American Football is perhaps the most popular sport...in America. This guide intends to inform you about your favorite Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday (and occasionally Tuesday and Wednesday) pastime, assuming you live in America. If you'd like to know more about college football, then please check out the corresponding notes page.
High school, college, and professional football
Alright, so first off, there are three major tiers of football: high-school football, college football, and professional football (the National Football League). High schools draw players from their general student bodies. During their senior years, especially talented high-school football players sign letters of intent to play for various college programs. This is known as National Signing Day, and is a big event for college television networks such as ESPNU. College players must be enrolled and take classes at the college in question; they can be granted scholarships but not directly paid. After their collegiate career is completed (and they've proven themselves on field), then they'll usually declare for the NFL Draft, which occurs early in April.
Unlike the other major American sports leagues, the NFL will not allow a player to participate in the Draft or sign with a team until he's been out of high school for at least three years (more in some cases) or earned a degree from a recognized university. As a result, college teams are the primary method of training and refining young players, and teenage hotshots are exceedingly rare.
High schools usually play football on Saturday afternoons or Friday evenings (hence Friday Night Lights) during the fall semester, and are governed by state-level athletic associations. They are divided into tiers based on school size and athletic program quality, and sometimes into regional divisions as well. There may be separate organizations for public and private schools, or they may all play together; there may be a statewide championship tournament or only regional titles within a state, with any championship game usually played at either the state's largest university stadium, a professional stadium or whichever adequately large stadium is most centrally located. There is no national high school football championship; there are altogether too many high schools for this to work, and besides, all but a few high schoolers are minors for whom such travel would be, if not illegal, then certainly extremely difficult to manage (Robotics competitions manage to do it, though - Nerds Love Tough Paperwork?). Unofficial championships are given out by media organizations such as USA Today or sites devoted solely to high school sports via polling, but are subject to opinion. Despite high school football being organized on a state basis, there are sometimes individual cross-state games during a regular season, and a high school located near a state border might even have an established rivalry with a school in the neighboring state. These are very much the exception, though, and can be complicated by the fact that different states have slight differences in the rules.
The most talented high school athletes are offered scholarships to play football at the various universities that play football. There are numerous tiers of Collegiate football, called 'divisions', stretching across two organizations. There are at least 5 recognized national championship systems. The top division of the National Collegiate Athletic Association is split into two separate subdivisions, called Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Generally, FBS teams are regarded as 'college football' in the United States, and are the highest tier.
The FBS is split into numerous 'conferences' which are equivalent to leagues in their own right, crowning their own champions. These are sub-split into two types of conferences, Bowl Championship System conferences (BCS) and non-BCS schools. The BCS conferences are the American Athletic Conference (The American), Big Ten, Southeastern Conference (SEC), Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), and Pacific-12 (Pac-12). The independent University of Notre Dame is also a BCS school, though it is not a member of any conference. Members of these conferences are the most prestigious schools (though some are more prestigious than others, and before the Big East split into two leagues in 2013 with the football-sponsoring portion becoming The American, there was much discussion of stripping the Big East of its BCS status; the Mountain West Conference in particular desperately wanted to claim the Big East's BCS berth for itself).
The champion of each conference is granted an automatic berth in one of five BCS Bowls:
The champion of the Big 12 goes to the Fiesta Bowl.
The champion of the ACC goes to the Orange Bowl.
The champion of the SEC goes to the Sugar Bowl.
The champions of the Big 10 and Pac-12 go to the most prestigious regular bowl, the Rose Bowl.
The other slots in these bowls go to the champion of The American and other eligible teams, be they from a BCS conference or not. No conference can send more than two teams to the BCS bowls, though.note Technically three teams from a conference could go to BCS bowls in an exceptionally bizarre scenario where the #1 and #2 ranked teams in the BCS standing are from the same conference but neither of them wins the conference championship, as in that point the top two teams and the conference champ would each have an automatic berth. Only once in BCS history has the week of conference title games been reached with this being even a theoretical possibility.
The final BCS Bowl is the BCS National Championship Game, where two teams, determined by a system using polls and computers, play in a special bowl, the winner of which is declared the national champion. (The other bowls shuffle around participants as needed to make room for this one.) The system is highly controversial, and many people have advocated abolishing it and adopting a playoff system, similar to every other level of NCAA football, including the FCS. Starting in the 2014 football season, the BCS system will be traded in for a 4 team playoff that will determine the national championship. The teams will be selected by a selection committee (oddly enough, the 4 teams of the football playoff will be selected by a committee twice as large as the one that selects the 68 team playoff for college basketball) and not by a system of polls. Since the TV deal has been signed through the 2025 season, it will be a while until the possibility of expanding the playoff to 8 or 16 teams is considered.
The National Football League plays mostly on Sundays and Mondays from September to January/February. It consists of 32 teams, divided into the "American" and "National" conferences (an artifact of the NFL's 1970 merger with the American Football League), each of which has four divisions ("North", "South", "East", "West") of four teams each; this alignment dates to the 2002 round of expansion, replacing the three-division system that had been in place since the NFL-AFL merger. These divisions are organized to promote established rivalries, so they bear little resemblance to actual geography, especially if teams change cities:
The Baltimore Ravens are in the AFC North, despite Baltimore being in the mid-Atlantic. note The team was created from the Cleveland Browns.
The Dallas Cowboys are in the NFC East even though it's in the Southwest, albeit a piece of the Southwest in the Central time zone. Interestingly, this was not caused by the team moving. note This is because Tex Schramm, at one point the owner of the Cowboys, figured Dallas would be better served to be in NFC East because much of the media runs through the Northeast. Therefore, the Cowboys would be ensured some of the best media coverage, and it paid off. They're geographically west of the St. Louis Rams, a member of the NFC West. note They were originally from Los Angeles.
The Indianapolis Colts note originally the Baltimore Colts are in the AFC South, even though they're geographically north of the Cincinnati Bengals, a member of the AFC North. note The legal settlement over the Browns move required that the new Cleveland team be placed in the same division as Cincinatti and Pittsburgh. Baltimore became the fourth AFC North team rather than Indy to preserve their old rivalries.
Even worse, the Arizona Cardinals played in the NFC East from 1988 to 2001. note Before that, they were in St. Louis.
The regular season lasts from September to early January. The division winners and two "wild card" teams (the two best records in each conference not to win a division) proceed to a seeded playoff tournament through January, culminating in the Super Bowl, played between the conference champions on the first Sunday in February, which is usually the most-watched television program of the year and therefore gets the best commercials.
One oddity of the NFL is that no team plays in either New York City or Los Angeles, despite them being the largest cities in the United States. This wasn't always the case, but L.A.'s teams have moved elsewhere, and while there are still two official "New York" teams, they're both actually located nearby in New Jersey. It's also the only one of the Four "Major" North American sports leagues that has no teams outside of the United States.note MLB and the NBA have teams in Toronto, and there are currently 7 Canadian teams in the NHL. There is also a 9-team professional Canadian Football League which plays a version of gridiron football similar to American Football.
In terms of TV, a football game equals guaranteed high ratings. Any professional football game is almost guaranteed to be the most-watched program of the day, and the Super Bowl almost always is the most-watched program of the year. Several Super Bowls are among the highest-rated programs of all time, and Super Bowl XLIV unseated the series finale of Mash as the most-watched program in American history.note ...and was itself unseated by Super Bowl XLV the following year.
But enough organizational stuff. Here's the rules and positions.
Rules of play
Football is played on a rectangular field of 120 yards note A yard is exactly .9144 meters for you metric folks in length (marked by end lines) and 53.3 yards in width (marked by sidelines). Obviously, anything happening outside of this boxed area is considered to be out-of-bounds. Less obviously, and in contrast to association football/soccer, on the line is out of bounds. The first 10 yards of field measured from either end line are the end zones, their boundaries marked by goal lines. These are the primary scoring areas during a game, and are legally in-bounds for plays. The remainder of the field is divided by marked yard lines that run the entire width of the field. Yard lines are placed in 5-yard increments, and each 10 yard mark is visibly numbered up to the 50-yard line, which denotes the middle of the field. Smaller rows of 2' long markings known as hash marks are placed just inside the sidelines to denote each individual yard on the field for more precise measuring. A second set of hash marks also appears inside each sideline to denote the area of the field where the ball can be placed before play commences.note The distance from the sideline to the nearest set of hashmarks differs according to the level of play. In high school football, the distance is exactly 53 feet, 4 inches, which means that the hash marks divide the field into thirds. In college football, the distance is 60 feet. In the NFL, the distance is exactly 70 feet, 9 inches; putting it another way, the hash marks are precisely in line with the goal posts. Since all these field markings tend to create a lattice-like appearance, a football field is colloquially known as the "Gridiron".note In the early years of American football, the field was marked into small rectangles, making the "gridiron" analogy even more apparent. See this diagram◊, copied from a 1905 book on the sport. The goalposts, upright goals that figure into certain scoring plays described below, are placed on the end lines at the back of each end zone. On the professional level, the goal posts are 18 feet 6 inches (5.64 m) apart and connected by a lower crossbar that stands 10 feet (3.05 m) off the ground.
When a team has the ball they are given four tries, called "downs," to move the ball ten yards towards the end zone (goal) they're facing. If that team can do so in four downs or less, then they get another four downs to move the ball another ten yards. If not, the other team gets possession of the ball from the spot the final play ended at. If less than 10 yards remain to the goal, the team with the ball must score or they will likewise lose possession. Most of the time, if a team reaches fourth down and has yet to move the ball ten yards and get a new first down (also referred to as "converting"), that team will opt to kick the ball as far downfield as possible (called a "punt") so that the opposing team will have further to travel in order to score on their ensuing possession or attempt a field goal (three points) if they are close enough. note The team also has the option of attempting to gain the necessary yardage on the fourth down. This is known as "going for it." However, as this risks the other team gaining an advantage if you fail, it's usually not done unless the situation is especially desperate. If the team with the ball can put the ball into the end zone (with one of their players in possession of it), they have scored a touchdown and are awarded six points. Most of the action of a football game consists of trying to score touchdowns. The ball itself only has to partially pass over a yard mark or goal line while in the possession of a player to be counted as a score or a conversion; this is referred to as the ball 'breaking the plane' of the line in question. As a general rule: forward advancement is marked where the ball is located, whereas determining play laterally is based on the body of the player possessing the ball. A player doesn't have to be in the endzone at all for a touchdown, just in possession of the ball as it's breaking the plane of the goal-line. Whereas a player is out-of-bounds once he steps over a marked sideline, it doesn't matter where the ball was located.
Each football team consists of anywhere from 40 to 70 players, depending on the level of competition. At any given time, 11 of these players are on the field. The team that is trying to score is the offense. The team that is trying to keep the offense from scoring is the defense. Unlike some other sports, American football allows players to be substituted in and out of the game freely, but only between plays. This means that most players play only on offense or only on defense and some may only see a handful of special-situation plays per game.
The length of quarters and overtime format differ depending on level, but typically a football game consists of four fifteen-minute quarters with an option for an extra quarter of sudden-death overtime if both teams are tied at the end of regulation. Excepting playoff games, a tie is possible if neither team scores during overtime, but this is rare.note Even some of the players didn't know this was possible when the most recent tie games were played in 2008 and 2012, probably owing to vastly different overtime rules for college football, where most NFL players come from. The game clock in football is an interesting object unto itself: if a play ends on an incomplete pass, with a player running out of bounds, a penalty, or a turnover, the clock will stop. If a play ends with a player being tackled inbounds, then the clock continues running. Each team also gets three timeouts per half. There are other times the game clock will stop, depending on level of competition, sanctioning body, and television considerations, but they are too numerous and complicated to explain here. Suffice it to say that "clock management" is a vital part of football strategy. There are numerous ways that teams will try to run off as much clock time as they can when they hold the lead or conversely stop the clock to get more time if they are behind. To add to the complexity, there is also a "play clock" in effect, the offensive team has a set amount of time after their last play has ended to start their next one. On the professional level, teams have 40 seconds timed from the end of the previous play, or 25 seconds after the ball is declared ready for play by officials. Letting the play clock run out will result in a delay of game penalty. It is important to note that this is why American football games, even though they only have an hour of play per game, tend to actually last for 2-3 hours.
When games are broadcast on television, a 3-hour block of time is customarily allocated to allow for the various delays. Sometimes, when a game is particularly hard-fought, and especially when one team is trying to slow down the game clock as much as possible to buy time, the game can even run over 3 hours in "regulation" (the basic 60-minute period). This can occasionally cause problems when the game is broadcast on TV; in one infamous incident in 1968, NBC cut away from an American Football League rivalry game between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets at the end of the three-hour block to run a children's movie ("Heidi"), notwithstanding that the game was still in progress.note Today this sounds like a stupid reason to pre-empt a football game, but it was a different time. Football was still something of a niche sport, while "Heidi" was a major ratings draw for NBC. The network aired "Heidi" just once a year; since there were three channels and no such thing as home video, families had planned their evening around the film, because this was their only chance to see it all year. The Raiders scored two touchdowns in the final minute to earn the victory, but viewers in the eastern half of the country were left in the dark. The resulting uproar from enraged football fans, which would put many instances of Internet Backdraft to shame, resulted in new policies being adopted. Nowadays, a network will never cut away from a game before it is finished. Unless a major breaking-news event like an assassination or a war beginning happens, TV viewers will see the entire game. (We've since learned that fans watching the "Heidi Game", anticipating that the game could be interrupted, called NBC en masse before the movie was due to start. NBC executives felt likewise and made a late decision to postpone the film, but couldn't contact the broadcast control room to deliver their orders because fans had jammed the phone lines.)
On offense, there are two options, run and pass. Running plays involve the quarterback running or delivering the ball to one of the five eligible receivers without throwing the ball forward, with the intent to move the ball forward. Passing plays involve the quarterback throwing forward to one of the five eligible receivers. Note that a forward pass can be caught behind the line of scrimmage as long as the ball moved forward from the passer's current position, and that a handoff or pitch can be completed in front of the line of scrimmage as long as the ball moves laterally or backwards. Attempting to throw or hand the ball forward from beyond the line of scrimmage is illegal, as is throwing the ball forward more than once per down, or the defense throwing the ball forward for any reason. Backward and lateral passes, however, are always legal.
The typical ways to score are (see the terms section below for further details)
Touchdown: The primary form of scoring in football. Occurs when a team advances the ball beyond its opponent's goal line. They are worth 6 points.
PAT or Conversion Attempt: After scoring a touchdown, the scoring team is given the opportunity to score more points. The ball is placed two or three yards from the defending team's goal line and the scoring team attempts one of two possible plays.
Point After Touchdown, or PAT: Attempt a placekick or dropkicknote dropping the ball to the ground and kicking it after it has touched the ground, but don't be surprised if you've never seen a dropkick PAT attempted; the technique fell into disuse decades ago through the upright goal at the back of the endzone for one extra point. As such, it's often simply called "the extra point". The defense will attempt to block the PAT kick, but it is extremely difficult to do so. It is also possible for the kicker to miss the PAT, but due to the very short range required, this is likewise infrequent. Teams will opt for a PAT kick the vast majority of the time, thus a "touchdown" usually entails scoring 7 points total.
Two-point conversion: Make a single offensive play 3 yards away from the endzone. Reaching the endzone gives another two points (for a total of 8). note In the event of a turnover, the play ends in the NFL. In college, the defender can score two points for his team if he carries it ALL the way back to the other end zone. Very rare—it requires a fumble or an interception followed by a roughly 100 yard dash, carrying the ball with 11 angry men in pursuit. Although some teams have very high two-point conversion success rates, the general success rate is 40-55%, compared to the PAT's success rate of 98-99%. As a result, teams rarely try for a two-point conversion, unless they are coming back from a large deficit, they can gain some strategic advantage late in the game, or they want to go for a win in regulation. At the high school level and below, the two-point conversion is more common, because some teams simply don't have anybody who can kick with even marginal accuracy. It's basically unheard of for any college team, and completely unheard of for any professional team, to lack a kicker who can reliably kick the PAT.
Field Goal: Kick the ball through the upright goal placed past the opponent's end-zone for 3 points. Used instead of a punt if the team thinks they're close enough to make it (or desperate).note The longest successful Field Goal in professional football is 64 yards, by Matt Prater of the Denver Broncos. This is generally considered outside the range of the average kicker, making it quite a feat. The ball can touch any part of the 2 uprights and lower crossbar that form the goalpost on a field goal kick, as long as it passes over and through them before hitting the ground. Like a PAT kick, the defense will contest the kick (attempt to block it), and it can be caught on the fly or recovered like a live fumble if it is blocked backwards at the line of scrimmage. Unlike a punt, a missed field goal gives the opponents the ball from the spot of the kick, making it risky at long range. Another consideration is that long field goals that don't leave the field of play can be returned like punts.
Although exceedingly rare, it is also possible to score a field goal during any play by dropkick as well. Due to football's rules of possession, however, it is generally tactically unsound to use this technique. Additionally, the shape of the ball itself makes this much more difficult than in rugby where the drop kick rules originated.
Also exceedingly rare, a field goal can be opted for from the spot of a fair catch on a punt, which is called a "fair catch kick". Line-up rules are similar to a "free kick" (see safety below), but someone can hold the ball like a field goal or PAT attempt. This rule exists in the NFL (where it hasn't succeeded since 1976, and has only been attempted seven times since then) and high school, but not in college.
Safety: A somewhat rare but humiliating situation where an offensive player has possession of the ball in his own end zone and is either tackled, steps out-of-bounds or another offensive player commits a penalty while trying to prevent either from happening. The defensive team scores 2 points and gets the ball (the safetied team kicks the ball to them).note This situation is technically called a "free kick", as is the kickoff after a touchdown or field goal. However, the free kick following a safety has one major difference from other free kicks. After a touchdown or field goal, the ball must be kicked off a tee (sometimes, if winds are high enough, another player will have to hold the ball on the tee). After a safety, the kicker may either kick from a tee or punt, beginning with the ball in his hands. Most free kicks after safeties are punts because their higher trajectory allows better coverage for the kicking team.
Note to fans of The Beautiful Game: This is basically the same thing as an own goal, only not quite as humiliating. Except when it's an accidental safety (as in the quarterback steps out of bounds in the end zone on his own rather than being tackled or forced out by the defense; Dan Orlovsky infamously did this while playing for the Detroit Lions in their 0-16 2008 season, in a game that was ultimately lost by 2 points); that is as humiliating as an own goal.
In certain rare situations, a team may intentionally allow a safety to be scored. This may be done for a variety of reasons:
To gain field position (by kicking off from the 20 yard line rather than punting from the end zone),
To manage the game clock (by running out the last few seconds of the game, as happened in Super Bowl XLVII), or
To prevent something worse from happening (the offense loses control of the ball in its own end zone, then downs the ball or swats it out of bounds to prevent the defense from taking possession and scoring a touchdown)
However, safeties are more often the result of an offensive failure or a player getting confused and running the wrong way with the ball. Only a few safeties are seen each season, and intentional safeties only occur once every few years; they are far more common in Canadian Football, where field position is more important (since in Canadian ball a team gets three downs rather than four and many more points are scored in general).
Then there's the extremely strange one point safety. At the pro level, this is only possible if a team tries for a two point conversion, drops the ball and the defending team knocks the ball out of the end zone (presumably to prevent the offense from picking up the ball in the end-zone for two points). At the college level, it's also possible if the defending team blocks a PAT, recovers it, and then either fumbles through the end zone or gets tackled after backing up into it. This has happened twice in Division 1 play, the most recent time (the 2013 Fiesta Bowl) resulting in the referee beginning his announcement of the result with "On the previous play, we have an unusual ruling," correctly judging that he was one of the few people familiar with the rule.
Here's a breakdown of each position
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Quarterback: This player will touch the ball on nearly every offensive play. The role of the quarterback is to hand off the ball to an eligible receiver or pass the ball. Occasionally, the quarterback will run with the ball himself; some offensive systems use quarterback runs more than others. The mobile quarterback has become more prevalent in the NFL in recent years, but has been a staple of the high school and college game for decades. At the beginning of the play, the quarterback stands either directly under (behind) the center (a quarter of the way back from the offensive line, relative to the rest of the formation, hence the name quarterback), or seven yards behind the center. The latter formation is called "shotgun." A variation of the shotgun formation where the quaterback lines up 4 yards from the center is called the "pistol." As a result of nearly always being the preeminent decision-making player on a team's offense (the recent "Wildcat" formation notwithstanding), a quarterback is usually considered The Ace in the popular consciousness, and "QBs" generally receive an out-sized portion of attention from the media and fans. This is good news for the quarterback when the team is winning. It is bad news when the team is not. The all-time leading passer in NFL history is Brett Favre. He has played for the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, and Minnesota Vikings.
The running backs, often subdivided further into halfback, or tailback and fullback roles (while they remain distinct roles, the names no longer accurately describe the differences). The halfback is usually the team's primary rusher - in other words, most of the team's running plays will involve him in some way. As such, he's usually the more agile of the two backs. Halfbacks are also expected to block on passing plays and occasionally act as a receiver. The fullback is typically larger and is primarily used for blocking and short-range pass catching, but will run occasionally, especially when only a few yards are needed. Both can also be used as targets in the passing game. The fullback will usually (ironically) line up behind the quarterback, with the halfback behind him. Running backs of any type tend to have shorter careers than quarterbacks and wide receivers, as the position is physically demanding and more prone to injuries - as a result, it is becoming more common for teams to rotate and make liberal use of two and sometimes three different running backs. At the professional level, it is becoming less common for teams to have a dedicated fullback on the roster, such teams often substituting another halfback or a tight end to assume the roll of fullback on the handful of plays that might require one. The all-time leading rusher in the NFL is Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals. Notable halfbacks of the past include LaDainian Tomlinson, Walter Payton, and Barry Sanders. Current stars at the position include Adrian Peterson (a Jack-of-All-Stats that has been at or near the top of the rushing leaderboard nearly every season of his career, and in the 2012 season came just barely short of the setting the single-season NFL rushing record despite having ACL surgery, which usually puts a player on the shelf for a year or more, less than 8 months prior to the start of the season), Chris Johnson (had a 2,000-yard rushing season a few years ago, but has also showed signs of being a Fragile Speedster, and Maurice Jones-Drew, famous for his production and durability in relation to his height - or lack thereof, standing at just over 5'6". Notable fullbacks in football history include Jim Brown (although he was primarily a running fullback, with minimal blocking duties), Mike Alstott, Lorenzo Neal, and Daryl Johnston.
