiums come in two main varieties: domed stadiums and outdoor stadiums. Domed stadiums are designed so that the players and the fans don’t have to deal with the weather; they always have a roof over their heads, and the teams always play on artificial turf. When you’re talking about big-time football, both types of stadiums generally seat between 50,000 and 107,000 screaming fans.

New stadiums, many financed through public support and tax dollars, have become one of the NFL’s top priorities. Between 1992 and 2010, a total of 22 new stadiums were built. These stadiums offer luxury boxes, state-of-the-art video systems, and other amenities for fans. Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans, boasts natural grass and a retractable roof, the first of its kind in the NFL. Ford Field, the home of the Detroit Lions, includes a six-story atrium. In 2010, proving once and for all that Texans like all things big, the Dallas Cowboys inaugurated Cowboys Stadium, the largest domed stadium in the world. The stadium includes an 11,520-square-foot video display screen, the — you guessed it — largest high-definition screen in the world.

The best stadium in pro football

There’s no better setting in pro football than Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. With its circular seating and lack of an upper deck, Lambeau is a fan-friendly stadium. Every seat offers a good view of the action.

For a potentially cold arena, Lambeau is also a player-friendly stadium. To improve their field in freezing conditions, the Packers installed SportGrass in 1997. This new surface consists of natural grass planted on a recyclable, synthetic surface below field level. This setup creates a stable base that can’t be destroyed by the physical wear and tear on the field when coupled with soggy, wet conditions. The old field, by the way, was packed into “Frozen Tundra” boxes and sold to fans to help pay for the new field.

Getting Down to Business: The Field

There’s nothing like a football field. If I could wish something for everyone, it would be for them to stand on the sideline at an NFL game and hear, sense, and feel the impact of the collisions and see the speed of the game up close. The selected areas around the sidelines for photographers and television cameramen are my favorite places to watch the game. The following sections tell you what you see on a football field, whether you’re on the field or in the stands.

Field dimensions

The dimensions of a football field haven’t changed much through the years. The field has been 100 yards long and 53 yards wide since 1881. In 1912, the two end zones were established at 10 yards deep and have remained so ever since. Consequently, all football games are played on a rectangular field that’s 360 feet long and 160 feet wide.

The marks on the field

All over the field, you see a bunch of white lines. Every line has a special meaning, as shown in Figure 2-1:

· End lines: The lines at each end of the field are called the end lines.

· Sidelines: The lines along each side of the field are called the sidelines.

· Goal lines: The goal lines are 10 yards inside and parallel to each end line.

· Field of play: The area bounded by the goal lines and sidelines is known as the field of play.

· 50-yard line: The field is divided in half by the 50-yard line, which is located in the middle of the field.

· End zones: The two areas bounded by the goal lines, end lines, and sidelines are known as the end zones.


© John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Figure 2-1: The playing field.

To make all these white lines, teams use paint or marking chalk. They’re even painting grass fields these days. The end lines and sidelines are 4 inches wide and rimmed by a solid white border that’s a minimum of 6 feet wide. All boundary lines, goal lines, and marked yard lines are continuous lines until they intersect with one another.

The field also contains yard lines, hash marks, and lines marking the player benches, which I describe in detail in the following sections.

Yard lines

Yard lines, at intervals of 5 yards, run parallel to the goal lines and are marked across the field from sideline to sideline. These lines stop 8 inches short of the 6-foot solid border in the NFL.

Yard lines give players and fans an idea of how far a team must advance the ball in order to record a first down. As Chapter 3 explains in detail, an offensive team must gain 10 yards in order to post a first down. Consequently, the field is numbered every 10 yards, starting from the goal lines. All these lines and numbers are white.

Hash marks

Hash marks mark each yard line 70 feet, 9 inches from the sidelines in the NFL. On high school and college football fields, the hash marks are only 60 feet from the sidelines. Two sets of hash marks (each hash is 1 yard in length) run parallel to each other down the length of the field and are approximately 18½ feet apart. When the ball carrier is either tackled or pushed out of bounds, the officials return the ball in bounds to the closest hash mark. Punted balls that go out of bounds are also marked on the nearest hash mark.

