Here's a European guy that knows nothing about this sport.
If I were to start following it, what are the most important things I should know?What are the key things I should pay attention to?
What are the most glorious teams?
The biggest rivalries out there?
The things that really matter for a team's performance?
I know there's infinite material to read in the web but I think it would be funny if some of you ISHers could tell me here.
Here's all I know at the moment:
- A team scores if they bring the ball in the touchdown area
- There is a skilled guy (quarterback) who throws the ball to some quicker guy who tries to catch it and run to the touchdown area - more rarely, the QB runs himself with the ball
- Defenses try to prevent them from doing this, and their teammates protect them from defenses
- The NY Giants won the last superbowl, that I guess is the equivalent of the nba finals
- Joe Montana was a great player
I was in a similar position back when the season started. The biggest facet of football which helped my understanding of the game was that the team with the ball have to advance the ball at least 10 yards in 4 attempts (which is called a 'down') or less before having another opportunity to advance the ball 10 yards.
A team has the ball on their own 20 yard line on 1st down - that means it's the first play of potentially four, with 80 yards to cover to score a touch down, because it's 30 yards to the mid point of the field, with the remaining 50 being the opposition half.
The Quarter-back throws the ball 3 yards to one of his players, who runs 2 yards after catching before being stopped by the opposition defense. That's a total of 5 yards that have been covered and subtracted from the 10 they initially set out to cover, which leads us to the second play of potentially four. So we call that 2nd and 5.
On 2nd and 5, the quarter-back doesn't throw, instead opting to hand the ball to a player in his vicinity, who is called the running-back (a player who specializes in running rather than throwing). He doesn't make any forward progress, because he's stopped at the line of scrimmage (where the two sets of teams are separated before the ball is in play and where the distance required begins). So, it's now the third attempt, with 5 yards still to cover.
On 3rd and 5, the quarter-back throws the ball 4 yards to his player before he is tackled. It is now 4th and 1, with only 1 yard needed on the fourth and final down, but rarely will this result in teams trying to cover it unless they're in a desperate situation, because if the opposition defense prevent you from advancing and covering that 1 yard (or more), it means they get the ball back at that precise spot. And in this example, it would mean they would have an excellent opportunity of getting a touchdown with only 29 yards to cover. As opposed to the distance they will have to cover if the team with the ball decide to punt the ball on fourth down, which entails receiving the ball and kicking it as far as you can to the other side of the pitch.
On 4th and 1, this is precisely what they do, and the punter kicks for 60 yards (21 yards of their half + 39 of the opposition half). So, the line of scrimmage was on the 29 yard line before the kick (because we started on the 20, and the team could only advance the ball 9 yards during their three opportunities), which means the ball lands in the opposition half on the 11 yard line. Now the other team get the ball back, with 89 yards to cover before getting a touchdown.
Of course, they wouldn't kick the ball on the 29 yard line because that would be impossible, because the ball is tossed back a few yards (as it always is on every down, but more so during a punt) in order to prevent the opposition from blocking the kick, but I didn't want to get bogged down in this during the example, because it should be something you notice and pick up the more you get accustomed to watching the NFL. I hope this helps.