The wide receivers are the primary targets in the passing game. Before the play starts, they usually stand at the line of scrimmage a good distance away from ("wide" of) the nearest offensive tackle. Most offensive formations include at least two of them on the field; some will feature as many as five. Their job is to catch the ball or block for a running back. The all-time leading receiver in the NFL is Jerry Rice of the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, and Denver Broncos (his records include most career receiving yards, most career catches, most career all-purpose yards and most career touchdown catches).
Wide receiver, by virtue of its role in the offense, has a number of current and former stars - included in the most consistent high-level performers of today are the current most single-season yards record holder Calvin Johnson, whose size (6'6", 230+), speed (can run 40 yards in under 4.4 seconds) and leaping ability make him an almost-literal Real LifeGame Breaker (to the point that his nickname is actually Megatron), who in 2012 came just shy of 2,000 receiving yards and broke Jerry Rice's single-season record; Andre Johnson, who has put up nearly equally insane statistics while being a prime target on a largely mediocre team for his entire career; and Larry Fitzgerald.
The offensive line consists of five players: one center (the center of the line, expected to assign blocking schemes to the rest of the line and usually snaps the ball to the quarterback), two guards (who line up to either side of the center), and two tackles (who line up to either side of the guards). Their job is to block for the offensive backs - in other words, prevent the other defense from getting to the backs. This includes both pass blocking by simply diverting the defense from reaching the quarterback, and run blocking, where the linemen actively create running routes for the backs. The backs include anyone behind the line of scrimmage at the beginning of the play and usually include the quarterback, between zero and three running backs, and a tight end or wide receiver (there must be seven players on and four players behind the line for an offensive formation to be legal). The center's job is also to snap the ball to the quarterback. Offensive linemen are ineligible to touch a forward pass before another member of the offense or defense and cannot move more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage (in the NFL they may not move past the "neutral zone", area defined by the distance between the tips of the ball before the ball is snapped) before the ball passes them (unless the offensive team publicly declares otherwise). Offensive lineman generally only touch the ball on fumbles, but there are a very few plays that have a tackle as an eligible receiver. Probably the best known center in recent years is Jeff Saturday, who retired after the 2012 season; he spent most of his career hiking the ball to Peyton Manning for the Indianapolis Colts and played his final season with the Green Bay Packers. The Baltimore Ravens' Michael Oher, of The Blind Side fame, is an offensive lineman (the term "the blind side", in football, refers to the side of the field that the quarterback is not facing when he turns to make a pass or a handoff; thus the offensive line position protecting that side - generally the tackle, Oher's position - is key to a successful offensive line.) In most cases (including Oher's) it's the the left tackle who plays this key role, as most quarterbacks (as with most of the general population) are right-handed (notable exceptions to that rule include Michael Vick and Tim Tebow.)
The tight end usually lines up alongside or offset from the offensive line (in other words, they line up tight on the ends of the offensive line). Tight ends are often used to block and were originally intended solely for that role, but are eligible receivers and most passing plays are now designed with the tight end as an option. Any given play may have anywhere from 0 to 4 tight ends. Some famous recent tight ends are Shannon Sharpe, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten (currently the top receiver from the Dallas Cowboys, beating out all the actual wide receivers), Antonio Gates, and Rob Gronkowski, who in 2011 obliterated virtually every single season record ever posted at the position.
There is also an increasing trend of using H-backs (hybrid-back), players who can both fill the tight end and fullback roles. (An H-Back is more of a skill set rather than a designated position. During any given play an H-Back will act as either a full back or a tight end though due to pre-snap motion their role on the given play may be faked to the opposing defense) Chris Cooley, formerly of the Washington Redskins, was a prototypical H-back.
note Technically, there are no officially required positions, or for that matter formations, on the defensive side as there are on the offensive. The position names have simply developed through the years to describe the most efficient methods thus far found to succeed at their task of preventing the offense from scoring.
The defensive line consists of between two and five linemen, depending on what package is being used. Most defensive packages use three or four: one or two tackles in the middle and two ends. Their goal is primarily to muck up whatever the offensive line is trying to do: If they're trying to clear a hole for a run, it's their job to plug it and if possible tackle the runner. If they're trying to protect the quarterback, it's the D-Line's job to get past them and, if possible, sack the quarterback. Alternatively, the defensive line can be used to open up holes in the offensive line to allow other defensive players like linebackers and safeties to have a run at the quarterback or running back. In a 3-4 defense (when there are only 3 linemen), the single tackle is known as the "nose tackle" and lines up directly in front of the center, whose typical job is to drive the center back into the quarterback. A good nose tackle is a top commodity, as they need to be both big and fast. Some recent famous defensive linemen are Michael Strahan, Jared Allen, Dwight Freeney, Ndamukong Suh, and J.J. Watt.
The linebackers are two to four players who line up behind the defensive linemen (named because they back the defensive line). Linebackers are generally the most versatile players on the defense and can be used to rush the quarterback, support the run defense, or cover slower receivers like backs or tight ends. Typically, a middle linebacker is the playcaller for the defense (sometimes called the "quarterback of the defense", not to be confused with a seventh defensive back in the "quarter" package; see below), as this position has a good view of the offense's formation and his location at the center of the defensive formation makes it easier for all the other defenders to hear him. The linebackers are known informally as the Mike (and Moe or Jack in a four-backer set) for inside linebackers and Will and Sam for the weakside and strongside (the side of the offensive line with the tight end) linebackers. The second number in the common naming system for defense (ex: 4-3 has 4 defensive linemen and 3 linebackers, while the 3-4 has 3 and 4, respectively.) Among the best recent linebackers in football are Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis, Brian Urlacher, DeMarcus Ware, and James Harrison.
Defensive backs: There are usually four or five backs on the field for most plays, though defense packages exist that include as many as seven. The four that are on the field at most times include two cornerbacks (line up on the outsides or corners of the defense, usually against the top two wide receivers), a strong safety (who lines up on the same side as the offense's tight end - hence its "strong" side), and a free safety. The defensive backs collectively are often referred to as the secondary. Their job is primarily to cover wide receivers and stop the pass, but they will occasionally be used to assist in the pass rush or run defense. The fifth defensive back in a play that uses them is referred to as the "nickel" back (because he would be the fifth defensive back on the field), the sixth is called the "dime", and the seventh is a "quarter" (which may cause some confusion). Some excellent defensive backs of the recent past include Deion Sanders, Charles Woodson, and Darrelle Revis.
The placekicker attempts to kick field goals and extra points, for which the ball is snapped to another offensive player who then holds it to the ground (places it) for the kicker (unless the kicker is named Charlie Brown). Some teams employ two kickers, in which case one handles the above duties and one is a kickoff specialist who kicks the ball off of a tee to the other team at the start of play and after scores. Most teams have one kicker who handles both duties due to limited roster space. (A few teams have the punter double as the kickoff specialist instead.) Traditionally, holding the kick was the job of the quarterback, but this has changed in recent years (Tony Romo of the Cowboys is one of the few starting QB's who still does this) and it is most typically the punter who handles the placementnote this is due to practicalities of the practice schedule and roster rules. Because playbooks are so large in the NFL both the starting quarterback and backup quarterback are required to study and practice the plays the offense will be running during the game. If there is a third quarterback on the team he cannot take the field unless the starter and backup have both been ruled ineligible (injured or unable to play) for the remainder of the game. This makes it impractical to have the quarterback-skilled player receiving the snap and there is a small danger involved in handling the snaps if the QB's hand accidentally gets kicked. Finally, the special teams players are usually left to their own to practice kicks so the punter gets the most practice in holding the football for placekicks The most accurate kicker in NFL history is a tie between Nate Kaeding of the San Diego Chargers and Mike Vanderjagt of the Indianapolis Colts. Kickers are known for longevity; since they get defensively hit on plays only maybe about a few times a year they can go deep into their forties before retirement; Morten Andersen didn't retire until he was age 48.
The punter is used when one team wishes to trade a change of possession for improved field position. The punter receives the snap himself and kicks the ball (without letting it touch the ground) toward the other team's defended goal. While the kicking team can recover a kickoff without the receiving team touching the ball, the kicking team cannot recover a punt without an error on the part of the receiving team; if the punted ball touches any member of the receiving team and is not held onto, it is counted as a fumble (even if never touched the hands of the receiving player, which on rare occasions results in an amusing event like the ball bouncing off a receiving player's helmet and into the hands of a kicking-team player). While rare, sometimes the same player acts as both the placekicker and the punter. Like placekickers, punters tend to have long careers, as they're rarely hit. The punter with the longest average in NFL history is Shane Lechler of the Oakland Raiders. While it's become significantly less common, quarterbacks still will sometimes be called on to punt; this is known as a "quick kick". In the modern game, this is a mild form of trick play in which the team fakes going for it on fourth down, then the quarterback punts the ball away with nobody deep to return it.
Most teams also employ a long snapper who handles snapping duties for placekicks and punts, due to long snaps being different enough from standard shotgun snaps to be difficult for centers. He's the football version of Nobody Loves the Bassist. Most fans don't know that most teams use a specialized long snapper - and if they do, they probably can't name one who hasn't screwed up recently.
While most teams use a receiver or defensive back to return kicks, some teams employ a return specialist, a player nominally assigned to a standard position whose primary duties are to return kickoffs and punts, and occasionally cover the opponents' returns. Devin Hester, currently with the Chicago Bears, is the most successful return specialist in NFL history; New Orleans Saints return specialist Darren Sproles holds the single-season record for all-purpose yardage; and Cleveland Browns return specialist Josh Cribbs holds the all-time mark for most return touchdowns (8 PR touchdowns and 3 KR touchdowns, including 2 KR touchdowns in one game).
Teams also have players called gunners, who are called on to run down as fast as possible on punt and kickoff coverage to break up possible returns. The position developed because of an NFL rule stating that only the two players on either end of the offensive line can cross the line of scrimmage during a punt play before the ball is kicked. The gunners, who are almost always backup receivers, running backs, or defensive backs, must be fast and able to shed blocks, as they will usually have one or two players on the receiving team trying to block them as they go down the field. If a gunner is not covered by the receiving team, he may be the target for a pass off a fake punt. In the Pro Bowl (NFL all-star game), the "special teams" position is specifically used to recognize outstanding gunners. By acclamation, the best gunner in NFL history is Steve Tasker, who made the Pro Bowl seven times with the Buffalo Bills and was even named the game's MVP in 1993.
Finally, here are some terms you might want to know
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Down: A play. (So named because a play usually ends when the ball carrier is tackled, i.e. forced down to the ground.) For a legal series, the offense has four tries to move the ball ten yards. If the offense moves the ball far enough, then the down series starts back over and it's first down again. If the offense runs out of downs, possession is turned over at the final position of the ball. As a result, teams treat fourth downs very conservatively and will usually either punt the ball or try for a field goal if they are at a reasonable range. "Going for it" on fourth down is only done when the first down is more strategically valuable than the turnover is detrimental, or the team is desperate for points or field position.
Downs are usually called out as "Nth and X", where N is the number of the down (4th is sometimes replaced with "last") and X is the number of advanced yards required to start the down count over: "2nd and 7", for example, means the offense is on its second try to move the ball ten yards away from where the first down took off, and their current play must move the ball 7 yards forward in order to restart the down count. If the ball is downed within the ten yards approaching the Goal Line, the downs are then called as "Nth and Goal", as there is no first down to gain, and the team must score to avoid turning it over.
In situations where less than a whole yard remains to convert, the play will commonly be called out as "Nth and short" or possibly "Nth and inches", whereas plays requiring large yardage gains may be called out as "Nth and long". Yards lost as a result of a play or penalty are added on to the distance required to convert the first down, so a team that loses 5 yards on a 1st-and-10 play (with no penalty involved) will face 2nd and 15 on their next play.
During the game, officials on the sidelines employ a pair of large orange sticks connected by a 10-yard length measuring chain to mark the distance required for a new first down. These officials are known colloquially as "the chain gang". Occasionally, they will be called out onto the field itself to measure the final position of the ball when a play is too close to call by the referee's eye alone. Thus a common slang term for converting is "moving the chains". A play series that is particularly unproductive is often called a "three and out", meaning the offense used their first 3 downs and netted so little yardage (or negative yardage) that their only realistic option is to burn the 4th down by punting the ball away and getting off the field.
On television, the line to the first down is marked virtually with a yellow or white line called the "1st & Ten" line. However, it is merely for fan and analyst reference only; referees are disallowed from using the technology to make a ruling and the orange marking pad on the ground and down chains are used for measurements. Even then, the virtual line is somewhat inaccurate as natural camera wobble can throw it off a few inches.
Line of Scrimmage: This is the line where the ball is placed at the beginning of each play. If the ball carrier is tackled behind it, they lose yardage. On television, it is often virtually projected on the field as a white or blue line.
Neutral Zone: the space between the teams before the ball is snapped that is as long as the ball from tip to tip. Neither team is allowed to be in that area until the ball is snapped and ineligible receivers are not allowed to proceed past this area during passing plays until the ball is past them.
Snap: The moment when the Center lifts the football off its place on the ground and a play officially begins. Immediately prior to the snap, the entire offensive team must freeze in place for one second, except for one member of the offensive backfield who is allowed to be in lateral motion.
Line to Gain: This line initially begins 10 yards from the line of scrimmage at the beginning of each down series. If the offense moves the ball beyond it, they've achieved a new series of downs. On television, it is virtually projected on the field as a yellow line (red on fourth down, unless the team lines up to punt in which case the TV broadcasters rarely bother to change the color).
Goal Line: These are lines at both ends of the 100-yard football field. If a team moves the ball past its opponent's goal line it scores a touchdown. If the ball carrier gets pushed back behind his own goal line and tackled then the defense scores a safety.
End Zone: The area behind each goal line which is legally within the bounds of play. In American Football, the end zones are ten yards deep.
Lateral Pass: Or simply "lateral". Any exchange in which the ball is transferred laterally or behind the ball's current position. A lateral is legal at any time, between any two players. Handoffs are considered lateral passes. An incomplete lateral pass is live and considered a fumble. Other than handoffs, laterals are usually not scripted into a play. Sometimes, they are part of a play - like in instances where someone other than the quarterback throws a forward pass. Every once in a blue moon, you'll see a designed lateral happen after a reception - resulting in miracle plays like this one. In theory, the number of times a ballhandling unit can do this with a live ball is unlimited - which can result in insane/controversial plays that go down in college/pro football lore like thesehere.
Forward Pass: Any exchange in which the ball is transferred to a point in front of its current position. A forward pass is illegal after the ball or passer has advanced beyond the line of scrimmage (even if one or both retreats behind again), a forward pass has already been attempted this down (even if, by some circumstance, the ball didn't cross the line of scrimmage, which can happen if the ball deflects off of a hand or helmet), or if an ineligible offensive player touches the ball before an eligible player. An incomplete forward pass kills the play and stops the clock with no change of possession. A legal pass also must have a clear intended receiver, that is, there must be an eligible player that the passer was trying to throw the ball to. If an official believes that an incompletion was thrown blindly by the passer simply to avoid being tackled with it, an "intentional grounding" penalty may be called. This is a very serious penalty that results in the loss of 10 yards (or down at the spot the pass was thrown from, whichever is greater) and a loss of a down. One of the skills of a seasoned quarterback when a pass play has failed is to always throw just close enough to an eligible player that he won't be penalized, but also just far enough away that it's out of range of a defensive player to intercept. Intentional grounding can be avoided if the quarterback is no longer behind his offensive line; in this case, the ball can be thrown almost anywhere for simply an incomplete pass (as long as it crosses the line of scrimmage). However, this can be as dangerous as intentional grounding since a quarterback in this situation no longer has his linemen to protect him and generally can see far less of the field. General practice in this case is to throw the ball far forward and out-of-bounds, or out the back of the end zone if inside the "red zone".
Red Zone: The area between the end zone and 20 yard line of the opposing team. So called because the offensive team has a very high chance of scoring at least a field goal, if not a touchdown, when they have reached this point. Having a play series end in the red zone with no points scored is generally considered to be a significant failure. Having it happen repeatedly is usually a sign of an inept offense or extremely tough defense.
Penalties: Officials carry weighted yellow flags and throw them onto the field to indicate that a violation of the rules occurred during the preceding play. The violating team will then be penalized by moving the line of scrimmage 5-15 yards towards their goal for the following play. Some offensive penalties will also carry a loss of down, as opposed to a replay of the current down. Some defensive penalties also carry an automatic first down for the offense; that is, the offense is awarded a new down series from the reset line of scrimmage, no matter whether the penalized yards would move the line of scrimmage beyond the line to gain. Some penalties are "spot fouls", meaning that they're assessed as a distance from the spot of the foul instead of from the line of scrimmage, making them particularly devestating to the offending team. Technical fouls usually carry 5- or 10- yard penalties, while personal fouls always carry 15-yard penalties (and an automatic first down for defensive personal fouls). Particularly egregious fouls result in ejection (unlike in the other football, the player can be replaced); this is almost always followed by a hefty fine, and sometimes suspension for a period of time (with corresponding loss of salary). Note that most penalties are imposed in place of the results of the live play, so the team receiving the penalty has the option to decline the penalty in favor of the result. This is intended to prevent intentional penalties that would negate plays with large yardage swings. Personal Fouls, however, always add yardage to the end of the play. As well, certain situations (such as a penalty committed during a PAT) allow the offended team to assess the penalty in any number of additional ways (for example, during the ensuing kickoff rather than on the PAT). There are also 'dead-ball' fouls, pre-snap procedural penalties that always negate the following play. Offsetting penalties always negate each other, no matter if there is a difference of degree. To avoid deliberate penalties near the end of games (trading yards for clock stoppages), offensive penalties in the last minute of a half include a clock runoff. These flags used to be weighted with BBs, but the practice ceased when a referee accidentally threw a flag into the face of a lineman, nearly blinding the player in one eye.
Especially egregious offenses (such as an inactive player or even in one infamous instance a coach leave the sideline to interfere with a play) can also fall under "palpably unfair acts", which is exceptionally rare but allows the referee to award any yardage penalty he sees fit, eject the offender, and/or award an automatic touchdown to the other team. The palpably unfair act penalty was created for instances when the team committing the foul would gain such an extreme advantage that the standard yardage penalty would be insufficient to deter such behavior. Essentially, anyone who commits an infraction severe enough to require this penalty can be seen as having outright cheated rather than having just committed a normal infraction.
Formation: A standardized pre-snap lineup. Seven players (the linemen plus two eligible receivers) must be on the line of scrimmage and the four remaining eligible receivers must be behind the line (one of whom takes the snap, naturally). The standard NFL set, known as the 'I' formation includes one tight end on the right side of the offensive line; one split end, a receiver on the left side of the line, but separated from the linemen; a flanker on the right side, separated and one yard back; the quarterback under center; and the fullback and halfback two and four yards behind him, respectively. All formations can be varied by changing the placement or position of the offensive backs and line receivers.
Shotgun: A formation in which the quarterback lines up five yards behind the center. In the standard shotgun, a running back lines up to the quarterback's left and one yard forward and the other running back is replaced with a slot receiver, a receiver lined up between the line and the split end, one yard behind the line of scrimmage.
Pistol: A variant of the shotgun, in which the quarterback stands about a yard closer to the center, with a running back lined up about three yards directly behind him. The formation, popularized by former University of Nevada, Reno head coach Chris Ault, is designed to allow more options for the running game than the regular shotgun. Although it is seen as something of a gimmick at the highest levels, it can be seen from time to time in college and high school, and a few NFL teams will occasionally use it. One notable example of an NFL ream that includes the pistol in its offensive package is the San Francisco 49ers, whose current quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran that offense at Nevada.
Ace or Singleback: Any set in which the fullback is replaced with an extra wide receiver or tight end. This results in only one running back in the backfield, hence the term.
Pro: A set in which the fullback and the halfback (or two halfbacks, or two fullbacks) line up at the same depth from the quarterback. A standard Pro set have the backs line up on either side of where the halfback would normally go. Some formations have one of the backs line up in the standard halfback position, and are called "Near" and "Far" depending on which side the other back goes; "Near" if the back is on the strong side, and "Far" if the back is on the weak side.
Wishbone: Take the standard Pro set, subtract the tide end or a wide receiver, and add the fullback in his standard position. An Inverted Wishbone instead takes the standard pro set and moves it to fullback depth (with two fullbacks or tight ends in the backfield), then adds a halfback at the normal halfback spot, usually replacing a wide receiver.
Wildcat: A nonstandard (at higher levels) formation wherein the quarterback, usually a nonstarter or a player out of position, lines up in shotgun position and one man always begins in motion. The formation is designed to spread the defense and allow option runs and short passes over the middle. It is generally considered a gimmick at the highest levels, but it is a high-school staple and a small number of NFL teams will use it from time to time.
Play Action: This is the most common type of trick play, wherein the quarterback pretends to hand the ball off to a teammate behind the line of scrimmage, then attempts a forward pass. While it does often successfully fake out a defense, it's so commonplace that it's barely even thought of as a trick play.
Draw: Sort of the inverse of a play action, this is a run play disguised as a pass play. The quarterback usually drops back and waits a moment before handing the ball off (or running it himself). Meanwhile, wide receivers will run routes downfield in an attempt to "draw" defensive backs away from the line of scrimmage to give his teammate room to run. If the quarterback fakes a throw (called a pump fake) before handing the ball off, this is called a Statue of Liberty play, due to the pose the quarterback assumes when faking the throw.