The hash marks are used for ball placement prior to most offensive plays so more of the game can be played in the middle of the field, which makes the game more wide open. If the ball was placed 20 feet from where it went out of bounds rather than on the closest hash mark, offenses would be restricted to one open side of the field for many of their run and pass plays. In other words, they would have to run or pass to the right or the left, and wouldn’t have the option to do either. But, when teams run the football and the ball carrier is tackled between the hash marks, the ball is declared dead at that spot and generally is placed where the ball carrier was tackled and stopped.

remember An important thing to remember is that an incomplete pass is returned to the spot of the preceding play, not where it actually goes out of bounds or where the quarterback was standing when he threw it.

When you’ve gone too far

A player is out of bounds whenever he steps from the field of play and touches (or flies over) the white sidelines or end lines. To remain in bounds for a catch, an NFL player must have both feet (including the toes of his shoes) touching the ground inside the end lines and sidelines and must be in possession of the football; in college and high school football, a player needs to have only one foot inside the end lines and sidelines to be considered in bounds.

Player benches

Six feet outside the border of the field, or 6 feet from the sidelines, is an additional broken white line that defines an area in which only coaches and substitute players may stand. Six feet farther behind this broken white line is where the bench area begins (refer to Figure 2-1). The team congregates in the bench area during a game, watching teammates play or resting on the benches. Within this area, team doctors and trainers also examine injured players.

The playing surface

Two types of surfaces are used in football — natural grass and artificial turf. Each has its pros and cons.

· Natural grass: Many natural grass surfaces exist, depending on the region’s temperature and the stadium’s drainage system. Generally, though, natural grass is similar to your backyard lawn or any baseball outfield: It’s green, soft, and beautiful, but it needs to be mowed, watered, and replaced. Many companies have invested a lot of time and effort into perfecting a combination of natural grasses that can withstand the heavy and destructive wear that football presents (after all, cleats can rip up turf).

· Artificial turf: Some artificial surfaces are made from synthetic nylon fibers that resemble very short blades of grass; other artificial surfaces have tightly woven fibers that give the feel of a cushioned carpet. Artificial surfaces are cheaper to maintain than natural grass. Plus, many football stadiums are multipurpose facilities that are used for outdoor concerts, political and religious rallies, and other sports, such as baseball and soccer. When such events are held, some areas of the grass can become trampled and destroyed by the thousands of fans sitting or walking on it, so having an artificial surface is advantageous.

Then again, in many stadiums, the artificial surface is also harder than natural grass because it’s often laid over cement, blacktop, or dirt. And on extremely hot days, artificial surfaces retain the heat, making a day that’s 95 degrees Fahrenheit feel like a 100-degree day.

Most players prefer natural grass to artificial turf. Playing on an artificial surface is much like playing on green-colored wall-to-wall carpeting.

howiesays Grass beats artificial surfaces

I never liked playing on artificial surfaces. The problem with these surfaces, in my opinion, is that your shoes get stuck, which makes you more susceptible to injury. The game is faster on this surface, but when players make quick cuts or attempt to move too quickly, they seem to twist their knees and feet because their shoes stick to the surface.

I never could find the right shoe for artificial surfaces. I even tried basketball sneakers. I think I tried on maybe a thousand different styles of nub-tipped shoes. I tried everything on turf, and I retired never being satisfied with any of the shoes.

Players also suffer what I call turf burns when they dive to make a tackle or when a ball carrier skids across the surface. I’ve had the skin on my elbows and knees rip right off me. Some teams use what doctors give burn victims — it’s called second skin. A thin, jellylike material, second skin can be cut to size and placed on the turf burn. The problem with any turf burn is that it can last for two to three weeks, and even if you don’t play on turf again, the scab gets ripped off every day in practice.

To prevent these types of injuries, a lot of players wear elastic sleeves over their elbows, forearms, and knees. I tried playing with them, but they kept slipping down after I started sweating. I didn’t like having to pull them up or back on for every play — it was an unnecessary, useless activity.

Goalposts and other on-the-field equipment

The goalpost serves as the guideline for the kicker, whose goal is to sail the ball high between the goalpost’s two vertical bars, an act that’s sometimes called splitting the uprights. The goalpost rises from the back of the end zone. When a ball carrier reaches the end zone, he has scored a touchdown worth six points. The goal line is 8 inches wide (twice as wide as the typical yard line) in the NFL, and 4 inches wide at the high school and college levels. The goalposts were originally located on the goal line, but they were moved inside the goal line, and finally, in 1974, they were moved permanently from the goal line to the end zone’s end line (refer to Figure 2-1).

