By Max-Ramos Paez
It’s a weekend afternoon in the fall, and you sit on your couch cheering on your team to victory in a crucial game that could make or break their season! Does it sound like a usual day to you football fans?
If so, I am sorry to inform you I wasn’t talking about football at all. I was talking about football. Well, what we Americans call football, which you may call gridiron or American football. For the sake of this article I shall refer to the American version as gridiron to avoid any confusion. If you have little to no knowledge of this game we Yanks love so much, let me make it simple for you!
Like football, gridiron has 11 players on each team at a time; it is played with “cleats”, which is our word for boots. A ball is kicked, there laying the root of the word football but unlike football, a ball is only kicked at selectively few numbers of times during a game.
Also, unlike the beautiful game in which there is no stop in play and the clock keeps on going. In gridiron, the play stops every few minutes.
Doesn’t sound too exciting does it?
Well it is! It’s so exciting; it is America’s favourite sport, similar in fandom and devotion as football in most of the world. Also similar to football, it develops the deep down spite for a rival, the bond formed amongst friends and family over the love for one’s team, and the obsession for it that causes media to fawn over controversy.
Gridiron defines America as well as anything can: tough, physical, over the top, deeply rooted in tradition, yet always looking towards progress.
If the picture is still not being formed in your head, picture this. It’s like Rugby, but the players are bigger, faster, and can and hit much harder. Also, players wear protective padding on their shoulders, chest, and legs.
The most defining material of the game is the helmet, a soldier-like casting made of hard plastic, foam and metal that give players the ability to protect their heads as well as make them weapons.
The thing is, unlike rugby where tackling while leaving the ground is illegal, in football hits can come from almost any angle and with as much force as one can throw at another human being.
Well, that’s how it used to be until starting a few years many leagues started passing rules to penalized players who hit opponents in objectionable matters, the matters being determined by the league.
Speaking of leagues, gridiron has many levels, just like football. But unlike football, the most popular leagues are not divided by tiers which a team can be promoted or relegated from their respective league depending on their season performance, gridiron leagues are divided by school level or age group.
The youngest of players can start playing in youth leagues or little leagues as we call them, as young as five years old. Those players can play in said leagues till they are about 14-15 years old and then they may play for their respective high school.
High school gridiron is to many, the purest form of the game, which small towns and big cities alike being passionate about the “Friday Night Lights”. Friday is usually the day of the week traditionally reserved for high school games if possible. Most high school players play for fun, the love of the game, the love of their school, town, or area. But some players are good enough to be recruited to play at the next level of the game, in college.
College, or university as you may call it, is a time of great growth and learning for many young adults in the US as it is in the UK. But in the US, one’s college or university is more than an institution. It’s an identity, a benchmark, a sign, a barrier to those who follow, root or support another institution. Gridiron at the university level, known as college football in the US, is too many, the best version of the sport.
It is also the most similar to football in the traditions, rivalries, and history of the teams and their supporters. While most of the world was creating football clubs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American universities were starting gridiron teams which would become part of the fabrics of their institutions, city, and states.
In the second installment, the structures of college gridiron will be examined, the NFL will be showcased and the many rules of gridiron will be simplified to the best possible degree!