Screen: A short pass play disguised as a botched longer pass play. After the snap, the offensive lineman make a token attempt to block the defense, but then allow them through and run to the sidelines. The defensive linemen (hopefully) see the defenseless quarterback and chase him, whereupon he lofts a shallow pass to an eligible receiver set up behind those same offensive linemen. Like the Play Action, it started out as a trick play but has become so standard that it's no longer really thought of as such.
Shovel Pass: a short pass where the quarterback doesn't throw using his full motion or is thrown underhand. More rarely, it might be thrown sidearm, or flipped using a motion similar to that of a basketball shot (but from a lower angle).
Option: A type of play in which the quarterback receives the snap, then tries to run to the left or right around the line of scrimmage, accompanied by a running back. At any point the quarterback has the "option" of keeping the ball and advancing himself or tossing a lateral to the running back. There are various types of option plays, but the most popular today involves the quarterback and running back. The option is a very popular play among teams up to the Division I-A level, and many of these teams treat the option as central to their offense (Nebraska was famous for using a run-oriented option offense into the early 2000s). In the NFL, the option is seen as a novelty play, and is used rarely because the quarterback risks injury and option plays tend to be relatively slow-developing, which is a lot more problematic in the NFL since defenses tend to be much faster than at lower levels.
Spread Option: A more modern form of the option offense, usually run out of a shotgun or pistol formation. The initial "option" in this offense involves the quarterback deciding whether to keep the ball or hand it to the running back. If the QB still has the ball at this point, he then has the choice of running or passing, or sometimes pitching to a receiver circling behind him. In the 21st century, the spread option has become a staple for many teams up to college level, with Ohio State and Oregon being just two of the best-known users of that scheme. In college, it's largely evolved away from being an "option" at all (many schools refer to it as the "Spread Offense"), with the decision of run or pass already having been made before the ball is snapped, but the formation being basically the same on both running and passing plays. In the NFL, it's largely seen as a gimmick, although some teams have added it as a part of their overall offensive package.
Hail Mary: A play in which the quarterback avoids the defense for as long as possible, then throws the ball high in the air as far as possible, in the hopes that someone (on his team) will catch it. Obviously not a high-percentage play, this is used late in games when the offensive team is down by a touchdown or less. Doug Flutie, a quarterback who later went on to have moderate success with the NFL's Buffalo Bills, is still famous for completing a Hail Mary pass to narrowly lead his Boston College team to victory over Miami in 1984. The term itself stems from a 1975 pass by Dallas Cowboys quarterback and devout Catholic Roger Staubach; prior to that historic moment, the same play was called an Alley Oop. The terms "Hail Mary" and "Hail Mary pass" have since entered the American lexicon for any spectacular, last-ditch effort with a low chance of success.
Flea Flicker: A trick play in which the ball is handed off (or pitched) to a running back, who begins to run only to throw the ball back to the quarterback, who then targets receivers who are by now far downfield. An all-or-nothing play that nearly always results in big gains, big losses...or worse. The infamous 1985 Lawrence Taylor hit on Joe Theismann, which resulted in a career-ending compound fracture to Theismann's leg, came on a botched flea flicker. A simplified version, the "Halfback Option", has the running back simply throw to a receiver downfield himself.
Taking a Knee: Also sometimes known as the "victory formation" because of how common it is to secure victory, taking a knee is where the quarterback takes the snap and immediately drops to one knee. By the rules, this is counted as downing the ball, and the clock will continue to run short of the opposing team taking a time-out or some other circumstance. It is very common at the ends of games where one team has victory locked up and just wants to run out the clock (for example, if they lead by 4 points with less than a minute to go with the other team having no timeouts remaining). In the standard formation, there are three people in the backfield besides the quarterback- their only job is to grab the ball in the event of a bad snap. This formation came about after "The Miracle at the Meadowlands", a game that also led to universal acceptance of the kneel-down play after a botched handoff while attempting to run out the clock on the final play resulted in a fumble run back by the defense for a touchdown.
Spiking the Ball: The opposite of taking a knee, spiking the ball occurs when you need to stop the clock as quickly as possible. Spiking the ball generally involves the offense moving to the line as quickly as they possibly can, snapping it, and immediately throwing it into the ground. This counts as an incomplete pass, since there are receivers in the area. Doing so immediately stops the clock. It is generally used near the ends of halves when one team doesn't have- or doesn't want to waste- any timeouts. A more interesting play is faking spiking the ball, which generally catches the defense off-guard and allows open receivers to get into position to catch the ball.
No-Huddle Offense: A tactic used by the offense in which they to rush into formation to begin play immediately after their last without going into a huddle, with the plays called at the line. This is normally done when a team must score and time is running out (in which case it is often called a "hurry-up" offense), but can also be used to wear down the opposing defense by giving them little time to make changes to their formation or substitutions, leaving them with personnel on the field not suited for what the offense is doing and possibly forcing the defensive team to use a timeout. Due to the frequent use of this during the final minutes of the game, the "hurry-up" version is sometimes called the "two-minute offense". Some teams are known for running a no-huddle offense for most if not all of the game, most notably the Oregon Ducks in college football, and the Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints in the NFL. While, as noted, this tends to wear down an opposing defense, the risk incurred is that it gives your own defense less time to rest when the offense is on the field. The Denver Broncos (via Peyton Manning) run a slower version of the no-huddle by rushing to the line...then wait to snap the ball until either the defense attempts a substitution (incurring a penalty in the process), or until the play clock is down to a few seconds (forcing the defenders to hold their positions for a very long time, which they would be less used to than their offensive counterparts).
Tackle: A defensive player can end a play by forcing the ball carrier to the ground, forcing the ball carrier out of bounds, or halting his forward momentum to the satisfaction of the nearest official. If any part of the carrier's body from the knees or elbows inward touches the ground, it's enough to end the play, so long as an opposing player is touching him when it happens or the ball carrier went down as a result of contact with a defender (ie if a defender pushes the ball carrier and the carrier falls to his knees, he's down even if the defender is no longer touching him when he falls). Having a hand, forearm, foot, or lower leg touch the ground isn't enough.
If the ball carrier falls on his own or catches a pass while on the ground and his knee, elbow and/or body touches the ground, he is not tackled until a defender touches him. If he manages to get back up before any defenders arrive, the play continues. At the college and high school levels, on the other hand, the player is down if he falls even without being touched. This typically results in a tackle being credited to whichever defender was closest to the ball carrier. NFL rookies occasionally forget about this rule difference, resulting in defenders missing opportunities to down a fallen ball carrier or a ball carrier being too slow to get up and run for extra yardage.
Package / Alignment: The terms "package" and "alignment" refer to the configuration of defenders on the field. The distinction between the two is a bit hazy, since as we noted above, defensive positions are assigned by custom rather than by rule. In general, though, terms like "4-3" and "nickel" carry about the same meaning as association football's "4-4-2". It specifies where the players are, but only gives you a rough idea of what they'll do.
Nickel: A defensive package designed for passing plays wherein one lineman or linebacker is replaced with either a third cornerback or a weak safety. The term comes from the US five-cent coin, called a nickel. Similarly, there exist 'dime' and 'quarter' packages which substitute in six or seven backs, respectively. Dime is increasingly rare and quarter is almost never seen anymore outside of the prevent defense. With the proliferation of pass-oriented spread offenses in college football in recent years, the nickel has become the base defense for some teams, with TCU being one notable example.
Sack: A sack occurs when a defensive player tackles the opposing quarterback while behind the line of scrimmage on a passing play. Perhaps paradoxically, for stat-keeping reasons, the quarterback is considered to have lost yardage on a running play when this happens, and the existence of plays like the play action mean that even a failed quarterback run attempt will be credited as a sack. Forcing a quarterback to run out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage also counts as a sack. If any other player is tackled behind the line of scrimmage, it's simply referred to as being tackled "for a loss of X [yards]".
Turnover: A change of ball possession without the intent of the offense. This generally takes place in two ways, a fumble recovery or an interception.
Interception: An interception occurs when a defensive player catches a pass intended for an offensive player. This changes possession of the football and the defensive player is free to advance the football. Unlike offensive linemen, all defensive players may legally intercept a pass. Alternately/colloquially may be called a "pick" or "pick-off" of the pass, or a "pick 6" if the interception is returned for a touchdown and six points.
Fumble: A fumble occurs when the ball carrier drops the football while it is still in play. A wide receiver who does not catch his pass does not fumble; a fumble only occurs if the player had definite possession of the ball. If the defense is able to recover the football before the offense does, then the football changes possession. A ball fumbled out of bounds reverts to the offense at the spot where it crossed the sideline. Unless it's fumbled through the opposing team's end zone, in which case it's a touchback.
Note that defensive players can advance any fumble, but offensive players cannot advance a ball fumbled forward from behind the line of scrimmage. This rule exists to prevent a specific trick play called a fumblerooski, in which a ballcarrier "accidentally" fumbles the ball forward to another player, getting around the rule against forward passes. The fumblerooski was banned for being too "undignified" (advancing a forward fumble was banned in the 1960s by the NFL, but it survived until 1992 in college), but on rare occasions modified versions are used that get around the ban by methods such a backwards bounce-pass or the center intentionally fumbling the snap (neither of which is a forward fumble).
Another fumble trick was the infamous Holy Roller of 1978, in which the Raiders' quarterback fumbled the ball forward as he was about to be sacked, causing the ball to roll toward the end zone, and then two other Raiders batted it forward into the end zone where one recovered it for a touchdown. This was ruled legal on the field because the officials couldn't tell if the fumble and the batting forward of the ball were intentional. The players involved all admitted that it was a deliberate fumble and that they only pretended to attempt to recover it prior to the ball reaching the end zone. This evasion of the "advancing a forward fumble" rule resulted in further restrictions on advancing a fumble by the offense: if the ball is recovered by an offensive player other than the one who fumbled it in the first place, a recovery on 4th down or after the two minute warning results in the ball being placed at the spot of the fumble rather than wherever it had rolled to.
Safety: The final, rarest type of turnover. As mentioned above, if a ball carrier is tackled behind his own goal line, the defense is awarded two points and possession of the ball by means of an uncontested punt by the offensive team. A fumble that moves back through the ball carrier's end zone without being recovered by the defense is also a safety. If the ball is fumbled into the offense's end zone, they will often deliberately get a safety (by either falling on the ball or batting it out of bounds), because giving up 2 points and possession is considered safer than allowing a guaranteed touchdown by letting the defense recover the ball in the end zone.
Turnover on Downs: Not a turnover in the strict sense, this occurs when the offense chooses not to punt on fourth down and fails to score or get the yardage they need. Offenses "going for it" on fourth down is rare, and usually reserved when they really need a score or if the distance needed for first down is extremely short (as in "4th and inches"). As such, forcing a turnover on downs is a big win for the defense. Very aggressive coaches are more likely to "go for it", and a team that has a poor kicking game is likely to do so if they're outside of field goal range but close enough to the goal line that a punt would almost guarantee a touchback.
Blitz: A type of play in which linebackers or defensive backs attempt to rush past the offensive line (creating a "pass rush") and sack or at least put pressure on the ball-carrier, usually the quarterback. If the offense has a running back block the blitzing defender, thus nullifying the play, it is referred to as "picking up the blitz". Considered a risky play because it leaves areas of the field open. However, there are teams that have had lots of success with aggressive blitzing; the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers have long had a reputation for successful blitz-oriented defenses, and the Buddy Ryan-created "46 Defense" is an entire system developed around constantly applying such pressure to opposing offenses for whole games at a time.
Zone Blitz: while a standard blitz involves sending more people than the usual 4 linemen (or 3 lineman and one linebacker) a zone blitz involves the defense faking which players will be rushing the quarterback and which players will be in coverage. For example, a defensive end may act like he's going to rush the quarterback and the strong safety may appear to be in coverage, however when the ball is snapped the safety rushes the quarter back while the defensive end covers. This is intended to cause mismatches between blockers and rushers and open up holes where a blocker expected someone to be and is not prepared for someone rushing from a different position. This of course can backfire if the lineman attempting to cover is not athletic enough to perform these duties.
Prevent: A package involving at least seven defensive backs, most or all of whom are well over ten yards back from the line of scrimmage. The prevent defense concedes long runs and short passes in order to prevent long passes for a touchdown. Typically only used in the last minutes of a game by a team who already has the lead, and even then it's considered by many to be a bad idea; former player, coach and long-time TV commentator John Madden famously said "All a prevent defense does is prevent you from winning." The prevent is ideal for defending a Hail Mary on the last play of a game, though.
Special teams-related terms:
Kick off: A kick off begins both halves of football and resumes play after a score (except for a safety). The kickoffs take place from the kicking team's 35 yard line and the ball is kicked from a Tee (or held by a member of the kicking team, if the ball falls off the tee due to wind, the referee will require they have a member of the kicking team hold the ball like on a field goal attempt). The receiving team may not attempt to block this kick but both teams may contest for possession. The kicking team must stay behind the ball until it is kicked or the play will be offside.
Free kick: After a safety, play is initiated by a free kick. The previous team that was on offense kicks the ball either with a drop kick or a punt kick from their 20 yard line. The receiving team may not block the kick and the kicking team may not contest for possession unless the ball is fumbled on the return attempt. Another (incredibly rare) form of free kick is the fair catch kick, which allows a free, unblocked placekick (worth three points, and thus a form of field goal) from the spot at which a punt is received provided the returner calls for a fair catch. However, the circumstances under which a team would actually WANT to do this are so rare that most lifelong fans aren't even aware of this rule's existence.
Touchback: If a team gains possession in the defensive end zone, the team begins their next series as though it had returned the ball to their own twenty yard line. This commonly happens on kickoffs and punts when the ball is either recovered in the end zone and not advanced, or goes out of bounds after entering the end zone. A touchback can also occur on interceptions (occasionally) and fumble recoveries (rarely, since the offensive team must fumble the ball forward into the end zone without actually scoring a touchdown, and either have the ball go out of bounds in the end zone or be recovered by the defense).
Muffed Catch: during a change of possession kick if the player trying to receive the kick doesn't cleanly field the kick, it's called muffed. Often results in a turnover since once the ball has touched a receiving player it is live and recoverable by the kicking team. This is particularly important on a punt, because a muffed catch allows the kicking team to recover the ball; as mentioned above, a punt can only be downed, not recovered, by the kicking team if it hasn't touched a receiving team player.
Fair Catch: when the ball is kicked and the receiving player does not think they have enough space to return a kick they can call a fair catch meaning that if they catch the ball the play is dead where they caught the ball, they cannot be tackled and they cannot advance the ball. They do this by waving one hand above their head. Improperly signalling for a fair catch (waving 2 hands) is a penalty (trickery?). Preventing the player who signaled for a fair catch (by contact, intentionally or unintentionally) from catching the ball is also a penalty. If the player does not catch the ball after signalling the ball is live and recoverable by both sides, as this poor fellow from Wofford in a playoff game learned when he didn't down the ball in the end zone and the opposing team (Northern Iowa) stripped the ball from him for a free touchdown.
Downed Kick: if the kicking team during a punt recovers the kick before the receiving team this is called downing the ball (technically this is a rule violation called "illegal touching") the result is still a change of possession but the receiving team will have no opportunity to advance the ball. This is most commonly used to prevent the ball from going into the end-zone and pinning the other team deep in their own zone.
Onside kick: on a kick off, if the kicking team receives the ball before the receiving team on a kickoff the kicking team can retain possession of it, the only requirement is that the ball travel 10 yards before a member of the kicking team touches it (the only exception being if the receiving team touches it before it crosses 10 yards but doesn't maintain possession). The formation for this kick, if it's expected usually has a majority of the kicking team on one side of the kicker to maximize their chances. The receiving team will usually stack one side of the field to match. The kicker usually kicks the ball so that it bounces off the ground high in the air, this is for two reasons: one, when the ball touches the ground the receiving team cannot call a fair catch, two, this gives the ball a nice high arc allowing the kicking team time to get past the first line of blockers and a lot of spin to make it difficult for the receiving team to catch the ball. The ball can be advanced on an on-side kick reception. This play is normally used if the team kicking the ball needs to score and the game is nearing the end. It is a very risky play to attempt because if the kicking team does not receive the ball it puts the receiving team in very good field position. The receiving team when expecting an onside kick will put in what's referred to as the "hands team" instead of their usual kickoff return team, typically consisting largely of wide receivers and defensive backs whose main skill is catching the ball rather than blocking for a runner. Recent rule changes have prohibited stacking everyone one side of the field, in an effort to reduce injuries; now at least a couple of players have to be on each side of the kicker. Rarely, a team will attempt a "surprise" onside kick out of normal kickoff formation and somewhat earlier in the game than an onside kick would normally be expected. This has the advantage of catching the receiving team off-guard, while they don't have their "hands team" on the field and are out of position to recover the kick, but requires that the kicking team also be out of position in order to sell the deception.
Names to know in American Football (alphabetical in category, by last name)
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Bill Belichick is the current coach of the New England Patriots. During his tenure, they won three Super Bowls in four years, then three years later became the first team to enter the Super Bowl with a record of 18-0 (which they lost, the ultimate Downer Ending for Patriots fans). This in a decade (the dawn of the 21st century) where only three other teams so much as made the Super Bowl more than once. Known for being even more secretive with the media than most coaches and for always wearing a customized Patriots hooded sweatshirt (sleeveless; bears his initials) on the sidelines. His critics see him as a Non-Action Big Bad; his fans see him as a mad genius.
Paul Brown was coach of the Cleveland Browns and later owner-coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1940s-70. He developed several offensive plays that are still in use to this day. Won 8 professional championships with the Browns, all before the Super Bowl era. He mentored Bill Walsh and Don Shula. The Browns were named in his honor, something he wasn't enthusiastic aboutnote The owner of the Browns wanted to name the team the Panthers, after an earlier independent team that had also appeared in the 1926 version of the AFL; however, the owner of the defunct Panthers refused to give up his rights to the name. The Bengals' current stadium, which opened in 2000 (nine years after Brown's passing), is named Paul Brown Stadium in his honor as well.
Pete Carroll is the current head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. Previously a head coach for the New York Jets and New England Patriots in a pair of short and extremely forgettable terms, Carroll is paradoxically one of the oldest coaches in the NFL and the most energetic. Extremely hands on and motivated, almost Keet-like, he took over the Seahawks after an extremely successful tenure as head coach of the USC Trojans and took on the job of dealing with a franchise in shambles. Known league-wide as a defensive mastermind, he helped put together the so-called "Legion of Boom" secondary, the first defensive unit worthy of a nickname since the Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" in the early 2000s. Given great power and leeway in drafting and personnel decisions, within three years he transformed the Seahawks from one of the worst teams in the league to a team that won its first Super Bowl.
Tom Coughlin is the current head coach of the New York Giants and former head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars (the latter team admitted it was a mistake to fire him). He has won two Super Bowls (both against the Belichick-led New England Patriots). At the beginning of his tenure with the Giants, he was known as a bit of a Drill Sergeant Nasty, and while he still retains his knack for discipline, he is reported to have warmed up considerably and become A Father to His Men. Prior to his head coaching career, he served on Bill Parcells coaching staff along with Belichick. He is constantly scrutinized by the New York media if the Giants fail to produce playoff results, but is able to remain cool under pressure. At 67 years old, he is the oldest head coach in the NFL, but has no intentions to retire anytime soon.
Mike Ditka was the coach of the Chicago Bears from 1982 to 1992. His 1985 Super Bowl winning team is sometimes considered the best football team of all time. As a player for the Bears, he won a pre-merger NFL Championship, making him one of the few men to have done so as a player and coach. His subsequent tenure in New Orleans was not nearly as successful, due to the Ricky Williams trade detailed below. Since leaving coaching, he's been a prominent sports commentator and has fought to bring attention to the plight of retired players suffering from chronic game-related injuries. Also an interesting bit of What Could Have Been: He briefly considered joining the 2004 Illinois Senate race, where his stature would have dwarfed then-local state politician Barack Obama, changing the latter's career.
Tony Dungy most famously coached the Indianapolis Colts. He got his start in Tampa Bay, where he was well-known as a defensive guru. He went to Indy where things were...slightly different (the Colts were more of an offense-based team). He was also well-known - alongside with Peyton Manning - for being fantastic in the regular season but capitulating to their opponent during the playoffs. This until 2007, when they overcame the stigma to win it all. He retired after the next year, and now he works as part of NBC's pregame show. He's also an outspoken Christian.
Jeff Fisher Coached the Houston/Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans from 1994 to 2011, and owner of a Badass Mustache second only to Ditka's. His 1999 Titans squad fell literally one yard short of winning the Super Bowl. Current head coach of the St. Louis Rams, ironically, the same team that beat his Titans in that Super Bowl.
The Harbaugh Brothers: John and Jim, who faced each other in Super Bowl XLVII, becoming the first set of brothers to do so. (John's Ravens beat Jim's 49ers 34-31.)
John Harbaugh: The current head coach of the Baltimore Ravens (since 2009). One of the rare instances of a special teams coach being promoted to head coach. (Usually it's an offensive or defensive coordinator, or college head coach.)
Jim Harbaugh: The current head coach of the San Francisco 49ers (since 2011). Had a long and moderately successful career as a quarterback during the 1990s (and was actually the last quarterback to start a game for the Indianapolis Colts before Peyton Manning arrived), but after three seasons is already likely to be better remembered as a coach. The 49ers, a 6-10 team who had missed the playoffs for seven straight years before Harbaugh's arrival, have since made the NFC Championship three years running, and Harbaugh's...demonstrative, confrontational leadership has a great deal to do with it. Before the 49ers, Harbaugh was head coach at Stanford University and a bitter rival of Pete Carroll's USC, a rivalry that has conveniently carried over into the NFL where Seattle & San Francisco share a division.
Mike Holmgren was the head coach of the Green Bay Packers for seven years and of the Seattle Seahawks for nine. He is best known for leading the Packers from division doormat to constant playoff success with the emergence of Brett Favre. He was also the Seahawks' first head coach after the purchase of the team by Microsoft executive Paul Allen. His hiring, making him the highest-paid NFL coach of all time, lent instant credibility to Seattle's on-field product and dedication to winning. Along with being head coach, he also served as the team's GM and vice president, letting him shape almost every aspect of the team and turning Seattle into a perennial playoff contender, including a very controversial loss in Super Bowl XL. Had he won, he would've been the first head coach to ever win two Super Bowls with two different teams. He left the Seahawks after the 2008 season, taking a one-year sabbatical before accepting a position with the Cleveland Browns (which was...not as successful as his stint with the Seahawks; he was let go after the team changed owners). He is also a disciple of the Bill Walsh coaching tree and has had over a dozen of his former assistants become future NFL head coaches.