NFL goalposts are a single standard type, known as the sling-shot design; on some high school and youth fields, however, you may still find goalposts in the shape of an H. A sling-shot goalpost has one post in the ground and a curved extension that sweeps the crossbar into place, as shown in Figure 2-2. This post is fully padded to protect players when they collide with it in the back of the end zone. The crossbar is 10 feet above the ground and 18 feet, 6 inches long in the NFL and college. In high school football, the crossbar is 23 feet, 4 inches long. The uprights, the two poles extending up from both ends of the crossbar, rise about 35 feet (30 feet in college and 20 feet in high school) and are 3 to 4 inches in diameter.


© John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Figure 2-2: The NFL goalpost.

The goalposts generally are painted yellow or white. A 4-x-42-inch ribbon is attached to the top of each goalpost to aid the officials in determining the exact top of the upright when judging whether a kick has passed through the uprights. The ribbons also give kickers an idea of the wind conditions.

Goalposts aren’t the only things you see sitting on the field; you also see the chains and down marker along one sideline, marking the spot of the ball and other important information. For more information about the chains and the people who work them, see Chapter 3.

Looking at That Funny-Shaped Ball

The ball is an important component of a football game — you couldn’t very well play football without the ball part. But you can’t use just any old ball; strict rules govern the ball’s size, weight, and even brand.

In the NFL, the ball must be a Wilson brand, bearing the signature of the commissioner of the league, Roger Goodell. The ball can be inflated to between 12½ and 13½ pounds of air pressure. It’s made of an inflated rubber bladder enclosed in a pebble-grained, leather case of natural tan color without grooves or ridges of any kind. The ball is the form of a prolate spheroid (basically an oblong shape with pointed ends). You may have heard a football referred to as a pigskin. But, don’t worry, footballs just resemble a toughened pig’s skin, and in the game’s early days, they were swollen like a chubby little piggy.

To make it easier to grip and throw, the ball has eight raised white laces in its center. A quarterback can wrap his pinkie, fourth finger, and middle finger between these laces for a perfect grip. The size and weight of the ball must conform to these specifications:

· Long axis: 11 to 11½ inches

· Long circumference: 28 to 28½ inches

· Short circumference: 20¾ to 21¼ inches

· Weight: 14 to 15 ounces

College and high school balls are the same size as NFL balls, although you may find a white stripe encircling the tip area at both ends of the college and high school ball. The white stripe supposedly helps receivers see the ball better, which may be helpful for night games.

In the NFL, the home club supplies 36 footballs in an open-air stadium or 24 footballs in a domed stadium, and the league supplies another 12 K-balls used only for kicking. (K-balls are sealed in a special box to be opened by the officiating crew and held in their custody until two hours before kickoff so they can’t be “doctored” by kickers and punters.) Outdoor stadiums require more balls in case of inclement weather, such as rain, sleet, or snow. The referee is the sole judge as to whether all balls comply with league specifications. The referee tests each football with a pressure gauge approximately two hours prior to kickoff.

Meeting the Cast of Characters

Each football team has 11 players per side: 11 on offense and 11 on defense. Teams are allowed to play with fewer than 11 players (why would they want to do that?), but they’re penalized for having more than 11 players on the field during play, which is also known as live action. In high school, three or more talented players may play both offense and defense. And a few rare athletes may play both offense and defense in major college football and the NFL.

The nonstarting players (that is, those who aren’t among the 22 or so players who are listed in the starting lineup) are considered reserves, and many of them are specialists. For example, defenses may play multiple schemes employing a nickel back (a fifth defensive back) or two pass rushers (linebackers or defensive ends who are used strictly on passing downs to rush the quarterback). Also, an extra player is often used as the long snapper who snaps (hikes) the ball for punts, field goal attempts, and extra point attempts. Some of the reserves make the team because they’re excellent special teams players who are great on punt and kick coverages because they’re fearless tacklers in the open field. (See Chapter 12 for the scoop on special teams.)

remember The roster sizes in high school and college football tend to be unlimited, especially for home games. The NFL, however, limits active, uniformed players to 45 per team on game day. A typical NFL game-day roster includes three quarterbacks, a punter, a placekicker, a kick return specialist, eight offensive linemen, four running backs, five receivers, two tight ends, seven defensive linemen, seven linebackers, and six defensive backs.

In the NFL, an additional player can be in uniform, but he must be a quarterback and enter the game only after the other quarterbacks have been removed from the game because of injury. When this extra quarterback, or 46th player, enters the game, the other quarterbacks are deemed ineligible and can’t return to that game even if they’re healthy.

What Football Uniforms Are All About

Youth football (described in Chapter 15) has weight and size limitations, but as boys advance in football from high school to college to the pros, the uniform is the one common denominator. If you can play (and play well), a uniform will always be waiting for you in some team’s locker room.

It isn’t the uniform that separates one player from the others; it’s his talent and heart. But the uniform and its protective pads are a necessary part of the game, something any player would be foolhardy to take the field without. Think of this: Only 60 years ago, many men wore helmets without face masks, meaning they had some pretty rugged noses and required more dental work during football season.

Why the need for all this protection? Well, the NFL is made up of players ranging in weight from 150 to 360 pounds and in height from 5'5" to 6'9". Some of these assorted sizes are able to bench press 550 pounds and run the 40-yard dash in as fast as 4.2 seconds. Because of the varied weights, sizes, strengths, and speeds of NFL players, the best protection possible is necessary. Smaller players want to be able to play without worrying about being crushed by all those large bodies. (Chapter 17 looks at health risks and the challenge of keeping football players healthy.)

Figure 2-3 shows a typical football uniform, and the following sections talk about the various components of the uniform and the pads that go underneath it.


© John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Figure 2-3: The football uniform.

The jersey

The jersey is the uniform’s shirt. The jersey is basically each player’s identity and marks his allegiance to a specific team. The jersey must be large enough to cover the shoulder pads.

Every NFL team jersey comes with a different numeral to distinguish one player from another. The numerals, which appear on the front and back of the jersey, are 8 inches high and 4 inches wide. Most high school and college teams have the same specifications, and some also place the number on the jersey’s sleeve.

tip In the NFL, specific positions wear certain numerals. For example:

· Quarterbacks and kickers wear from 1 to 19.

· Running backs and defensive backs wear from 20 to 49.

· Linebackers wear from 50 to 59 or 90 to 99.

· Offensive linemen wear from 50 to 79.

· Defensive linemen wear from 60 to 79 or 90 to 99.

· Receivers wear from 10 to 19 or 80 to 89.

On the back of each NFL jersey is the player’s surname in letters that are 2½ inches high. His name appears across the upper back just above the numerals.

Team jersey colors and designs further separate one team from another. And most team colors have been with particular teams since their inception. In Green Bay, for example, the jerseys are green with gold trim. In Oakland, the Raiders always wear black. At Nebraska, the color is bright red; at Texas, it’s orange. The different colors add to the spectacle of the game. In the NFL and college, the visiting team usually wears a white jersey. The colors for visiting teams vary on the high school level.

Throwback jerseys

A throwback jersey is a uniform from a team’s past. In 1994, to mark the 75th anniversary of the NFL, the league started permitting teams to wear throwback jerseys. Throwback jerseys add a little more color and pageantry to the pro game. They give teams a chance to reconnect with their past. And let’s face it, throwback jerseys are a great merchandising tool. Fans who like to wear their favorite team’s jersey sometimes shell out a few more dollars to purchase the throwback jersey, too.

NFL teams can decide when they want to wear throwbacks, and some teams actually wear their throwback uniforms in every game. Not that these teams like reliving the past — they wear throwback jerseys because they’ve always had the same jersey. The Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, and Cleveland Browns have never redesigned their jerseys. They’ve worn the same uniforms, more or less, from the beginning.

Helmets and face masks

The helmet and face mask are designed to protect a player’s face and head from serious injury. Many players also wear a mouth guard to protect their teeth and prevent themselves from biting their tongues. A few players even wear another protective cap on the outside of the helmet for added protection.

Helmets are equipped with chin straps to keep them snugly in place. To prevent serious concussions, many helmets have air-filled pockets inside them. A player tests his helmet by sticking his head inside it and then shaking it for comfort, also making sure that it’s snug. If it’s too tight, he simply releases air from the air pockets.

Player safety is an increasingly important issue in the NFL with concussion and other head injuries becoming a major concern. Helmet manufacturers have been updating their designs in an attempt to increase player safety and comfort. Helmet technology is continually advancing, and it’s very likely that helmet designs will continue to evolve over the next few years.