Tom Landry was the first, and for nearly 30 years only, head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. His 'Boys put up an amazing streak of winning seasons that lasted 20 years from 1966 through 1985 - during this streak, his team only missed the playoffs twice. He is credited with inventing the 4-3 defense while an assistant with the Giants, then building an offense to beat it once he went to Dallas. Peyton 's Colts finally statistically broke the record for consecutive playoff appearances in 2010, but Cowboy fans are quick to point out that Landry's teams played in an era where fewer teams made the playoffs, cue the ceaseless debating over which streak is better. One of Jerry Jones' first moves was to give him the boot. Some might recognize him more as Hank Hill's role model.
Vince Lombardi was the face of the NFL during the 1960s, as he led his team to five NFL Championship victories - three of them came before the Super Bowl Era, but he won the first two Super Bowls as well. He coached the Green Bay Packers for nine years and the Washington Redskins for one, and holds the distinction of not only being the only coach to win three consecutive postseasonsnote [[superscript:the term championships can apply to the NFC and AFC conferences in the Super Bowl Era during the modern playoff era note 1965-1967, Packers, after already almost accomplishing it once before with them by losing the championship game in 1960 to Philadelphia, followed by back-to-back championships in '61 and '62, but of leading two of the greatest single-season turnarounds in professional league history note his first year with the Packers, then first with the Redskins. As a result of his legacy, often considered to be the greatest in the sport's history, the trophy given to the winner of the Super Bowl is called the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Marv Levy was the coach of the 4-in-a-row Super Bowl runner-up Buffalo Bills and the creator of the "K-Gun" no-huddle offense. His team dominated the AFC in the early '90s.
John Madden, while probably better known as a broadcaster, was once a coach (and even less famously, a player). His overall winning percentage ranks first in league history; also, his Raiders never posted a losing season under him. Later became a famous broadcaster, which in turn led to him being the face of the Madden NFL video game.
Chuck Noll was the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1969 to 1991. He has earned more Super Bowl rings as a head coach than anyone else. Architect of the feared "Steel Curtain" defense; ever since his tenure Pittsburgh has had a reputation as an excellent defensive team. His longevity has also contributed to the Steelers having more stability at head coach than almost any team in professional sports; the current head coach, Mike Tomlin, is only the third head coach (all of whom have won Super Bowls) since 1969.
Bill Parcells is a two-time Super Bowl-winning coach, most famously coaching the New York Giants (both Super Bowl rings are with them). He also coached the Patriots, the Jets, and most recently, the Dallas Cowboys. Best known for his emphasis on defense, and, while leading Dallas, his preference for signing/trading for players whom had previously played for him. He's retired from coaching three times. Fun fact: he was the first recipient of the Gatorade shower after winning the Super Bowl. For a while, signing him was akin to the franchise Growing the Beard; he turned Dallas around after three 5-11 seasons, then later did the same in Miami (taking them from 1-15 to 11-5 in one year) in a front-office position.
Andy Reid is the current head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, and previously held the same position with the Philadelphia Eagles (1999-2012). While he is the winningest coach in Eagles history and indeed helped turn them around from mediocrity, fans had a love-hate relationship with him because he was unsuccessful in delivering the Super Bowl title the city so very much wants. Despite his successes, he tends to be accused of costing the team quite a few winnable games by not watching the game clock and neglecting the run.
The Ryan Family: Consists of Buddy Ryan and his twin sons, Rex and Rob Ryan.
Buddy Ryan: Two-time Super Bowl winner — one for the New York Jets in Super Bowl III & one for the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX. He created the famed 46 defense. Buddy was known to have clashed with other coaches on his team; Buddy and head coach Mike Ditka were involved in a physical fight during halftime at the 1985 Monday Night Football game against the Miami Dolphins (in which the Bears suffered their only loss that season). Later, during a Sunday Night Football game against the Jets in 1994, Buddy, now a defensive coordinator for the Houston Oilers, punched Oilers offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, and openly criticized Gilbride's "Run and Shoot" offense, which he referred to as the "chuck and duck" offense.
Rex Ryan: The current head coach of the New York Jets (since 2009). Rex started as an assistant coach for the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2008 (2004-2008 as a defensive coordinator), including their 2000 Super Bowl-winning season. Currently known for being one of the most outspoken coaches in the NFL, Rex gained notoriety in 2009 when he openly challenged Bill Belichick in a radio interview ("I never came here to kiss Bill Belichick's, you know, [Super Bowl] rings. I came here to win. So we’ll see what happens. I’m certainly not intimidated by New England or anybody else."). He also antagonized the Giants, whom the Jets share a stadium with, when the two teams met to play each other, but only ended up hitting the Giants' Berserk Button. While his success as an assistant is unquestionable, his tenure as a head coach is controversial among Jets fans.
Rob Ryan: Current defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints since 2013. He also had stints with the Patriots, Cleveland Browns, and the Dallas Cowboys.
Mike Shanahan coached Denver for a long time (13 years), and last coached Washington until being fired after a poor 2013 season. He also briefly coached the Raiders. He's best known for taking some serious no-name players, starting them at running back, and getting 1,000-yard seasons out of them, leading some to wonder if it's his system that makes them successful or if he's good at scouting talent at the position. He's well known for the tactic of "icing" the opposing kicker by calling a timeout right before the kick (a tactic that usually does more to annoy the spectators than to rattle the kicker), and as a result, the tactic is colloquially known as "Shanahanigans." More recently, the term is applied to Shanahan's tendency to feature different running backs in different games, to the chagrin of fantasy football players.
Don Shula is the winningest (347) coach in NFL history, also the only coach to achieve an undefeated regular and postseason in the modern era with the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
Bill Walsh is famous for creating the "West Coast" offense (using short horizontal passes to set up long passes and runs), which heavily influenced the modern NFL passing game. Won 3 championships with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s. He is also famous for having one of the most expansive "coaching trees" in the sport, with Sam Wyche, George Seifert, Dennis Green, Mike Holmgren, and Ray Rhodes all service under him as assistants before branching out to become head coaches themselves.
Troy Aikman was the first overall draft pick of 1989 and the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys from then until 2000, a run that included three Super Bowl wins. A deadly efficient QB regarded as one of the most mechanically perfect and most accurate passers ever, as well as one of the greatest playoff performers in NFL history. His career was cut short by repeated concussions. He now calls games for FOX.
George Blanda was a highly successful quarterback and placekicker for the Bears, Colts, Oilers and Raiders. He was the third highest-scoring player in NFL history (and would be in first place by a huge margin if touchdown passes counted as points for the quarterback instead of the receiver) and still holds the record for the most career PAT kicks made and most touchdown passes in a game. He's probably best known for his incredible longevity. He played for a record 26 seasons in the NFL (from 1949 to 1975), and at the age of 48 in his final game, was the oldest man ever to play professional football. This earned him the nickname "The Grand Old Man".
Tom Brady is the quarterback of the New England Patriots, often considered in tandem with Peyton Manning as the best QB of the modern era. Has played in 5 Super Bowls, winning 3 of them. Two time MVP (2007, 2010). Holds the record for highest completion percentage in a playoff game (92.9%), and most pass attempts in Super Bowl history (155 in his career). Lead the only team to go 16-0 in the regular season, which also became the highest scoring team of all time. Became the fastest QB to record 100 wins (not counting playoffs), doing so in his 131st game (the previous record was 139 and held by Montana). Known for outstanding post-season play, leading 4th quarter comebacks, and being a handsome ladies' man (he dated actress Bridget Moynahan, and he's now married to supermodel Gisele Bündchen). Is something of a Jerk Jock, sometimes storming off the field without shaking hands after a loss, and infamously laughing at Plaxico Burress' prediction of a 23-17 Giants victory (the Patriots only scored 14 points) in Super Bowl XLII. Got seriously injured during the 2008 season on a hit from then-current Kansas City Chiefs (and current Tennessee Titans) safety Bernard Pollardnote who recently proclaimed himself a "Patriot killer", due to him being involved (directly or indirectly) in the injuries of Wes Welker (as a member of the Texans) and Rob Gronkowski (as a member of the Ravens) in 2009 and 2012, respectively, but has returned to form. Subject to a meme known as "Bradying": after throwing an interception in Super Bowl XLVI, he suffered a Heroic BSOD on the field, leading to many people using his slouched over posture sitting on the field as their Facebook picture, much like Tebowing and planking before it. Also notable about his career is that he was drafted very low (picked 199th in the 6th round by the Patriots out of the 7-round draft) and essentially flew under the radar (he was a 4th string QB in his first season) until a injury to then-starter Drew Bledsoe made the Patriots call Brady to play. And the rest is history. He was one of two players (the other being Drew Brees) to break Dan Marino's single-season yardage record in 2011 (but Brees had more yards, so he was credited with the record until Peyton Manning set a new record in 2013). He also surpassed Johnny Unitas' streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass... but Brees beat him to that one too, and when Brady's streak ended at 52 games in 2013, he was 2 short of Brees' record.
Drew Brees is a quarterback who is the current face of the New Orleans Saints. He got his start with the San Diego Chargers, where he was almost always ignored despite putting up solid numbers. He turned free agent in 2005, just after a serious shoulder injury threatened his career. However, since joining the Saints, he has been mentioned in the same breath as Manning and Brady in terms of quarterback greatness. One of only a select few players to pass for more than 5,000 yards in a season and the only one to do so more than once. Became the most accurate passer in NFL history in 2009, completing 70.5% of his attempts. And in 2011, he broke the single-season passing yardage record with one game to go, in addition to topping his own record regarding completion percentage, and has broken Unitas's streak of consecutive games with at least one passing TD, reaching a total of 54 in 2012.
Jay Cutler is the current quarterback for the Chicago Bears and formerly played for the Denver Broncos. With the retirement of Donovan McNabb, he is probably the NFL's new #1 No Respect Guy. In terms of starts, wins, and statistics, Cutler is arguably the best overall quarterback the Bears have had since Sid Luckman in the 1940s, but you wouldn't guess it by listening to the fans and media. The Bears have had one of the worst offensive lines in the league since Cutler joined the team, which leads to him being amongst the most sacked (and injured) quarterbacks in the league in a given year. He was injured in the 2010 NFC Championship game and did not return in the 2nd half. The resulting backlash from other players and the media questioning his toughness is something he may never live down. (Never mind the fact that he had a legitimate MCL sprain and was benched on the orders of his coaches.) His mopey demeanor also doesn't endear him to fans, but is by most accounts a real Nice Guy off the field. Married to Kristen Cavallari (of The Hills fame).
John Elway is a quarterback who spent his entire career with the Denver Broncos, who had a reputation as being a great "comeback artist". At the time of his retirement, his 148 wins were an NFL record. After losing 3 Super Bowls (by often embarrassing margins) in the late 1980s, Elway staged a late-career renaissance and led Denver to Super Bowl wins in 1997 and 1998 before retiring. In 2011 he returned to the Broncos as executive VP of football operations, which is basically general manager with a few extra responsibilities and a fancier job title.
Brett Favre (pronounced "farv") is the current all-time leading passer and was the Badass Grandpa of the NFL. He spent the majority of his 20-year career with the Green Bay Packers, during which he was mostly seen as an All American Face, although some late-career shenanigans ultimately damaged his image (including a string of un-retirements with different teams, including the Packers’ division rival, and allegations of sexual harassment). He is perhaps the greatest example of a Determinator in the history of the NFL, known for fourth-quarter comebacks, shrugging off injury and playing with more heart than anyone else in the league. The best example of this was in his 2003 season (most of which he played with a broken thumb on his throwing hand) when he elected to play a week-16 Monday Night game against Oakland despite his father dying of a heart attack the night before, scoring a miraculous 4 touchdowns in the first half of a 41-7 victory and breaking down in tears on the sidelines. Many football fans hold that game in higher esteem than his Super Bowl victory. He holds the record for consecutive starts (321, including playoffs, stretching from his first start as a Packer in ’92 into his last season as a Viking in 2010), and as the rules for protecting injured players grow more stringent, it is suspected that his record will never be broken. Many of his backup QBs have spent many years of their careers on the sidelines and in his last few seasons, several of his wide receivers were young enough to still be in diapers when Brett first started playing pro. This longevity and his high-risk, high reward "gunslinger" passing style is why he holds so many records, both good (career wins, attempts,completions, touchdowns, and yards) and bad (career interceptions). After contemplating retirement for several years, he officially announced his retirement in January of 2008, only to change his mind late in the offseason. When the Packers refused to give him a starting position (causing outrage among fans; see Aaron Rodgers below), he was traded to the Jets, and played a lukewarm season, plagued by injuries to his right shoulder, after which he announced his retirement again, and was released from the team. He came out of retirement once again, however, this time being picked up by the Packers’ division rival, the Vikings, where he played one of the best seasons of his career, soundly defeating his former team twice and becoming the only player as of 2013 to beat all 32 teams in the NFL. After a late-game interception cost his team the NFC Championship and a chance at the Super Bowl, he suffered a disastrous 2010 season (finishing 6-10 while the Packers, coincidentally, went on to win the Super Bowl under Favre's former backup), and announced his retirement for a third time. It appears to have stuck this time, after turning down an offer from the Rams in 2013, preferring to spend time with his grandchildren.
Joe Flacco is currently the highest paid player in the NFL, the current face of the Baltimore Ravens, and the AFC's response to Eli Manning. Known for taking the Ravens to the playoffs and winning at least one playoff game all of his first five years, all NFL records, including 3 AFC Championships and becoming Super Bowl MVP in his fifth year. Currently has 9 playoff wins (comparable to Peyton Manning), including the record for the most road playoff wins by a quarterback at 6. He is most known for being incredibly dull as well as his historic 2012 playoff run with the Baltimore Ravens, where he outplayed and won against Luck's Colts, Peyton Manning's Broncos (coming off an 11 win streak), Brady's Patriots, and the 49ers in the historic "Harbowl" between the Harbaugh brothers all while tying Joe Montana's playoff record making 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions, not too long after a gutsy move by the Ravens to cut their previous offensive coordinator of almost 5 years.
Doug Flutie was known to be a quarterback of modest success, but unique playing style. Very small for NFL standards (5'9", 180 pounds), Flutie often scrambled plays or threw Hail Mary passes, something that made him noticeable when compared to the common drop back and play quarterbacks. Flutie took the long road back to the NFL after the lockout, spending several years in Canada dominating the Canadian Football League and, according to his fans in the north, became one of the few quarterbacks in the NFL to play a Canadian style game. He also performed the first (and to date, the only) drop kick in a NFL season (regular or playoffs) game since the 1941 NFL Championship game.
Robert Griffin III (RG3) was picked 2nd overall in the 2012 Draft by the Washington Redskins. Usually cast as the most Expy-ish of Michael Vick Expy despite having a significantly better arm than Vick, RG3 is best-known for his incredible speed; he can run the ball just as good as he can throw it. As an example of his explosiveness, he was the first rookie in NFL history to pass for 200 yards, pass for four touchdowns and rush for more than 75 yards in a single game (against the Eagles), finishing with a perfect 158.3 passer rating. He took the Redskins from a 3-6 hole into a 10-6 record, and won the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year, but after a disastrous playoff debut against the Seahawks, he was found to have sustained ligament damage in his knee that perhaps went back to the late regular season. Between his knee injury (he tried to emulate Adrian Peterson by returning by the start of the following regular season, and a concussion he had sustained earlier that year, RG 3, while undeniably a dynamic player, may or may not be the NFL's next Glass Ninja. The jury's still out.
Colin Kaepernick is the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, edging out Alex Smith. Selected 36th overall, he began as a backup for Alex Smith; Harbaugh's decision to start Kaepernick over Smith led to a brief controversy, one that ultimately died off once Kaepernick more than proved his worth to start. He's another one of the scrambling quarterbacks of the current generation, drawing numerous comparisons with RG3 and Russell Wilson. As a testament to his skill set, he set an NFL record for most rushing yards (181) by a quarterback in a game (both postseason and regular season) in his first playoff game. In just his tenth career start, he brought the Niners to the Super Bowl in 2013, but ultimately lost to the Ravens.
Jim Kelly was one of the last real "field general" quarterbacks in the NFL that actually called his own plays as opposed to executing plays called in from coaches on the sidelines (the closest thing today is Peyton Manning, who generally has permission to modify plays on the fly). Was the quarterback of the 4-in-a-row Super Bowl runner-up Buffalo Bills during their reign over the AFC. It's a common misconception that the "K-Gun" no-huddle offense was named after him, but it was actually named after the second tight end Keith McKellar who was used in the formation.
Andrew Luck is the heir apparent to Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. Picked 1st overall in 2012, he set the single-season rookie passing yardage record in 2012. A prototypical quarterback, Luck is praised for his durability and pocket passing, which took the formally 2-14 Colts into an 11-5 rebound, propelling them into the playoffs, where they bowed out to the Ravens. He set numerous rookie records: Most passing yards by a rookie in a single season: 4,374, most 300+ yards passing games by a rookie QB, most wins by a #1 pick QB in his rookie season (11), most game-winning drives by a rookie quarterback (7) and most fourth quarter comebacks by a rookie quarterback (7). Indy is hoping that he can replicate the same bursts of success they attained with Peyton Manning.
The Manning Family: Consist of Peyton, Eli, and their dad Archie.
Archie Manning was a good quarterback on a horrible team (the New Orleans Saints, who at the time were nicknamed "The Ain'ts") for a number of years. Since this was before free agency, he didn't have the option to leave for a better team. Perhaps better known for his College Hall of Fame career at Ole Miss; he's considered in both cases the best player they've ever had, although there are now Saints fans who would argue for Drew Brees.
Peyton Manning is en route to breaking every single statistical record held by either Marino, Favre, or Elway and is known for his intelligence (he is notable for last-second changes to plays at the line), ubiquity in commercials, and until the Colts won Super Bowl XLI, choking in the playoffs. He has had an incredible career, and has 4 MVP awards (three solo, one shared). It was almost a given that whatever two schlubs the Colts started at wideout would have big days thanks to his arm. Probably the only thing that could stop him from breaking those records is the injury that put him out for the 2011 season. The Colts 2-14 record that year gave substance to Peyton's implied Load-Bearing Boss status. Following this, Peyton was released by the Indianapolis Colts and their draft pick note Stanford University standout Andrew Luck has taken Peyton's reins now. After a recruitment tour that was breathlessly covered by the sports media, Peyton chose the Denver Broncos - home of fan favorite Tim Tebow, who subsequently moved to the New York Jets. Holds a large amount of records, including the single-season passing touchdown (55) and passing yardage (5,477) records. In the 2013-2014 season, Peyton Manning won a 5th regular season MVP award for his stellar performance, which began with him throwing 7 touchdowns in the opening game of the season. By the end of the season, many sports experts claimed Manning had the best year of any quarterback in the history of the sport. However, he ended up losing Super Bowl XLVIII, as he failed to established a solid offense during the whole game, only scoring 8 points. As a result, this is the second time Peyton Manning won the regular season MVP only to lose in the Super Bowl he was expected to win.
Eli Manning, the younger brother, doesn't quite have the flashy numbers that his older brother has, but that's to be expected as the quarterback for the more defense- and run-oriented New York Giants. Was considered a bit of a Fake Ultimate Hero for a while, trading on the Manning name rather than his skills. That all changed after Super Bowl XLII, when he led the wild card Giants to victory against the 18-0 Patriots in what is considered one of the greatest upsets in sports history, and after the team defeated the Patriots again in Super Bowl XLVI, he's generally considered to be at the same level as his brother. He's also now considered something of a Determinator due to his unflappable nature and his inability to get rattled by anything, on or off the field. Under constant New York criticism, Eli does not get discouraged by a bad play (or a series of them), and will get back up again after being sacked any number of times and continue playing as if nothing had happened. Eli is best known for an ad campaign which proclaimed him to be "Unstoppable" and his tendency to rally the Giants in the fourth quarter. Here◊ is a picture of Eli after a particularly bad sack, and he still had enough wits about him to call timeout (which was necessary at the time in the game), and continued to drive his team forward afterwards.
There is a third Manning, Cooper, but he stopped playing football after high school due to injury and became an investment banker. However, reports suggest that had he not been injured he would have been better than Peyton.
Both Peyton and Eli were subjects of the "Manning Face" meme, coined by ESPN columnist Bill Simmons.
Peyton and Eli are also the stars of "Football on Your Phone", a now-viral DIRECTV commercial. Archie also appears in the spot.
Dan Marino was the Hall of Fame Dolphins QB who threw for a then-record 61,361 yards, and is the current or former holder of many other passing records. Marino had the unfortunate luck to be one of the all time greats at quarterback at a time when several other "greatest of all time" candidates (Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, John Elway, Steve Young, Brett Favre) were playing. Thus he managed the paradoxical feat of setting all kinds of records while his team was just good enough to make it into the playoffs and then lose badly in the first round. He is often called "The best quarterback to never win a Super Bowl".
Donovan McNabb is considered the best quarterback in Eagles' history and holds most of their records, but he's more notable because he might be the best real-life example of The Woobie or No Respect Guy there is, playing most of his career for a team whose fans arguably hated him and didn't mind letting him know it. Drafted in the same year as Ricky Williams, the Philly fans booed the team management when they took him instead. This would not be the last time they booed him. Every year since, without fail, his name came up when people were talking about trades. As a player, he was known for a number of years as a great QB who lacked a great supporting cast. When the Eagles brass finally gave him a reliable target in Terrell Owens (see below), he led the team all the way to the Super Bowl. The TO deal later came back to hurt Philly and he developed a bit of a reputation for being a Glass Cannon, which finally resulted in his trade to the rival Washington Redskins. He was traded to the Minnesota Vikings the following year, but was ineffective. After being out of the league in 2012 (as an analyst, during which time he may have slid into Jerkass Woobie territory depending on who you talk to), he signed a ceremonial contract with the Eagles and retired before the 2013 season.