When you’re watching a game, you may notice players wearing helmets of slightly different shapes and designs. Players are allowed to choose the helmet design that works best for them as long as the helmet design is certified by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment.

All helmets are equipped with face masks. The rounded metal material that composes all face masks can’t be more than -inch in diameter. Most linemen wear a face mask called a cage, which has a bar extending down from the middle and top of the helmet to below the nose area. There, this bar joins two or three bars that extend from both sides that completely prevent an opponent’s hands from reaching inside the face area and under the chin. However, few quarterbacks and receivers have a face mask with a bar coming between their eyes, because they want to ensure they can see clearly; many also leave the chin exposed. Twenty years ago, some quarterbacks wore a helmet with a single bar across the face. Today, you may see a punter or kicker with a helmet that has a single bar, but players who encounter more contact during games want more protection.

Some helmets also have a sunshade across the eyes to prevent sun glare from interfering with the player’s vision. This sunshade also keeps opponents from seeing the player’s eyes, which may give the player an advantage because opponents can’t see where the player is looking.


Pads are necessary to absorb the many physical blows a player takes during a game and protect every part of his body. Next to the helmet, the shoulder pads are probably the number-one protective gear players wear. These pads protect a player’s shoulders, plus his sternum region, from injury. Some of these pads also cover the top of the arm and the rotator cuff. Other pads include thigh pads, elbow pads, hip pads, tail pads, and knee pads, although not all players wear them. Some quarterbacks even wear flak jackets to protect their rib cages, which are vulnerable when they lift their arms to throw the ball.

Shoes and cleats

Football cleats come in ½-inch, ⅝-inch, ¾-inch, and 1-inch lengths. Wearing the right cleat is definitely important for traction. If a player doesn’t have the proper traction indoors or outside on a muddy surface, he simply can’t do his job and perform at the highest level. The shorter cleat, which makes a player less prone to injury, is worn on dry, firm fields because it provides the ideal traction for these fast fields. On a slippery grass field, a player — especially a big lineman across the line of scrimmage — needs to dig deep to gain traction. In that situation, the player switches to a ¾- or 1-inch cleat, depending on how he’s maneuvering (stopping and going) during warm-ups. Receivers and running backs often wear shoes with fewer cleats than the larger, more physical players do.

For artificial surfaces, most players wear a shoe that has a sole of dozens of rubber-nubbed, ½-inch cleats. Some linemen prefer a basketball-type shoe, especially on indoor turf where there’s no chance of rain and the surface isn’t as slick. Because artificial surfaces tend to be sticky, players want to be able to glide over the surface. They don’t want to stop on a dime and change directions. Many players believe that instant stop and restart can be hazardous to their knees and ankles.

Most teams are equipped with all sizes and types of shoes in case the weather changes during the course of a game. You often see players changing their shoes on the sidelines. On mushy days, you see them cleaning the cleats on their shoes to maintain the necessary traction. In the NFL, players test the playing surface an hour prior to the game and then go into the locker room and, if necessary, have an equipment manager change their cleats with a power drill, like a pit crew changing tires at a stockcar race.

NFL uniform codes

In a high school game, you may see a player wearing a torn jersey or exposing his midriff area, or you may see five different styles or brands of shoes on 11 different players. None of this occurs in the NFL, where violations of strictly enforced uniform codes can lead to players being fined. Here are some of the NFL rules:

· The NFL shield or logo must be visible on pants, jerseys, and helmets.

· Tear-away jerseys, which would make it more difficult for defensive players to grab and tackle their opponents on the other side of the ball, are prohibited.

· All jerseys must remain tucked into the uniform pants.

· Sleeves can’t be torn or cut.

· Stockings must cover the entire leg area from the shoe to the bottom of the pants and meet the pants below the knee. Uniform stockings may not be altered, and they must be white from the top of the shoe to about mid-calf.

· Size and locations of shoe logos must be approved by NFL Properties. Players aren’t allowed to wear shoes from companies not approved by the league.

· All tape used on shoes, socks, or pants must be either transparent or a color that matches the team uniform.

· Towels can be only 8 inches long and 6 inches wide and must be tucked into the front waist of the pants. (Quarterbacks and wide receivers often wear towels tucked into their waists to wipe their hands clean of mud and moisture between plays.)