Steve McNair became the second great quarterback for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise. Known for having nerves of steel in the pocket, even willing to take a hit, as long as the ball went to the right receiver. He also could scramble well when needed to. Eventually surpassed Warren Moon's franchise passing yardage record and his franchise total wins record. Famous for coming a yard short of taking Super Bowl XXXIV into its first overtime game - in one of the greatest Super Bowl games of all time, according to many fans and experts. As of 2013, no Super Bowl has gone into overtime. Outside the game of football, McNair was also known for being quite the ladies man. Unfortunately, that would lead to his untimely death, as he was killed by one of his girlfriends who also committed suicide.
Joe Montana was the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers during their 1980s dominance. He was one half of the famous play in the 1981 NFC Championship game known in NFL lore as "The Catch", along with Dwight Clark; he also led the 49ers on a 92-yard touchdown drive to win Super Bowl XXIII. Montana played in and won 4 Super Bowls and never had an interception in any of them. Two-time MVP and three-time Super Bowl MVP. Considered by some to be the greatest player in history, as well as probably its most famous. Also known for having quite possibly the coolest name in sports.
Warren Moon played most of his career with the Houston Oilers, before they became the Tennessee Titans. There was a time when Warren Moon was considered the greatest quarterback in the game, as he set many records that would eventually get broken. He posted back-to-back 4,000 plus yard seasons tying Dan Marino and Dan Fouts, and he lead the NFL in passing attempts and completions until eventually surpassed by Brett Farve. Unfortunately for him, he's also remembered for his team blowing a 35-point lead to the Buffalo Bills during the first round of the Playoffs in '92, the biggest margin in playoff history. He got traded to the Minnesota Vikings where he continued to produce great numbers in passing yardage and completions, but once again would fail to take his team to the Super Bowl. As a result, Warren Moon, like Dan Marino, is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks to never win a Super Bowl ring. However, Warren Moon also played for the Canadian Football League and is still considered the greatest quarterback in the league, even though his passing yardage record in the CFL also got broken by Damon Allennote whose record in turn fell to Anthony Calvillo.
Joe Namath was a quarterback who most famously played for the New York Jets. He sits in the Hall of Fame despite putting up what could be called mediocre numbers; this is largely because he guaranteed an upset victory in a Super Bowl III and backed it up with a win. This started the trend of players "guaranteeing" victory before key games, with varying degrees of success. This also was seen as having validated the plans to merge the NFL and AFL; the first two Super Bowls had been blowout wins for the NFL's Green Bay Packers, but by leading the AFL champion Jets to victory Namath proved that the Super Bowl actually mattered rather than being being a ceremonial beatdown delivered by the NFL to the AFL. Today, he's likely better known for drunkenly hitting on sideline reporter Suzy Kolber.
Aaron Rodgers, the 2011 Super Bowl MVP. At the beginning of 2008 he was given the unenviable task of replacing long-time Packers quarterback Brett Favre who left the team holding every major NFL passing record. He responded by becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons as a starter, then led the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XLV following the 2010 season, bringing Green Bay its first NFL title in 14 years. In terms of playing style he is the direct opposite of Favre, whereas Favre throws long bombs and takes a ton of risks, Rodgers is more precise and rarely throws an interception. He is also known for his "title belt" celebration where after a big play (usually when he makes a rushing touchdown), he makes a motion with his hands as if he's putting on an invisible championship belt. This has since been copied by a number of his teammates, most notably B.J. Raji in the 2010 NFC Championship Game, and is now part of a series of commercials for State Farm Insurance, where it becomes the "Discount Double-Check" as policy holders celebrate saving money and Rodgers wonders why his moves were stolen. Also does ads for a Milwaukee-area lawyer where him and the lawyer discuss current Wisconsin driving regulations and tips to prevent said lawyer from taking you on as a client to begin with after a car crash.
Ben Roethlisberger is the quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and has been since 2004. He won Rookie of the Year honors when he first played, becoming the first QB to do so since 1970 - first years usually aren't particularly kind to quarterbacks, as most teams that draft them are lacking other weapons (however, in the 2005-2008 time period, three quarterbacks have won RoY honors) and the QB position has a steeper learning curve than any other when transitioning from college to the pros. His career began with him winning his first 13 starts (the previous all-time record was six). He has two Super Bowl rings, including the win in Super Bowl XL, which often shows up in "worst performance by winning QB" lists - he acquitted himself rather nicely when they played the Cardinals, though. Despite all this, he's probably best known for his various run-ins with the law and media. First he crashed his motorcycle, which he was riding without a helmet or license, and then came a scandal about his involvement with a 20-year-old college student in a Georgia bar (which may have been non-consensual) that earned him a brief suspension. It was ominously the second such accusation that had been brought against him, the first one being a woman in Tahoe who claimed he had sexually assaulted her in his hotel room, though lack of physical evidence or corroborating witnesses meant no charges were filed in either case.
Mark Sanchez is a Butt Monkey... er, quarterback for the New York Jets, having been drafted in 2009. Although he was able to take the Jets to two consecutive AFC Championship games in the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Sanchez had a mediocre year in 2011, a horrible year in 2012, and he became known for the "ButtFumble" on Thanksgiving Night against the Patriots that season. As with Brady, Sanchez appeared on covers for GQ Magazine, and he briefly dated actress Eva Longoria. Between increasingly poor performance on the field and a shoulder injury suffered at the beginning of the 2013 season, it appears Sanchez's days as a starter are likely to be over.
Bart Starr was the quarterback of the 1960s champion Green Bay Packers. Won two league MVP awards. Known for clutch performances in big games, including the "Ice Bowl", an NFL Championship Game won by the Packers over the Cowboys in subzero temperatures. Led the Packers to victories in the first two Super Bowls, as well as three other pre-Super Bowl era NFL championships, giving him more titles than any other quarterback (5).
Roger Staubach was the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys during the heyday of "America's Team" during the '70s. He was famous for his ability to scramble and to rally his team from behind in the final seconds, most famously in the "Hail Mary" game against the Vikings in the '75 playoffs. He won two Super Bowls ('71 and '77) and appeared in two others ('75 and '78). While he was statistically the most dominant quarterback of his era, his four-year Navy commitment between his college and professional years kept his career totals well below those of players like Unitas, Favre, and Montana. He's the Cowboys quarterback in the adaptation of Black Sunday.
Fran Tarkenton was the quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings during their heyday in the 1970s. Nicknamed "Scramblin' Fran", he was notorious for his mobility within the pocket and his style of running around to avoid being sacked. Disagreements with his coach about quarterback mobility resulted in Tarkenton spending four years with the New York Giants. After returning to Minnesota, he lead the Vikings to three Super Bowls. Unfortunately, they lost all three of them. Worse, he's often remembered as the first quarterback to lose four Super Bowls - fans sometimes forget that the Vikings first loss was while Joe Kapp was quarterback. Tarkenton retired as the holder of many records, most of which were broken by Dan Marino, and to this day he's considered one of the best quarterbacks, along with Marino, Warren Moon and Jim Kelly, to never win a Super Bowl.
Tim Tebow is a quarterback who last played with the New York Jets in the 2012 season. After being cut by the New England Patriots just before the start of the 2013 season, and not drawing any interest from other NFL teams during that season, he signed a multiyear deal with ESPN as an analyst for the SEC Network (devoted to the conference that his alma mater Florida belongs to).note After signing his ESPN deal, he said he still hoped to play in the NFL again. While his accomplishments were not even close to the remainder of those on the list here, he has been one of the most polarizing and meme-generating players in the modern NFL. After an extraordinary college career that left some asking if he was the greatest player ever at that level, serious doubts were raised about his ability to succeed in the NFL. His career began when he was drafted in the 1st round of the NFL draft by the Denver Broncos; pundits almost universally panned the move, seeing him as a 4th or 5th round choice with good potential as a backup, rather than an immediate franchise player role he was forced into. What both his critics and fans can agree upon is that his throwing motion is horribly inconsistentnote His slow and awkward throwing motion was pointed out as a problem for NFL play even when he was in college. Generally only the fastest defensive backs make it to the pros, and a slow release gives them more time to see where the QB is throwing; obviously a very bad combination for the QB. But his attempts to "fix" his throw to a more conventional motion seemingly only made it worse; not only was his throwing motion still slower than most pro quarterbacks, he also became less accurate than he'd been in college. During his fairly successful run with the Broncos, Tebow's passes seemed to randomly fluctuate between incredibly precise strikes and wounded ducks that were 5 yards or more off target, with nothing in between., generating some good film for the highlight reels but making it impossible to gameplan around his talents, to the point where his own coaches publicly bashed it during a winning streak. His critics saw him as a terrible player who succeeded by the efforts of his teammates, but got all the credit due to Wolverine Publicity. His fans saw him as a natural leader and the walking embodiment of Crazy Enough to Work. His fans pointed to multiple 4th-quarter comebacks during his brief career as a starter, while critics said if he'd played better in the first three quarters of those games there would've been no need for a comeback. A running meme has "Tebowing" (dropping to one knee with a fist on your forehead to pray) replacing "planking" as the go-to Twitter/Facebook pic. In 2012, despite a winning record as a starter and a home playoff victory over the defending AFC Champs, he was replaced by Peyton Manning and was traded to the New York Jets. The fact that he spent the next season mostly on the bench was probably a blessing in disguise, given how bad a year the Jets had. He was released by the Jets in 2013 and picked up by the Pats (leading to brief speculation that Belichick would use him as a tight end or a fullback), but couldn't make the roster.
Much of Tebow's polarizing effect comes not from his on-the-field football skills, which are typical of a backup quarterback, but from his off-the-field religious views which color almost anything he does in public. An outspoken Christian, he appeared in a Super Bowl commercial before being drafted in a highly controversial anti-abortion segment, marking the first time a political issue ad has seen airtime during the big game. Because of this and other stances, he remains in the public spotlight and is the talk of sports pundits almost daily, despite having been a relatively obscure player on the field and now apparently heading for the broadcast booth.
Johnny Unitas was the quarterback for the Baltimore Colts from 1956 to 1972. He led them to victory in the "greatest game ever played", a 1958 playoff against the New York Giants that featured the first "sudden death" overtime. He also played in Super Bowl III (Earl Morrall started and played most of the game for the Colts) against Joe Namath's Jets and won Super Bowl V against the Cowboys; ironically the latter was considered one of the worst-played championship games, with 11 turnovers and 14 penalties between the teams. After retiring Unitas settled down in the Baltimore area; when the Colts surreptitiously relocated to Indianapolis in 1984, Unitas cut almost all ties with the franchise and "adopted" the Ravens when they came to Baltimore in 1996. He is known for his black high-top cleats and flat-top haircut, symbolizing the prototype "old school" QB. Unitas held the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass, a record that has stood for five decades but which Drew Brees broke in 2012 and Tom Brady then pushed him into third place all-time.
Kurt Warner is a quarterback who led the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl win in 1999 and a close-fought loss in 2001, won two season MVP awards for himself, later led the Arizona Cardinals to their first (losing) Super Bowl appearance, and is statistically among the elite quarterbacks of all time. However, he's still probably better known for his unusual route to the NFL; after an undistinguished career at the obscure University of Northern Iowa, Warner bagged groceries for a little while, married his hard-luck college sweetheart, then began to bounce around the Arena League (where he lead his team to two Arena Bowls, which they lost) and NFL Europe before finally settling with the Rams. Also known for being a hardcore charismatic Christian.
Doug Williams began his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in professional football, but it's his legendary performance at Super Bowl XXII that he's most famous for. During the 1987 season, Doug Williams was the backup quarterback for Jay Schroeder, but the starting quarterback kept getting injured throughout the season. Because Williams often stepped in and led the Redskins to victory when he subbed for Schroeder, he was chosen as the starting quarterback for the playoffs. It paid off, as Doug Williams led the Washington Redskins to the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos. Seen as a team of destiny, the Broncos were huge favorites to win the Super Bowl with superstar John Elway at quarterback. Many experts also believed that the Broncos would get revenge for the bad Super Bowl loss against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXI. At first, it seemed like this would prove true. During the Super Bowl game, the Broncos struck first with Elway throwing a quick strike for a touchdown during his first possession of the ball. Meanwhile, most of the passes Doug Williams threw were dropped. By the end of the first quarter, the Broncos led the game 10-0. However, from the second quarter onward, it was the Doug Williams show. He set a Super Bowl record scoring four touchdowns in a single half. And during the second half, scored again, while the Redskins defense dominated the rest of the game. The game ended with the score 42-10. Doug Williams won the Super Bowl MVP. His overall career wasn't that great when looking at his quarterback stats as he ended his career with a rating of 69.4. Doug Williams was the only black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, until the 2013-2014 season where Russell Wilson won Super Bowl XLVIII. However, he still remains the only quarterback in Super Bowl history who was losing by ten points or more and came back to win the game.
Russell Wilson signed with the Seattle Seahawks in the 2012 draft, picked 75th overall with the expectation that he would be a quality backup. Unlike 2012 draft wunderkinds Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin, Wilson had to fight his way into the starting lineup in the preseason, winning the starting role over former Green Bay star backup (if that's not a contradiction in terms) Matt Flynn, who himself had previously set a Packers record with 6 touchdown passes in one game. A scrambling quarterback like RG3, his ability to run and throw the ball took Seattle into an 11-5 record, and he has earned league-wide praise for his excellent decision making, precision, and coolness under pressure. Between himself, Luck and RG3, Wilson was the only rookie quarterback to win a playoff game in the 2012 Playoffs, and he was a finalist for the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year award. He currently shares an NFL record with Peyton Manning for most season TD passes by a rookie with 26; all the more impressive as Seattle had a run-first offense during that season, with Wilson having nearly half as many pass attempts as Manning did in his own record-breaking year. In the 2013-2014 season, Russell Wilson won his first Super Bowl over the seemly unstoppable Denver Broncos and their powered offense - which was ranked by sports experts as the greatest offense in NFL history. He became the second black quarterback to win a Super Bowl and the first starting black quarterback to win the Super Bowl. Doug Williams, the first black quarterback to win was actually a back up quarterback. Russell Wilson is also the 4th quarterback in Super Bowl history to win the big game in his second year. He is also the shortest quarterback to win a Super Bowl at 5 feet and 11 inches.
Was the centerpoint of the most controversial game in the 2012 season when Seattle played the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football. In the final seconds of the game, Wilson lobbed a Hail Mary pass into the end zone to wide receiver Golden Tate that was ruled a catch and a touchdown, giving Seattle the victory. A Packers defender also had a hand on the ball, and it appeared that both players had possession at the same time when they hit the ground. At the time, games were being officiated by replacement referees, as the regular NFL referees were on strike barring a new contract agreement. Moments after the catch, one referee signaled touchdown, while another signaled incomplete; photos of the two referees' conflicting signals became instant meme fodder. All details of the play have been analyzed to microscopic and nanosecond precision and there is evidence of both views being correct, and that's all we have to say about that. Regardless, at the time it was deemed a game-changing blunder by the replacement refs and the outcry was fierce; a new contract for the pro referees was approved in a matter of days almost entirely because of the fallout.
Jim Brown was the first running back to amass over 10,000 career yards and the only one to average more than 100 yards per game. Brown led the league in rushing yards 8 times (more than any other running back) and won one championship in 9 years with the Cleveland Browns in the 1950s-60s before retiring at the top of his game to pursue a film career. Considered the prototypical power back. Because of his size and appearance (he was as large as most linemen during his career), has more often played a linebacker or defensive coach in film roles than a running back.
Terrell Davis was a running back for the Denver Broncos, and one of Mike Shanahan's aforementioned stud runners. The quality portion of Davis' career only lasted for four years before a devastating knee injury. However, during those years, he was widely regarded as unstoppable. He was one of the focal points of their '90s Super Bowl years. In the Broncos' 1st of 2 consecutive Super Bowl wins, he was Super Bowl XXXII  MVP in spite of, (or perhaps because of) a migraine he was suffering during the game, lining up in order to give the illusion that Denver wasn't solely relying on Elway's passing attack.
Bo Jackson was one of the most highly anticipated and marketed athletes ever. He played running back for the then-Los Angeles Raiders. He also played in Major League Baseball for the Kansas City Royals, so he chose to be a part-time player throughout his career. Still, he is probably the best American two-sport athlete in history, and the only one to become a legitimate star in both sports. Until, unfortunately, he was tackled hard and suffered a major injury to his hip in a playoff game against the Bengals, which ended his football career. He eventually had a hip replacement and played Major League Baseball again, though without much of the speed that made him such an asset. And, after all of this, he's still probably best remembered for being absolutely unstoppable in Tecmo Super Bowl.
Interestingly, despite his all-star status, Jackson shows up fairly often on lists of all-time NFL draft busts. In his final year of college play, he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the #1 overall pick, even though Jackson still wanted to play a final season of college baseball and flat out told the Bucs that he had no interest in playing football at that time. Regardless, the Bucs flew him out for a meeting on their dime, telling him that it would not break any NCAA regulations to do so. The aftermath cost Jackson any further amateur eligibility, with the obvious hope being that Jackson would sign with the Bucs because now he had no other choice. Instead, he declined to sign any contract whatsoever, choosing instead to sign for far less money to play pro baseball, meaning the Bucs spent the most valuable pick in the draft and got nothing in return. The next year, Jackson was drafted again after his rights reverted and he was fully prepared to sit out again, but Raiders owner Al Davis offered him "full-time" pay for a "part-time" deal where he would be allowed to play only in games following the end of the baseball season. He then became a league-leading rusher despite missing a full quarter of games every year.
Marshawn Lynch is the halfback for the Seattle Seahawks. He's considered an integral part of the offense that led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in the 2013 season. His ability to plow through tackles and gain additional yardage has earned him the nickname "The Beast" (and when he does this, it's known throughout the league as "going into Beast Mode.") He also has a notorious Sweet Tooth, to the point where his love for Skittlesnote For international readers, a popular form of multi-flavored candy in America has reached Memetic Mutation status. (At CenturyLink Field, the Seahawks home stadium, the "Beast Mode Burger" is always sold with a bag of Skittles on the side.)
Walter Payton was a running back who played for Chicago in the '70s and '80s. When he retired, his 16,726 rushing yards were the most ever gained by a running back. Nicknamed "Sweetness". Known for refusing to deliberately run out of bounds, and brought back the practice of stiff-arming would-be tacklers. Infamously never scored a touchdown in his sole Super Bowl appearance; his prowess ensured he was double and triple teamed every play. Died in 1999 due to a rare liver disease, becoming a spokesman for organ donation in his final months (his disease had progressed too far for a transplant by then).
Adrian Peterson is a running back for the Minnesota Vikings. He set a slew of records during his rookie season including most yards rushed in a single game, (296) most yards rushing in the first eight games of a season, (1,036) and most 200-yard rushing games for a rookie.(2) In Peterson's first 30 games he had a total 3,101 yards, which marks the 3rd best start to a career for running backs. Peterson and Marshall Faulk are currently the only NFL players to win both the NFL Pro Bowl MVP and Rookie of the Year awards in the same year. Peterson also holds the Pro Bowl record in career rushing touchdowns. He's now best known for falling eight yards short of tying the single-season record for rushing yards, after tearing his ACL the year before (an injury that typically takes at least a year to recover from). After this season, which some considered one of the most impressive seasons for a running back and gained the Vikings their first trip to the playoffs since 2009, he was chosen MVP, the first running back to win the award since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006.
Barry Sanders currently sits third on the all-time rushing list. Unquestionably one of the greatest players in Detroit Lions history, if not the greatest (especially in recent memory). In a game that often focuses on size, strength, and durability, Sanders relied on speed, elusiveness, and incredible athleticism. Thus, despite frequently being the smallest man on the field, he often produced mind blowing plays that made him seem impossible to stop or tackle. When he was active, it was an oft-repeated cliche that fans could watch Sanders run for a loss and come away convinced that he was the greatest running back of all time. Notable because he retired suddenly in 1999 when he was in striking distance of the all-time rushing yardage record. He didn't retire because of old age or health issues - he was just tired of playing for such a perennially losing organization.A short feature.
Emmitt Smith is the all time leading rusher in NFL history (18.355 yards) spending most of his career with the Dallas Cowboys before ending it with the Arizona Cardinals. His rushing record seems safe for the time being, considering the active leading rusher (Steven Jackson) is over 8000 yards away and nearing the end of his career. He wasn't known for being particularly big, strong, or fast, instead relying on his phenomenal vision to predict where the holes in the defense would be.
LaDainian Tomlinson is a recently retired running back, one of the greater ones of the first decade of the 21st century. He played with the San Diego Chargers from 2001-2009 and the New York Jets from 2010-2011. San Diego made out better on this deal. He was one of the earlier running backs to be known as a reliable pass catcher, starting something of a trend. Early in his career, it was believed that he might have a chance to break Emmitt Smith's rushing record, but injuries and a couple of bad years put an end to that. Retired after signing a ceremonial contract to return to the Chargers in 2012.
Ricky Williams was one of the most heavily-hyped players in the year he was drafted. In an especially notable case, Mike Ditka, then coach of the New Orleans Saints, traded away all of his team's draft picks to ensure that he could draft him. Adding to the notability, the Eagles fans booed the team management for taking Donovan McNabb over him. As a player, he was mediocre until he went to the Miami Dolphins, where he was a dynamic, unstoppable force - until he suddenly retired in 2004, when it was revealed he had tested positive for marijuana. After he retired he spent a year Walking the Earth to "find himself" which included living in a tent in the Australian outback and then working for a hollistic medicine college in California. He unretired in 2005, played solidly for a season, then tested positive for marijuana a third time, jumped to the Canadian Football League for the 2006 season, missing most of the 2007 season, then played in one game before a hard stomp to the chest ended his season. Played for the Dolphins through 2010, one year for the Ravens in 2011, then retired.
Larry Fitzgerald plays for the Arizona Cardinals and is generally considered one of the top wide receivers in the game today along with Calvin Johnson. Is known for being quiet and soft-spoken compared to most other receivers. Would probably be the biggest threat to Jerry Rice's records if not for several seasons stuck with horrendous quarterback play in Arizona hurting his statistics.
Marvin Harrison #2 in most career receiving categories behind only Jerry Rice. Spent most of his career as Peyton Manning's go-to guy in Indianapolis. His career was derailed by injuries towards the end and he retired following a shooting incident outside a Philadelphia business which he owned that resulted in the death of a man.
Michael Irvin was one of "The Triplets" with Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, both of whom are listed above. "The Playmaker" was arguably the game's best wide receiver from 1991-1996, putting up huge numbers with the run heavy Cowboys. His career ended on a horrific neck injury in Philadelphia in 1999, where in a remarkable act of poor sportsmanship the fans booed as he was carted off the field.
Calvin Johnson is considered the top current wide receiver in the NFL. Nicknamed "Megatron", in 2012 Johnson broke Jerry Rice's single-season record for receiving yards with one game left to go, leading to speculation that he could become the first to ever record 2,000 receiving yards in a season, as he had recorded at least 100 yards in each of the last eight games (also an NFL record) and needed only 108 to reach 2,000; however, he was held to just 72 in his final game and fell short of that mark. Critics note that while Rice set those records playing for a perennial playoff contender, Johnson plays for the woeful Detroit Lions and therefore gets more opportunities for receptions (since teams tend to pass more when they're trying to come from behind and run the ball more when they've got a lead), but regardless of circumstances, his talent cannot be denied.
Steve Largent was a wide receiver for the 1976 Seattle Seahawks expansion team and the first true superstar of the franchise. He played for thirteen years and retired with almost every career receiving record on the books; it was his bad luck that Jerry Rice came along only a few years behind to break almost every single one. Largent was fairly small and not particularly fast, but had incredibly sure hands and could read pass defenses like a book.
Randy Moss is a wide receiver, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, and San Francisco 49ers. He has the distinction of being the top target for the two highest scoring teams of all time (the 1998 Vikings and the 2007 Patriots), currently holds the record for touchdown receptions in a season (23, 2007) and is 3rd in most of the all-time stats behind the also retired Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison. Known as a loose cannon prior to joining New England; in Minnesota he openly admitted to coasting during games and smoking weed, hit a traffic cop with his car, and fake mooned the fans in Green Bay after scoring a touchdown.note Although the latter had some historical context. Apparently the less polite fans of the Green Bay Packers moon the buses of visiting teams as they depart. During the 2010 season, he was part of a bizarre rollercoaster of trades/releases/signings that saw him traded back to Minnesota...for all of one month, after which he was waived and picked up by Tennessee. He then retired before the next season began, only to unretire a little over a year later. He played one final season for the San Francisco 49ers in 2012. Now an analyst for Fox Football Daily, a studio show for the new Fox Sports 1 cable network.
Terrell Owens is a wide receiver who, alongside Randy Moss, sits just behind Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison in most of the all-time receiving stats. He's also up there with Randy Moss in Jerk Ass status, as he's well known for his outspoken egotistical behavior. He's played for the San Francisco 49ers, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Dallas Cowboys, the Buffalo Bills, and the Cincinnati Bengals, and each time his personal behavior has overshadowed his immense talent. Off the field, he's best known for alienating just about every quarterback that played with him - in San Francisco, he questioned Jeff Garcia's sexuality; in Philly, he feuded with Donovan McNabb. In Dallas, he ultimately accused Tony Romo of conspiring to keep him out of the offense...and Romo was the first QB who actually tolerated T.O.'s antics. He didn't do too much damage in Buffalo, but that's mostly because he was gone after one year. He did have a pretty good year in Cincy (top 5 in most receiving stats).
Jerry Rice is the current all-time leader in receiving yards, all-purpose yardsnote His receiving yards alone would be enough to put him at #2 on the all-purpose yards list!, catches and touchdowns, most famously playing for the San Francisco 49ers during their dominant years. He also played for Oakland and Seattle. He was going to try to play for Denver, but he would not have been guaranteed a spot among the top three wide receivers, so he retired instead. Played for 20 years, won 3 Super Bowl rings, one Super Bowl MVP award and an AFC championship, as well as being the first receiver in NFL history with more than 1000 catches. If there's a record that is held by a wide receiver, chances are he holds it. NFL.com placed him at #1 on their list of 100 greatest NFL players.
Antonio Gates, a tight end who has spent his entire career with the San Diego Chargers, has made the Pro Bowl eight times and been named All-Pro five times, and was along with Tony Gonzalez (see below) one of two tight ends on the NFL All-Decade Team for the 2000s. Also notable as one of the few NFL players who never played college football; he was an undersized power forward for a Kent State basketball team that made an NCAA regional final in 2002.
Tony Gonzalez is the current holder of all the tight end receiving records, as well as the first tight end to amass over 1,000 receptions. He spent most of his career with the Chiefs, and ended his career in Atlanta, retiring at the end of the 2013 season.
Jimmy Graham is a hyper-athletic tight end for the New Orleans Saints. He led the NFL in most major receiving categories early in the 2013 season, earning him an NFL Offensive Player of the Month award, the first tight end in the history of that award (dating back to 1986) to win it. Graham played only one year of college football at the University of Miami, playing basketball for his first four years there.
Rob Gronkowski is the current tight end for the New England Patriots, and was one-half of the "Boston TE Party" before Aaron Hernandez (see "Notorious figures" below) was released. Off-field, Gronk was known for his hard-partying ways.
Walter Jones is widely regarded as one of the best left tackles to ever play the game. He played for the Seattle Seahawks for 11 years. He was selected for the Pro Bowl nine times and was almost singlehandedly responsible for the dominant offensive line performance that led Shaun Alexander to dominance as a running back.
Anthony Muñoz was ranked #12 on the NFL top 100 greatest players list, the highest of all offensive linemen. In any debate of who is the greatest offensive lineman, you will often hear his name. Played almost his entire career with the Cincinnati Bengals. Due to an injury from his playing days, pinky finger now bends outward at a 90 degree angle.
Michael Oher is currently an offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. So far, he has had a solid if unspectacular NFL career, but is best known as the main subject of the 2006 Michael Lewis book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, which was adapted into the 2009 film The Blind Side.
Orlando Pace is another name mentioned amongst the greatest offensive linemen of all time. He was the #1 overall pick of the 1997 NFL draft (after not allowing a sack in his final two college seasons and finishing 4th in Heisman voting, unheard of for an offensive lineman in the modern era.) He was as big of part of the St. Louis Rams "Greatest Show on Turf" success as anyone else, keeping Kurt Warner upright and opening running lanes for Marshall Faulk.
Shannon Sharpe is considered one of the greatest receiving tight ends of all time. He spent most of his career with the Denver Broncos and was one of the featured weapons during their two Super Bowl years. He then joined the Ravens for a two-year stint, during which he won another Super Bowl ring. He was also very well-known for his trash talking.
Mel Blount also played for the dominant Steelers teams of the 1970s. He is considered one of the best defensive backs of all time and his style of play was so ruthlessly effective that he inspired the "Mel Blount Rule", which limited how a defender could play on a receiver, making passing much easier and heralding the beginning of the pass-oriented era of the NFL it remains to this day.
Dick Butkus was by far the best linebacker of the late '60s-early '70s, and easily in the running for the best ever - he once made a Sports Illustrated cover as "The Most Feared Man in the Game". He had incredible speed, strength, and instinct. Bet you aren't making fun of his name now, right?
Joe Greene was a defensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s and the cornerstone of the "Steel Curtain" defense. The fact that he was called "Mean" Joe Greene tells you all you need to know about his on-the-field ruthlessness. He's probably best known for this Coca-Cola commercial.
James Harrison is a hard-hitting linebacker for the Bengals. An unheralded draft pick out of Kent State, he worked his way up to become one of the most dominating defenders in the league. He won the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year award over Ware. He's probably currently better known for his frequent instances of "Foot-In-Mouth Disease" than anything. Among other things, he's called out Ben Roethlisberger over the Super Bowl XLV loss and he called league commissioner Roger Goodell a homophobic slur in response to getting fined for hits on other players that are against new NFL rules against helmet-to-helmet contact to limit injury. (He also threatened retirement over the same rules.) Spent most of his career playing for the Steelers, with whom he won two Super Bowls, before signing with division rival the Bengals in 2013.
Rodney Harrison was an incredibly hard-hitting safety for the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots (with which he won two Super Bowl rings). He is the first player in NFL history to record 30 sacks and 30 interceptions. Fun fact: he was the guy who injured Trent Green, the quarterback whom Kurt Warner was backing up. Second fun fact: He was the guy holding David Tyree's right arm, forcing him to catch the ball against his helmet in the New York Giants entry noted below.
Deacon Jones was a defensive end who most famously played for the Los Angeles Rams in the '60s and '70s. Considered one of the greatest pass rushers ever, he coined the term 'sack' in its current usage, and is believed by many NFL historians to unofficially have the most sacks by any player (career or an individual season both); however, these sacks are unofficial, as they all occurred before the NFL started going over its records to make it an official stat in 1982. Jones' signature move, the "Head Slap", involved whacking the opposing lineman in the head with his forearm and running around him while he was dazed; it was so effective that the NFL eventually outlawed it. Died on June 3, 2013. Later that same month, the NFL finally announced the creation of an official yearly award for the league lead in sacks - named, of course, after Deacon Jones.
Cortez Kennedy was a defensive tackle who played for the Seattle Seahawks over eleven years throughout the '90s. He is best known for having been selected as the 1992 NFL Defensive Player of the Year in a season where Seattle went 2-14, by far the worst performance by any team whose player has been so honored. It makes for a sharp contrast in an era where Heisman Trophies are given to the QB or RB of the national champion almost by default to see such a dominating personal performance being recognized despite struggling aspects on other parts of the team.
Mo Lewis was a 3-time Pro Bowler who won't be mentioned on any 'greatest players of all time' list, and whose numbers look pedestrian compared to some of the other players on this one. (He is known as one of the better linebackers the New York Jets ever had, however.) His notoriety in the sport comes from one singular play - a monster hit in the early 2001 season against then Patriots starting QB Drew Bledsoe. The hit caused Bledsoe internal bleeding, forcing the Patriots to turn to Bledsoe's backup, an untested second-year player they had drafted in the 6th round. His name: Tom Brady.
Ray Lewis was a dominating linebacker and the face of the Baltimore Ravens from the late 90s through the 2012 season. Widely considered one of the best defensive players of all time, he's especially known as a complete defender. He's also become a bit of a meme due to his Shatner-esque style of answering interview questions. Retired in 2013 after winning his second Super Bowl with the Ravens.
Bob Lilly, aka "Mr. Cowboy", the first NFL draft pick and first Hall of Famer for the Dallas Cowboys. A cornerstone of the "Doomsday Defense", he missed only one game over the course of his career. Famous for throwing his helmet half the length of the field when Dallas lost Super Bowl V on the last play, although they finally won Super Bowl VI the next year. Selected 1st team All-Pro seven times, sharing the title for most for selections as a defensive tackle with:
Ronnie Lott is perhaps the greatest all-around defensive back ever. He won four Super Bowl rings with the 49ers, played every position in the defensive backfield and was a Pro Bowler at all three. Famous for amputating part of his left pinkie rather than opt for surgery that would sideline him.
Clay Matthews III, also known as "The Predator", "The Claymaker", and "Thor" is a Green Bay Packers linebacker who has established himself as one of the most dominating defenders in the NFL after just two years in the league. He was named NFL Defensive Rookie Of The Year in 2009 and finished a narrow second in the voting for Defensive Player Of The Year in 2010. He and his cousin Kevin Matthews, a center for the Tennessee Titans, are third-generation NFL players and part of a vast football family that has included his grandfather Clay Sr. (linebacker, 49ers), his father Clay Jr. (linebacker, Browns and Falcons) and his uncle (and Kevin's father) Bruce (offensive linesman, Oilers and Titans). His younger brother Casey is a linebacker for the Eagles. Two more cousins (Jake and Mike) are linemen for Texas A&M University, with the former already regarded as a top-flight prospect with a high first-round draft grade. Perhaps best known for his performance in Super Bowl XLV, where he forced a game-changing fumble at the start of the fourth quarter in what is often called the best play of the game.
Alan Page was an eleven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle who was the first Defensive Player to win a MVP award and, as a lineman, blocked an impressive 15 field goal attempts. After football, he became a prominent attorney and now sits on the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Troy Polamalu is a hard-hitting safety who has spent his entire career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He's well-known as a gamechanger - the seasons he's missed due to injury are often ones where the Steelers stay home during the postseason. He's also well-known for his very long hair (out of respect for his Samoan ancestry), which has gotten him in trouble with league officials every once in a while.note Their official stance seems to be that as long as the hair doesn't cover the name on the back of his jersey, it's good. Has announced, however, that he will cut much of his hair as part of a fundraiser for US veterans in November 2013. In one infamous hair-related incident, Larry Johnson, then of the Chiefs, pulled him down by his hair during an interception return. He's also well-liked among Orthodox Christians for being one of very few Eastern Orthodox public figures to display and discuss his faith publicly. If you pay close attention, you'll notice he makes the Sign of the Cross up-down-right-left before plays, as opposed to the western style of up-down-left-right.
Ed Reed is a free safety drafted by the Baltimore Ravens and currently for the Houston Texans. Best known for his ability to read most quarterbacks like a book, and for making a NFL record 107 yard interception for a touchdown versus the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2008 season. The interception had broken his previous NFL record which was 106 yards.
Darrelle Revis is currently the cornerback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During his days with the New York Jets (2007-2012), Revis was known as "Revis Island" because of his ability to singlehandedly cover even the best wide receivers. Revis missed the 2012 season due to injuries, and after the Jets' season ended, he was traded to the Bucs.
Deion Sanders was a very skilled cornerback, most famously playing for San Francisco and Dallas. Nicknamed "Prime Time". He was so fast that he could usually make up for getting burned by catching up to receivers during the time the ball took to get there, and he was widely recognized as "shutting down" his side of the field - that is, he was so skilled that opposing teams wouldn't even throw to the guy he was covering. Also known for craving the spotlight, being a dangerous punt returner, and having poor tackling skills. He ocassionally played wide receiver for the Cowboys, mostly due to Michael Irvin's drug habits. Like Bo Jackson, he played in the NFL and MLB. So far, he is the first and only man to play in both the Super Bowl and World Series (winning the Super Bowltwice — once for the 49ers and once for the Cowboys — and playing for the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 World Series).
Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks were two top-drafted players by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who helped turn the team from the league Butt Monkey into a Super Bowl champ. Sapp worked as one of the most disruptive - and noisiest - defensive linemen of the 90s, while Brooks was the best tackling and pass-defending linebacker of the day.
Richard Sherman is the current cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, and is part of the "Legion of Boom" secondary, which is currently considered one of the best secondaries in the NFL. Known for his brash and outspoken attitude, Sherman gained attention in 2012 when, after the Seahawks defeated the Patriots, he tweeted a picture of himself yelling at Tom Brady, with the caption, "U MAD BRO?" over Sherman's head. After the Seahawks defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the 2013-14 NFC Championship Game thanks to an interception in the end zone made possible by Sherman tipping the ball, his fiery postgame interview in which he dissed Niners wide receiver Michael Crabtree (the intended target of the aforementioned intercepted pass) gained him even more attention.
Bruce Smith is officially the all-time leading sack specialist of the NFL - he holds the career sack record with 200 quarterback sacks. He played for the Buffalo Bills during their reign as 4-in-a-row Super Bowl runner-ups.
Michael Strahan is a seven-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman for the New York Giants. His last season was the one where they upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl. He currently owns the single season sack record with 22.5. He also has a huge, enormous gap in his teeth. Currently the co-host, with Kelly Ripa, of the morning television talk show Live! with Kelly and Michael, having replaced long-time host Regis Philbin.
Jack Tatum was a hard-hitting safety for the 1970s Oakland Raiders nicknamed "The Assassin." He's (in)famous for paralyzing Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley during the 1978 preseason (Stingley died years later as a result of the injury). He often said his best hits "bordered on felonious assault." He was the Raiders defender involved in Pittsburgh's famous "Immaculate Reception."
Lawrence Taylor, while probably better known today as a drug addict, was at one time the most dominating defender in the NFL. The two-tight end offensive set was invented just because of this guy. He's also the player who laid out a gigantic hit on Redskins QB Joe Theismann which broke his leg and ended his pro career. To his credit, it was a legal hit (and still would be even under today's much more stringent rules) and Taylor immediately called for help after he realized what had happened, but expect the highlight reels to omit that.
Sean Taylor was a safety for the Washington Redskins, known primarily for his freakish athleticism and for being one of the most vicious tacklers in the league, frequently separating footballs and helmets from offensive players by way of sheer force. His early career, as is the case for a lot of players of his makeup, was fraught with personal foul penalties and peppered with a legal issue here and there. By 2007, however, it seemed that he had finally gotten his head on straight. Known as a soft-spoken family man off the field and an intimidating enforcer on it, he was on his way to an all-pro performance, when an injury cut his season short. After returning home to Miami to recover from his injury, he was the victim of an attempted burglary, shot in the leg while trying to protect his girlfriend and 18-month-old daughter. He would later die from his injuries, aged 24, without having achieved the peak of his potential, becoming perhaps one of the greatest and saddest examples of What Could Have Been in NFL history. note Incidentally, Taylor was voted posthumously to the Pro Bowl (the first player ever to receive that honor) - partly out of respect, but equally because the season he'd been having up until his injury and death was just that good.The NFC Team - which also featured three other Redskins who all wore the #21 jersey in his honor - lined up on their first defensive snap with 10 players, leaving his free safety spot blank.
DeMarcus Ware is a sack-producing linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys. He's led the league in sacks twice, and is one of only a few players to notch a 20-sack season. He finished a very close second in Defensive Player of the Year voting that year.
J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans is the reigning Defensive Player of The Year and one of the most feared defensive lineman in the game today. He posses a rare dual threat at his position, the ability to sack the quarterback, AND the ability to bat passes down at the line of scrimmage, thus earning him the nickname, "J.J. Swat". In 2012, he notched a 15 sack/15 passes defended season, an astonishing feat for a defensive lineman.
Randy White, aka "The Manster", was part of the Cowboys legendary 1975 draft and probably the best player on the "Doomsday II" defense that won Super Bowl XII (where White was co-MVP) and carried the Cowboys for years afterward. He was NFC defensive player of the year in 1978.
Reggie White, the feared "Minister of Defense" played as Defensive End for the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, and Carolina Panthers from the late '80s through the early 2000s. He briefly held the career sack record with 198 sacks, but Bruce Smith passed him 2 years after his retirement. He was a key member of the 1997 Green Bay Packers Super Bowl winning team. He is widely regarded as one of the best defensive players to ever play the game. Died unexpectedly only four years after retiring in 2000. Was an actual Bad Ass Preacher.
Charles Woodson is a cornerback (recently turned safety) with a penchant for returning interceptions for touchdowns. He was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 1998 and won the NFL Defensive Rookie of The Year award. After being named an All-Pro in his first three seasons, he would suffer a series of injuries that led to the Raiders choosing not to re-sign him following the 2005 season. He signed with the Green Bay Packers in 2006 for what was supposed to be the twilight of his career. Instead, he became one of the NFL's most dominating corners, having intercepted 28 passes in his first four seasons as a Packer (he had 17 in eight years as a Raider), 8 of which he returned for touchdowns. He won the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 when he intercepted 9 passes, returning for 3 touchdowns (both career highs). He is also (as of 2013) the only person to ever win the Heisman Trophy as a defensive player, winning the honor over Peyton Manning. Also notable was that he was Tom Brady's teammate during his Michigan Wolverines days, and he was involved in the so-called Tuck Rule Game (the 2001 AFC Divisional Playoffs between Brady's Patriots and Woodson's Raiders), in which Woodson's strip-sack of Brady was overturned by the then-unknown "tuck rule"note NFL Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2: When [an offensive] player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble, which was introduced in 1999 and abolished in 2013.
Pete Gogolak, aside from being the first kicker to adapt and popularize soccer-style placekicking, isn't particularly known for his career. However, he's accidentally one of the most important people in NFL history. When the NFL's New York Giants lured him away from the AFL's Buffalo Bills, they broke an unwritten rule that neither league would steal the other league's players. The Gogolak trade triggered a bidding war between NFL and AFL teams, as each rushed to grab players they previously thought were unattainable. Both leagues soon realized the fight would be costly and counterproductive for both leagues, so they instead began discussing a merger.
Ray Guy is considered the best punter in the history of the NFL. His punts were so good that rumors got started that the balls were full of heliumnote which, incidentally, MythBusters found to be worse for punting distance. The annual award for the best punter in college football is named for him.
Devin Hester is the most decorated punt return man of all time - he leads the league in touchdown returns. However, he's probably most famous for being in Madden 08, where he was the sole recipient of a 100 ratingnote ratings usually peak at 99 for his blazing speed. He is also the only player to return the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl for a touchdown, in Super Bowl XLI.
Nate Kaeding is statistically the most accurate kicker in NFL history. He has spent 8 years of his career playing for the San Diego Chargers (2004-2012), and known for having an unfortunate habit of missing important kicks in the playoffs (whether he's solely to blame for the Chargers' playoff woes is up for debate.)
Chris Kluwe, a punter who is now a free agent after being cut by the Oakland Raiders just before the 2013 season, is known as much for his off field actions as he is his on field performance. Known as One of Us, Chris was a long time fan of World of Warcraft (even going by the Twitter handle ChrisWarcaft), as well as being a fan of tabletop games and various comics. Chris gained some notoriety in 2012 when he authored an open letter to a Maryland politician that had urged the Baltimore Ravens owner to silence then Ravens' linebacker Brenden Ayanbadejo, an outspoken supporter of the legalization of gay marriage in the United States. Kluwe's letter, laced with profanity spoke in support of Brendan, while at the same time pointed out to the politician that the legalization of gay marriage would not turn him into a "lustful cockmonster" (the full letter is here).
Shane Lechler is a punter who has been a member of two teams: the Oakland Raiders (2000-2012) and the Houston Texans (2013-present). He is considered the modern era's answer to Ray Guy.
Scott Norwood is infamously known among the general public for missing a 47-yard field goal that sailed wide right in the closing seconds of Super Bowl XXV, giving the Bills the first of its four Super Bowl losses. Had the kick made it, the team would have won the game. However, at the time, only half of the field goals at long distances (40-plus yards) on grass were successfully made, and Norwood, a turf kicker, wasn't good at kicking them (he was one for five throughout his career). Despite this, Norwood surpassed O.J. Simpson as the Bills' all-time leading scorer, which has since been surpassed by Norwood's successor, Steve Christie. Norwood did play with the Bills for one more season, before his release. Norwood was the subject of an episode of ESPN's "The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame..." series, which showed the other reasons why he can't be blamed for the loss. Finally, he was the basis for the character "Scott Woods" in the 1998 film, Buffalo 66.
Steve Tasker essentially defined the modern position of "gunner" (see the main "Special Teams" folder for a description of the position). While he began his career with the then-Houston Oilers, he played his final 12 seasons with the Bills. Tasker's skills in that role led to a change in NFL rules—the rule that requires the punting team's gunners to stay in bounds or incur a 15-yard penaltynote While the gunner is not penalized for being forced out of bounds, he is required to return in bounds as soon as possible. was created because of him. At times, punt return teams put three blockers on him to try to slow him down (normally, one or two blockers are used in that role). He made the Pro Bowl as a special teams player seven times, blocked a punt in a Super Bowl, and was named the Pro Bowl MVP in 1993; in that game, he made four special teams tackles, recovered a fumble, and blocked a field goal that was returned for a touchdown.
Mike Vanderjagt is the most accurate kicker in NFL and CFL history (having regained the NFL record after the aforementioned Nate Kaeding dropped a few accuracy points during the 2010 season). Played with the Indianapolis Colts for most of his NFL career; Peyton Manning once referred to him as "our idiot kicker who got liquored up and ran his mouth off." He ended his career with a rather dismal season in Dallas after Adam Vinatieri replaced him in Indianapolis.
Adam Vinatieri is known as one of the better kickers in the league. He played for New England (1996-2005) during their three Super Bowl wins and Indianapolis (2006-present) during their one Super Bowl win. He helped the Patriots win two of their three Super Bowls with field goals at the end of the games, and all three of the Patriots' Super Bowl wins were won by three points.
Howard Cosell was a commentator on ABC's Monday Night Football from 1970-84. He was well known for his colorful personality, inimitable delivery, and awful toupee. Got fired after a Never Live It Down incident when he referred to a speedy black player (Alvin Garrett) as "that little monkey".note For the record, Cosell was anything but racist, being a proponent of integration of professional sports from the beginning and one of the few major figures in professional sports to defend Muhammad Ali's refusal to register for the draft. Cosell had used a term of affection ('little monkey') commonly used toward children in Jewish families (it was in fact his nickname for his own grandson). It was not the first time he had used the term, nor did he use the term exclusively for African-American athletes. Alvin Garrett himself took no offense, and Howard Cosell continued to cover sports (primarily boxing, where he started his career—he provided coverage for the event in the 1984 Olympics) until finally retiring in 1988. He died in 1995.
John Madden, as mentioned above, is the definitive pro football broadcaster. Madden has spent time on all four of the major networks. He also has his name on the Madden NFL series of video games. Had a charming, if somewhat... unique, commentary style and a fondness for the telestrator. He's known for a crippling fear of flying, which has been marketed to create one of his signature awards, the Madden Bus with his players-of-the-week posted on the sides. Retired from broadcasting in 2009. BOOM!! Tough actin' Tinactin!
Keith Jackson is the most famous college football announcer ever. He has a very soothing voice and tends to use a lot of homespun sayings in his commentary. Whoa, Nellie!
Roger Goodell is the current commissioner. When he got the job, he stated that he wanted to clean up the league, since some teams have been well-known for their...somewhat illegal behavior. The other hot-button issues under his tenure have been the work stoppage and the ever-growing threat of concussions. While detractors accuse him of being too slow to address the concussion issue, his actions have been a dramatic reversal from his predecessor Tagliabue's policy of ignoring the problem and hoping it would go away.
Pete Rozelle was active from 1960-1989, when he led the NFL through the war with the AFL and came out as the winner. He then proceeded to build the merged league into the strongest sports entity in the country.
Paul Tagliabue was the commissioner between Rozelle and Goodell (1989-2006). His legacy mainly consisted of expanding on Rozelle's successes, especially through many troubles including 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina, making the NFL the dominant pro sports league in America. He took great pains to make sure Cleveland (specifically the Cleveland Browns) would return after Art Modell's movement of the team to Baltimore, while at the same time lost Los Angeles as an NFL market when the Rams moved to St. Louis and the Raiders moved back to Oakland (though there have been many overtures, there hasn't been a team in Los Angeles since 1995).
Jerry Jones is the current owner of the Dallas Cowboys. He might be the most hated figure in the league, even (or rather, especially) among fans of his own team. For example, despite bringing three championships to Dallas many older Cowboys fans have never forgiven him for firing Tom Landry and then running his popular successor, Jimmy Johnson, out of town. He's best known for being very, very active in running his team, refusing to appoint a general manager and giving that role to himself instead. He is sometimes considered a real-life expy of J.R. Ewing which was lampshaded in a series of advertisements in the '90s, and he even showed up alongside J.R. in the revival of Dallas. His reputation has led to the extravagant new stadium he had built for his team in 2009 being referred to by such nicknames as "Jerryworld", "the Boss Hogg Bowl", and "Six Flags Over Jerry".
Daniel Snyder is the current owner of the Washington Redskins. While he has managed to make Washington the second most valuable NFL franchise, he's best known for being in an odd flux of Aesop Amnesia - one year, he'll snap up loads of (often past-their-prime) expensive free agents, then pledge to cut back in the next offseason. Which he does, but he usually goes back to his old tricks in the next offseason after that. Also a key figure in the controversy over his team's name; "Redskin" is a racial slur for Native Americans (now almost never used except to refer to the team, but at the time of its naming almost as common as using the N-word to slur blacks), and several tribes have been putting increasing pressure on the League to force a name-change since Snyder refuses to do so himself.
Al Davis was the one-time coach and most recent owner of the Oakland Raiders, and challenged Jerry Jones for "most hated figure in the league". Despite being a member of the Hall of Fame and once serving as commissioner of the pre-merger AFL, he was frequently caricatured by the sports media as an out-of-touch Disco Dan who made bizarre coaching/player decisions on a model of football that worked during the last period of Raiders' dominance in the league (1970-1983) but has since been rendered obsolete. Davis' stubborn refusal to adopt to the "West Coast Offense" may be a Take That to the San Francisco 49ers as a result of the bad blood rivalry between them. He also sued the league several times claiming anti-trust law violations. Passed away on October 8, 2011.
Lamar Hunt was the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and founder of the American Football League. He founded the AFL because the NFL awarded the Dallas franchise to another group of owners. His league was known for many innovations in the game such as more open passing offenses (as opposed to the NFL's reliance on power running games) and was so improbably successful that the AFL and NFL were in an unsustainable competition for the best rookies. The rise of his league created the Super Bowl, which he named, (initially the AFL-NFL World Championship Game) and forced the NFL agree to a merger with the AFL. Today many fans believe that the NFL is much more like the AFL used to be than how the NFL used to be. Since his passing, the Chiefs have worn a special AFL commemorative patch bearing his initials in his honor.
Hunt is also considered a very important figure in American soccer, as he was one of the founding figures in the creation of Major League Soccer. His contributions to the sport were so important that the US Open Cup (equivalent to the FA Cup) is named after him.
George Preston Marshall was founder and longtime owner of the Washington Redskins. Marshall was known for using many innovations to build his fan base (e.g. gala halftime shows and cheerleaders), but was also the NFL's leading bigot for 40 years, not only naming his team the Redskins but also refusing to sign black players until the government forced him to (they owned the stadium he was leasing).
The Green Bay Packers are unique in the league in that they do not have a "traditional" ownership; instead they are collectively owned by 121,012 shareholdersnote and none of them can ever own more than 200,000 shares, about 5% of the total stock mostly based in Green Bay and the surrounding communities. They have an Executive Committee that makes most of the traditional owner decisions, and it is the president of this committee that generally gets sent to owner meetings. The purpose behind this was twofold: when the team was strapped for cash in the pre-revenue sharing days, it allowed the team to survive without being bought or moving. Secondly, due to restrictions in the stock, they will effectively never move from Green Baynote originally this meant that if the team disbanded, the remaining assets would go to build what would probably be an incredibly grand soldier's monument these days, but currently it would be distributed to charity. Much to the lament of many other teams' fans (especially the Cowboys and Raiders), this ownership setup is actually banned under current league rules (no more than 32 people can be co-owners of a team, and there has to be one person with at least a 30% share); it is allowed to continue due a Grandfather Clause.
Bill Polian was the general manager for Indianapolis Colts until his firing in 2012, after they went 2-14 without Peyton Manning. Before that, Polian served as the GM of the Buffalo Bills (during their three consecutive Super Bowl trips; he was fired after Super Bowl XXVII) and was the first GM of the Carolina Panthers. Polian became the Colts GM in 1998, when he would draft Peyton Manning, and together, they would have several winning seasons, and made two Super Bowl trips, winning one. Polian was at the forefront of turning the current NFL into a "passing league", when, as a member of the Competition Committee, lobbied the NFL to strictly enforce the holding and illegal contact rules, after the Colts lost to the Patriots in the 2003 AFC Championship Game. Polian was also known for his tendency to bench starters after locking up a playoff seed to allow them to rest up for the playoffs; his most infamous case being in Week 16 of the 2009 season, when the 14-0 Colts, having already clinched the AFC's top seed, pulled their starters against the Jets, and lost to them, ending their bid for a perfect season. Fans naturally hated this, and analysts are divided as to whether it's actually an effective strategy or just something that just makes your starters rusty in their first playoff game. Currently, Polian is an NFL analyst for ESPN.
Several teams, especially very old ones, have had owners over multiple generations. These include the Chicago Bears' Halas/McCaskey family, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Rooney Family, the New York Giants' Mara family note (the actress who plays Lisbeth in the American The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films in fact is named Rooney Mara, as she is related to both latter families; her sister Kate is also an accomplished actress), and the Arizona/Phoenix/St. Louis/Chicago Cardinals' Bidwill family.
Notorious figures associated with American Football
Rae Carruth was a former wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers, who during his playing career was considered a rather nondescript, average player. During his third professional season in 1999, his pregnant girlfriend was mortally wounded in a drive-by shooting in Charlotte, North Carolina, but survived just long enough to accuse Carruth of arranging the hit. (Her son was delivered and saved by Caesarean section.) Arrested for murder, he was acquitted on that charge but convicted of conspiracy to murder, receiving a 19-year prison term.
Aaron Hernandez was a former tight end for the New England Patriots, and is the other half of the "Boston TE Party" alongside Rob Gronkowski. In June 2013, Hernandez was charged with the first-degree murder of a local football star. He was eventually released from the Patriots following his arrest. And if that wasn't bad enough, law enforcement are looking into him possibly being linked to a double homicide that happened in 2012.
Adam "Pacman" Jones is currently playing cornerback for Cincinnati, previously playing for the Tennessee Titans and later the Dallas Cowboys. He got into several fights at strip clubs, and served a year's suspension. Was part of an angle on TNA Wrestling, including winning their Tag Team Championships, despite having a stipulation in his contract that he could not wrestle.
Ryan Leaf was a quarterback most famously employed by the San Diego Chargers, and somehownote Before the draft he was asked what he would do as a rookie quarterback with time off and replied with spending it in Vegas the #2 pick of the 1998 Draft. He is also generally considered to be the biggest draft bust of all time (Peyton Manning - at the time often compared to Leaf - was drafted in the same year and has gone on to unmeasurable success). He eventually resurfaced as a quarterbacks coach at West Texas A&M, which he lost after asking a student for pain pills. Currently serving a seven-year sentence in Montana State Prison for felony drug possession and burglary charges.
O.J. Simpson was a dominant running back. As an athlete, he had the first 2,000 yard rushing season with the Buffalo Bills in the (14-game) 1973 season, and is one of only a few people to earn Most Valuable Player on a non-playoff team and after he retired from football he became a moderately popular movie actor. Then in 1994 he allegedly killed his wife and her friend. After the "Trial of the Century", he was found not guilty. This created a great deal of arguing, and the trial pretty much obliterated his long-held "nice guy" persona he had cultivated for decades (especially after he published a book about how he would have murdered his wife, 'if he had done so'). Recently, he was found guilty of robbing and assault two sports memorabilia collectors (justifying his actions because he believed this memorabilia was somehow "his" because it had his autograph on it), and will be imprisoned for at least nine years.
Donte Stallworth has played wide receiver for several teams. He pled guilty in 2009 to vehicular manslaughter after driving drunk and killing a jaywalking pedestrian in Miami, Florida and received the lightest sentence of any NFL player convicted of killing another person, 24 days in jail and five years' probation. He was suspended for the entire 2009 season, was subsequently released by the Browns and almost immediately got picked up by the Ravens.
Michael Vick played for the Atlanta Falcons. As an athlete, he more or less redefined the quarterback position - he was extremely mobile with the football, if a mediocre passer. However, that all came to an end when it was discovered he ran an illegal dogfighting operation and was sent to prison for 2 years and pretty much became Persona Non Grata with football fans. After being released from prison, he signed a one-year contract with a team option for a second year with the Philadelphia Eagles on August 13, 2009 and partway through the 2010-2011 season became the team's starting quarterback. After a whirlwind Redemption Quest, he was shown to still be an excellent quarterback, leading the Eagles into the 2010 Playoffs, winning the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award, scoring a new endorsement deal with Nike and even lobbying in support of a bill that would persecute those who attend illegal animal fights or bring children to them. He's almost returned to his pre-dogfighting level of popularity, but the general public has still not forgiven him. Additionally, in terms of actual on-field play, is also known for being something of a Fountain of Expies. While there were fast runners at the QB position that predated Vick (Randall Cunningham comes to mind), Vick seemed to start a wave of quarterbacks that are every bit as gifted with their legs (and sometimes moreso) than they are with their arms - and usually, as young players, they tend to be compared to Vick rather than anyone else.
Gregg Williams is currently a senior defensive assistant for the Tennessee Titans. He was going to be the defensive coordinator for the Saint Louis Rams, but that was put to a halt when it was revealed he spearheaded the massive "Bountygate" program for the New Orleans Saints (essentially, a pool where bonuses were paid to defensive players who injured key offensive players). It's also been revealed that he had similar pools with the other teams he coached. Reinstated by the league after a year (which may or may not count as a case of Easily Forgiven, depending on your point of view) and signed a contract to become a member of the Tennessee Titans' coaching staff within the day.
NFL Divisions and Teams
NFL Divisions: There are two conferences, the NFC and the AFC, and 8 divisions, each of which has some of its own unique personality. The conferences, the National and American Football Conferences, are Artifact Titles from the the time when many of the AFC franchises played in the rival American Football League (AFL) before the two leagues merged into the modern version NFL. Normally, each team considers every other team in its division as a rival, but there are some inter-conference and inter-divisional rivalries as well.
Divisions have changed from time to time. The most recent change came about when the Houston Texans entered the league, causing a switch to a 8-division method.
They are presently as follows:
NFC East (Dallas, New York Giants, Philadelphia, & Washington): A slight artifact title because Dallas is west of the Mississippi, however, it was structured this way to preserve the intense rivalries amongst its four teams. The NFC East is considered one of the league's stronger divisions and is its most decorated with its teams holding 12 Super Bowls (as of 2012). The winner usually rotating among the Giants, the Eagles, or the 'Boys (with the 'Skins holding the bag). Each of the teams usually puts up a pretty good game against each other as well. Sometimes called "The Glamour Division", both because all four teams are big-market teams with long histories, and because, in recent years, all four have a tendency to excite hype and excitement in the offseason which they usually do not live up to.
NFC North (Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, & Minnesota): AKA, "The Black & Blue Division" and "The Norris Division."note Norris is a former (1974-1993) division of the National Hockey League. So called by Chris Berman of ESPN because the chilly-ranging-to-frigid fall and winter weather of the member cities seems amenable to hockey, and that all of them but Green Bay had NHL teams in the Norris. It was known as the NFC Central Division prior to the 2002 season and was the only division to remain intact after the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Thus, it is considered the oldest division in professional football. Green Bay won the first crown en route to its eleventh NFL Championship and second Super Bowl victory in 1967. The next two were won by Minnesota which went on to dominate the division in the '70s, followed by Chicago in the '80s and Green Bay in the '90s with the division crown rotating between the three of them in the '00s. Detroit has struggled since the 1950s, with the low point for the franchise being a winless season in 2008 - but those struggles have resulted in some high draft picks that the team has used as of late to become...well, pretty darn good. It is home to some of the longest running rivalries in the NFL and two of the teams were previously led by Brett Favre over the course of 18 seasons (GB: 1992-2007 & MIN: 2009-2010).
NFC South (Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, & Tampa Bay): Originally thought of as the castoffs when pro football went to four divisions, they've actually played pretty good having sent a team to most NFC Championship games, except for 2008 and 2009. New Orleans and Atlanta had fairly solid seasons in recent years, while Carolina and Tampa Bay are currently in rebuilding mode. All four teams in the division have been to the Super Bowl since 1998, and since the formation of the division in 2002, a different team has won the division every year. Oddly, from 2003 to 2007 and in 2009, the previous year's last-place team won the division. In 2008, the previously last place team, Atlanta, merely made the wild card playoff spot instead, and in 2010, Tampa Bay, 2009's last place team, just missed out on the playoffs, losing a tiebreaker to Green Bay.
NFC West (Arizona, St. Louis, San Francisco, & Seattle): For most of the 2000s one of the league's weakest divisions, usually only sending its division winner to a one-and-done playoff experience although this was subverted by RB Marshawn Lynch and Seattle with a shocking victory over the defending champion Saintsnote Though the Saints had just put their top two Power Rushers that season: Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory on IR and had to integrate their hastily-sign replacements to run behind Reggie Bush, despite having a losing record heading into the game. Also inverted by Arizona in 2008 thanks in large part to Kurt Warner's resurgence where they reached the Super Bowl despite only nine regular season wins and being called "the worst playoff team" by many people. (Speaking of Warner, St. Louis' Greatest Show on Turf offense dominated the division in the early 00's but slowly fell out of power to Seattle, and then Arizona.) San Francisco used to be one of the NFL's strongest franchises with four championships in the 80's and one in the 90's, when it was known for the innovative "West Coast Offense" and having several hall of fame players on the roster (Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, see above). However, as those players all retired or fell to injury as the 90's wore on, the team slipped into "also ran" status for nearly a decade until they returned to the playoffs in 2011. After that, with the resurgence of the 49ers and the rise of the Seahawks and Cardinals, the NFC West was considered by many to be the toughest conference in the league.
AFC East (Buffalo, Miami, New England, & New York Jets): Starting from the early 2000s, New England had an absolute lock on this division, winning it EVERY SINGLE YEAR note except for 2008, the year Tom Brady was injured at the start of the season, with the best thing any other team could hope for being a wild-card berth. Aside from the Patriots, it's a fairly weak division - the Dolphins and Jets occasionally rise to contender status but it never lasts, and the Bills have been dire since the mid-late 90s. Notable for the fact that it contains several of the oldest franchises from the AFL, which is why it retained the geographic oddity of having Miami in its division even though it is geographically the southernmost NFL city.
AFC North (Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, & Pittsburgh): The home of intimidating defenses and hardcore players...and the Cleveland Browns. All of these teams have fairly storied histories - well, except Cincinnati (were fairly decent in the '80s, making the Super Bowl twice, but typically struggle so much they are better know as the Bungles). The division's typically a showdown between Pittsburgh and Baltimore, with Cincy a respectable third and Cleveland a distant fourth.
AFC South (Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, & Tennessee): Another contender for "strongest division"; though Indy ran away with the division during the Peyton Manning years, Tennessee and occasionally Jacksonville can usually put up a decent fight. Houston was known as a decent team in a division where "decent" wasn't good enough. They came very close to a playoff berth in 2009 and 2010, and earned their first playoff birth and playoff victory in 2011.
AFC West (Denver, Kansas City, Oakland, & San Diego): Another entrant into the contest for "weakest division". San Diego has had a fairly solid lock on the division for a while now, though Denver usually makes a solid push (but dies out around midseason). Kansas City and Oakland have made top-10 draft picks for several years now. By the way, these four teams have been in the same division since the beginning of the AFL.
NFL Teams: There are 32 NFL Teams, a few of which are more famous than others.
AFC History by Teams
The Baltimore Ravens began play as an expansion team in 1996 when the entire roster and coaching staff of the Cleveland Browns vanished and rematerialized in Baltimore. That's obviously not true, but it's more or less the NFL's official story. What happened is that owner Art Modell wanted to leave Cleveland with the Browns, but the Browns name and history remained in Cleveland (to be used by a "revived" Browns team under new ownership) while the Ravens were considered to be the "new" team. Confused? You should be. note Ironically, the same thing happened to Baltimore in the 80's, when the then-Baltimore Colts team famously left unnanounced in the middle of the night in a fleet of moving vans. At the time, the biggest critic of the Colts' move outside the state of Maryland was...Art Modell. The Ravens are known mostly for their stifling defense. The face of the team for their first 17 years of existence was linebacker Ray Lewis, who led the team to Super Bowl wins in the 2000 and 2012 seasons, but non-Baltimore fans prefer to focus on how he was indicted for murder in 2000. Ah, the NFL. The Ravens are division rivals of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the rivalry between the two teams has been said to be the most bitter in the NFL note This is at least partly because the Steelers are carrying on for both the Browns rivalry and former Baltimore Colts fans. Some previous Colts fans became Pittsburgh fans after the move to Indianapolis, and dislike the Ravens for abandoning Cleveland in the same way. Pittsburgh was outspokenly against Modell's decision to relocate the team to Baltimore — owner Dan Rooney was one of only two team owners to vote against the move, and many Steelers fans wore orange armbands to the last Browns/Steelers game in Pittsburgh after the move was announced as a sign of mourning. They may consider the Ravens the successor to the old rivalry, but lacking the history of the Browns' rivalry and the ugliness around the Ravens' inception has made the new one even more bitter.
The Buffalo Bills are the third team to lose four Super Bowls. Not only that, they did it four years in a row. In fact, they're the only team to ever make it to more than two consecutive Super Bowls. Other than that, possibly the only NFL city with weather worse than Green Bay. As the city of Buffalo's economy has been in a tailspin for nearly four decades, the Bills are commonly mentioned when talking about putting a team in Los Angeles. They have begun playing some home games in nearby Toronto to attempt to alleviate this concern. Thereby raising others; there's also talk of having them become the first Canadian NFL team.
The Cincinnati Bengals are a historically bad team that has been in two Super Bowls (XVI and XXIII) and lost both to the San Francisco 49ers. Pretty much came into existence solely as a Take That effort to allow former Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown to come back to the league after being fired years before; the team even uses the same helmet color as the Browns. Currently suffering from an image problem due to having more players arrested in the mid-2000s than every other team combined. Like every other team in the AFC that has at some point been associated with the state of Ohio, they are bitter rivals of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Until recently, they were famous as the home of the NFL's resident Cloud Cuckoolander, wide receiver Chad Johnson (who temporarily renamed himself Chad Ochocinco in 2008, then changed his name back a few years later).
The Cleveland Browns are a former powerhouse that has won and appeared in more professional championships than any other team, but has not been to a championship game since 1964. Known for choking in the clutch, especially against the Denver Broncos in the mid to late 1980s. (Don't ask Browns fans about "The Drive" or "The Fumble".) After the original team was taken to Baltimore by owner Art Modell (don't mention him around Browns fans either) in 1996, the city filed a federal lawsuit and was awarded the team name, colors, and franchise history, then an expansion team in 1999. Since then, the team has been a laughingstock, in large part due to constantly-shifting coaching staffs and quarterbacks that haven't panned out. Rivals of the Pittsburgh Steelers and (to a lesser extent) the Baltimore Ravens, though this more or less just makes them a punchline in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Were purchased by truck stop mogul Jimmy Haslam in 2012, and he seems to be serious about reforming the team. However; Cleveland's penchant of rotten luck seems to be continuing, as soon after Haslam's purchase of the Browns his truck stop company (Pilot Flying J) would soon be investigated for fraud; complete with the FBI and IRS staging a raid at one point.
The Denver Broncos are the second team to lose four Super Bowls and the first to lose five. Historically a strong franchise, they eventually won two behind quarterback John Elway at the tail end of his career. Also always seem to have a stud anonymous 1000-yard rusher every year. Their stadium, called Sports Authority Field at Mile High (the "Mile High" having been added in an attempt to calm complaints about the corporate name, and as a Shout-Out to previous home Mile High Stadium), is literally a mile up, just like the rest of Denver, which makes their home games tough on the visiting teams. Some players with certain medical conditions cannot play there without literally risking their lives and thus must miss the games. Made a lot of noise in the 2009 offseason when new coach Josh McDaniels succeeded in alienating the team's star quarterback so badly that they were forced to trade him to Chicago. (Chicago made the playoffs in 2010, McDaniels got fired before the season was over). McDaniels drafted Tim Tebow before leaving Denver, who led the Broncos to a stunning playoff spot. However, Tebow was traded to the New York Jets after John Elway was returned to the franchise as President, and signed veteran QB Peyton Manning. In the 2013-2014 season, the Broncos made it to the Super Bowl with the most productive offense in NFL history according to many sports experts, but they ended up losing 43-8 to the Seattle Seahawks whom had the best defense of the year and one of the best defenses in NFL history.
The Houston Texans are the NFL's newest franchise. They began play in 2002, five years after the old Houston Oilers left town to become the Tennessee Titans. Incidentally, the NFL originally awarded the franchise to Los Angeles, but civic arguments over a new stadium in L.A., coupled with a record breaking expansion bid by Houston businessman Bob McNair ($700 million, not including the price tag for the new stadium) forced the NFL to change its mind and award the team to Houston instead. However, since the Titans owned (and refused to sell) the rights to the Oilers name and colors (Titans owner Bud Adams specifically had the team spend one season as the "Tennessee Oilers" so that a repeat of the Cleveland Browns situation would be impossible), they based their name after the original Houston Texans, a WFL team that played in 1974. After several seasons at or below mediocrity, the Texans broke through in 2011 with their first division win and the franchise's first playoff berth, fueled mostly by a revitalized defense.
The Indianapolis Colts are a mediocre franchise that suddenly became dominant after drafting popular media-darling quarterback Peyton Manning in 1998. With Manning on the team, they became a regular playoff contender (including a Super Bowl win in 2007), but when he was out for the 2011 season due to a neck injury they instantly fell to worst in the league. But thanks to No.1 overall draft pick Andrew Luck, new head coach Chuck Pagano, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, (Who took over as interim Coach when Pagano was diagonesed with Leukemia) and other players and staff the Colts went from 2-14 to 11-5 and right back in the playoffs. The Colts are a long-running franchise that dates, in some form, all the way back to 1913note as the Dayton Triangles. They were in Baltimore until they literally escaped in moving vans in the middle of the night in 1983; the city of Baltimore now wishes they had had the presence of mind to do to this team what Cleveland did to the Browns... A team of many firsts. As the Baltimore Colts, they had the first cheerleading squad and the first official mascot in the NFL, and were also the first NFL team to put a logo on their helmets. Contrary to popular belief, the Colts don't have the first NFL marching band—that honor belongs to the Redskins. Also, the band predates the current Colts franchise; it was created for the first Baltimore Colts, which folded after the 1950 season.note The band still exists and is the official marching band of the Ravens. Its attempts to stay in Baltimore despite the lack of a team were featured in an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary. The Colts also won the first-ever sudden-death overtime game, which has sometimes been referred to as "The Greatest Game Ever Played". Divisional rivals of Tennessee, Jacksonville and Houston.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are an average franchise based in the South that began play in 1995 and chose a predatory feline as their mascot. Along with the Carolina Panthers (another expansion team with a predatory feline mascot created that year), they made it to their respective conference championship in 1996 but lost. As the Jacksonville Metro area has only 1.5 million people (and thus a tiny media market), this is another team that's been considered for a move to Los Angeles. The current face of the franchise is Maurice Jones-Drew, a running back of small stature but enormous talent who is often among the league leaders in rushing and has a popular nationally syndicated fantasy football radio show. Also known for currently having the league's most popular (and one of the more outrageous when it comes to antics) mascot, Jaxson De Ville. Midway into the 2011 season, the Jaguars made a little news via firing long time head coach Jack Del Rio and previous owner Wayne Weaver selling the franchise to Shahid Khan, a multimillionaire from Illinois whose mustache is as well known as his business skills — fans can be seen wearing "Khanstaches" at home games in support of their new owner. They share divisional rivalries with Tennessee, Houston and Indianapolis and are geographical rivals of Miami and Tampa Bay, although none of the teams in Florida take their rivalries seriously.
The Kansas City Chiefs started life as an original AFL team as the Dallas Texans, owned by AFL founder Lamar Hunt until his death. They moved to Kansas City once it became obvious that Dallas wouldn't support two teams (the Cowboys started at the same time; the Texans won the AFL championship in 1962 but the not-very-good-at-the-time Cowboys were the more popular team), changed their name because the Kansas City Texans is clearly ridiculous (although there is word Hunt did consider keeping the Texans name), but still includes their pre-Chiefs years in the team history. Under Hank Stram, the Chiefs won three AFL championships (1962, '66 and '69) and appeared in the first and fourth Super Bowls, beating the Vikings in the latter. Unfortunately, it didn't last and the Chiefs went into a decline in the mid-1970s, not long after they lost to the Miami Dolphins in a playoff game that went into two overtime periods and is still the longest game in NFL history (A United Stats Football League game in the 1980s went into a third overtime, but that doesn't count). There was a brief renaissance during the early years of Marty Schottenheimer and a scorched-earth 2003 campaign that ended with a first round playoff loss but since the mid-'00s they have been increasingly pathetic. If you ever heard the phrase "you play to win the game" with odd stressing on the syllables, blame the Chiefs' former head coach, Herm Edwards, who nearly destroyed the team. They did however win their division in 2010 thanks to a new coach and a much-improved offense and front office. In the 2013-2014 season, the Chief's would sadly be added to the history of greatest upset losses in playoff history. They had a 28 point lead over the Colts, but lost the game with a final score of 45-44, finishing second under the infamous Houston Oilers and Buffalo Bills game of 92 in terms of upset losses in a playoff game.
The Miami Dolphins are best known as the only team in the Super Bowl era to achieve a "perfect season" (no losses or ties in regular season or playoffs), doing so in 1972. The only team that came close were the 18-1 Patriots below (The 49ers and Bears put up 18-1 seasons in '84 and '85 respectively; their losses came during the regular season). Other than that, the Dolphins were the team of Dan Marino, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, who never won a Super Bowl. Ever since his retirement, they've pretty much had a revolving door at quarterback, but they've apparently settled at Ryan Tannehill. Also had Don Shula, the winningest coach in the NFL, and since 1970, have been the winningest team in the league. To their credit, they've appeared in five different Super Bowls, losing three, but winning two back-to-back.
The New England Patriots are best known for their 18-1 season; they were undefeated heading into the Super Bowl before suffering a very close defeat to the New York Giants, one of the most epic upsets in sports history. Led by quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots transformed into a perennial juggernaut, winning three Super Bowls in four years and repeating as champions in 2003-2004. They were accused of illegally recording their opponents' defensive signals from the sidelines that season, an allegation known as "Spygate". Belichick was fined $500,000 note The highest amount levied against a coach, as well as the highest allowed by current NFL rules, the Patriots' organization was fined $250,000 and they lost their first-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Due to their winning ways and their coach being compared to a mad genius, they're often joked to be the Big Bad of the NFL. Were called the Boston Patriots from 1960-1970 until the building of Foxboro Stadium, which was actually closer to Providence, Rhode Island than it was to Boston. Around this time it was decided that the team represented the whole New England area.
The New York Jets are New Jersey's other, more forgettable team. Originally the New York Titans. Traditionally Long Island's football team, they have been based in the Giants' home stadium since 1984. Sometimes derisively referred to as "Jersey-B" in the sports media. They are known for their "J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets" chant, which some of the rowdier fans translate this to.......other four-letter words. Did we mention that the Jets have a rather tough fanbase (although not as rough as the Eagles'). They've even stopped selling alcohol at a few games because of it. The high point of the franchise came in 1968, when quarterback Joe Namath "guaranteed" victory over the heavily favored Colts, and actually won Super Bowl III, giving the AFL teams credibility. (The guarantee thing seems to be endemic to New York sports: see Babe Ruth in 1932, Mark Messier in 1994, Jim Fassel in 2000.) Besides creating the annoying tradition of underdog teams "guaranteeing" victory in important games, this had the more lasting effect of proving the viability of the AFL and validating the merger with the NFL that had been agreed to. After the Super Bowl win, they spent decades as a bottom-of-the-barrel team, though they're generally decent to good these days, and in the '80s they were known as a defensive powerhouse led by their "New York Sack Exchange" D-line. Led by extremely outspoken head coach Rex Ryan, they made it to two AFC Championship games in two years, beating the favored Colts and Patriots to get there. Since then they've slid back into mediocrity and been known more for the ongoing soap opera revolving around who their starting quarterback is while talking trash that they then badly fail to back up, along with an infamous play in 2012 against the Patriots where Mark Sanchez's head collied with the rear end of an offensive lineman, resulting in the "Butt Fumble" which lead ESPN's 'Not Top 10' for nearly an entire year.
The Oakland Raiders are the Eagles of the West Coast, as their fans often dress up in ridiculous costumes for the game. In 1982, the Raiders moved from Oakland to Los Angeles. They were quite popular in LA, but had to play in the aging Los Angeles Coliseum. With 95,000 seats the Coliseum was usually not sold out for games which caused TV blackouts for the Raiders in LA. The area was also considered dangerous and the Raiders attracted many gang members as fans. After failing to get a new stadium, Al Davis moved the team back to Oakland in 1995. Once a pretty good team, the Raiders are now known mostly for a revolving-door coaching staff, for picking up players that (due to either age or criminal history) no one else will touch, for drafting/signing speedy players who can't really do anything else to outrageous contracts. Al Davis was also known for massively interfering in the coaches' jobs during his tenure as owner. The Raiders have a long-standing rivalry with San Francisco due to their proximity (their home cities are separated only by the width of the San Francisco Bay) that has historically been more intense between the administrators of each club than on the field. For a long time, the two clubs even refused to schedule each other in preseason because of it, and they won't again beginning in 2012 due to fan violence after their 2011 preseason game. As of 2012, it's the only team that shares its home field with a Major League Baseball team, in this case, the Athletics, thus it plays over dirt during the early part of the season rather than a full grass field. Oakland fans are among the most loyal in professional sports despite the team's recordnote Raiders merchandise is a perennial bestseller, and constitute a Hatedom for every other NFL team in existence (with particular emphasis on the Chargers, Chiefs, and 49ers).
The Pittsburgh Steelers are perhaps the most successful team of the modern NFL era, a contrast to their status as perhaps the most pathetic team in the pre-merger NFL. They have won the Super Bowl six times and have played in eight, more than any other team for the former and tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the latter. Generally known for playing a conservative offense and aggressive defense. They won two Super Bowls in the 2000s, but are historically known for their great teams in the 1970s and their "Steel Curtain" defense. In a disturbing turn of fate, many members of the great 1970s teams later suffered various misfortunes and mental/physical problems traced to their playing days. The team of current broadcaster and occasional TV personality Terry Bradshaw, winner of 4 Super Bowls. They've recently had a couple of big-name players (Santonio Holmes and Ben Roethlisberger) in the news for various reasons (not good reasons, either). Heinz Field is known for having a field that's been called the worst in the NFL, though the players refuse to switch to turf like the Patriots did because of tradition (during a horrible rainstorm in 2006 the Steelers and Dolphins nearly played into overtime scoreless because of a very muddy field already pummeled by a pack of college and high school football games the week before; the Steelers only won near the end on a chip-shot field goal. This game might be remembered for the punt that stuck in the turf when it landed). Prior to Chuck Noll's tenure, which began in 1969, the Steelers had never won an NFL title in any era and had only one playoff appearance, which was a divisional tie-breaker, not a championship game. Since 1969, the Steelers have had just three head coaches: Noll, Bill Cowher and current head coach Mike Tomlin.
The San Diego Chargers were an original AFL franchise who made the jump to the NFL. They were based in Los Angeles and got their nickname because they were owned by Barron Hilton (yes, Paris's grandfather), who also owned the Carte Blanche credit card (though because of their lightning logo scheme this has almost been all but forgotten). Since Los Angeles thinks it's too good for the NFL, San Diego is pretty much the de facto Southern California team. San Diego has a longtime habit of choking in the playoffs, first with Dan Fouts in the 1980s, then 20 years later with LaDainian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers. Made the Super Bowl in 1994, but suffered a humiliating blowout at the hands of the 49ers. Fun fact: former Charger placekicker Rolf Benirschke once hosted Wheel of Fortune. In other trivia Eli Manning was drafted by the Chargers, but demanded a trade before he even started playing. The Chargers' general manager, A.J. Smith, is widely mocked as "The Lord of No Rings" (coined by Eli's father Archie) for his inability to put together a Super Bowl winning team. His continued failure to do so, despite offensive superstars as Tomlinson and Drew Brees, and exceptional return specialist Darren Sproles having played for his team (all of them now either playing elsewhere or retired, in the case of Tomlinson), has made the nickname stick among fans. San Diego has a very nasty rivalry (as in: violence in the stands between fans, resulting in the San Diego Police Department having a standing tactical alert for all Chargers-Raiders games) with the Oakland Raiders, possibly fueled by the fact that the late Al Davis had started his career as an assitant coach with the Chargers and only went to the Raiders when he was passed up for the head coaching job. Never Live It Down, indeed... The Chargers have been making noises about moving back to LA for nearly a decade now (largely because their home stadium was built in the 1960s), so they're another possibility for an LA team.
The Tennessee Titans were formerly known as the Houston Oilers. Generally pretty good year in and out, they were well-known for using the "Run and Shoot" offense in which two extra wide receivers replace the tight end and fullback. Led by QB Warren Moon, they put together good records in the '90s but never made it through the playoffs, once blowing a 32-point lead in the 4th quarter to Buffalo (The largest surrendered margin in playoff history). They moved to Tennessee in the late 90's, dropped the "Run and Shoot", (and the "Oilers" name, since Tennessee is not particularly famous for oil production.) and got their revenge on Buffalo in 1999 by pulling off an absolutely ridiculous last-play kickoff return to win the game, dubbed the "Music City Miracle". They made it to the Super Bowl and lost when the game's final play ended just inches short of the goal line. The team has struggled in the years since, drafting players (Vince Young, Chris Johnson) with high prospects that have ended up disappointing in high-profile ways. The Titans were coached for 16 seasons by Jeff Fisher and Jeff Fisher's mustache, one of the great underrated coaching duos in the league; at the start of his tenure, they were still the Oilers.
NFC History by Teams
The Arizona Cardinals are the NFL's oldest franchise (they began in Chicago in 1898 as the "Morgan Athletic Club"), and historically one of its least successful...until 2008, when they won more playoff games in three weeks than the team had won in the previous 60 futile years, coming within a minute or so of winning a Super Bowl. Sometimes called the "football Cardinals", a throwback to the time they played in St. Louis, a city which already had (and still does have) a baseball team by the same name. Currently play in a stadium that looks like a giant steel rattlesnake curled up in the desert and is named for the University of Phoenix, an online school which doesn't even field a chess team. They own one of the best playing wide receivers around in Larry Fitzgerald.
The Atlanta Falcons were rushed into the NFL in the mid-'60s when it looked like the AFL was going to put a team there. They really haven't gotten over that birthright, seeming to always fall just short of credibility (although they did make it to the Super Bowl in 1998). It took the team 43 seasons to earn their first consecutive winning seasons. They're currently owned by Home Depot founder Arthur Blank, and were the team Michael Vick was playing for when his rather cruel hobby was exposed. Since drafting Matt Ryan and hiring coach Mike Smith, they've been one of the NFC's more solid teams, but are coming down with a reputation as a team that chokes in the playoffs.
The Carolina Panthers are an expansion team created in 1995 alongside the Jacksonville Jaguars. They made it to the conference championship in 1996, and all the way to the Super Bowl in 2003, where they lost to the Patriots by a field goal (though it was later revealed that numerous members of that team had been using steroids). Since then, it's been a slow erosion to non-contender status. The drafting of college superstar Cam Newton has helped revitalize fan interest in the Panthers.
The Chicago Bears are the other original NFL franchise, actually predating the league. They started in Decatur, Illinois, before being moved to Chicago by NFL legend George Halas. As with most Chicago sports franchises, their best days are far in the past, with eight league championships through 1963 (including the first true championship, won in the first 'indoor' NFL game in 1932, which was played in Chicago Stadium due to subzero conditions), and only one (in 1985) since then. Classy NFL good guy Walter Payton played here, as did Brian Piccolo (as in Brian's Song), William "Refrigerator" Perry, and Dick Butkus. The SNL "da Bears" sketches are based on stereotypical Chicago fans. Although the topic is a subject of frequent debate, the 1985 Bears are generally considered to be in the running with the '70s versions of the Steelers and Cowboys for "Best team of all time". Their Super Bowl win that year was an epic 46-10 dismantling of the New England Patriots, one of the most statistically lopsided Super Bowls ever. Non-football fans probably know the 1985 Bears less as a powerhouse and more for their ill-advised "Super Bowl Shuffle" music video. Currently, the fans wish the Bears would get an offensive line for Jay Cutler because it seems like every play ends with a sack or a Cutler INT.
The Dallas Cowboys are possibly the most storied NFL franchise, as well as the most hated according to an ESPN poll (they edged the Patriots for the dubious honor), they were the Team of the '90s, winning three Super Bowls to go along with their two in the '70s. The team of Tom Landry and later Jimmy Johnson. Owned by Jerry Jones, one of the more divisive executives in the league. Rivals of the Pittsburgh Steelers, thanks to some classic matchups in the '70s. All three other teams in the NFC East hates the Cowboys; the Eagles would claim to be the Cowboys' biggest rival, but the distinction really goes to the Washington Redskins, which is a much more heated and historic rivalry. Became known as "America's Team" in the '70s and is sometimes derisively referred to as "South America's Team" due to the drug habits of some of its players during the '90s. Also known by some detractors as "Mexico's Team"...though this is actually true, since the Cowboys are phenomenally popular south of the border, being the only NFL team whose games are consistently available on Mexican television. Always, always, always play on Thanksgiving Day. The team plays in the league's largest stadium, which is known for having the largest television display in the world above the field. In addition to various names mocking Jones, the new stadium's external appearance has also led to it being nicknamed the Death Star.
The Detroit Lions were arguably the team of the 1950s. Since then, they have struggled. They became the first team to go 0-16 in a season in 2008, and have made fewer playoff appearances than many teams half their age. They've been really bad for a really long time (their last championship was in 1957). It got so bad under the tenure of general manager Matt Millen that fans organized protest marches and put up billboards demanding he be fired, some of them appearing at sporting events in other cities. Barry Sanders, an incredible running back, quit the NFL rather than continue his career carrying such an abysmal squad on his shoulders. The Sanders-era Lions peaked in 1991, when they went 12-4, only to be defeated by the Redskins in the NFC Championship Game. The other team that always plays on Thanksgiving Day. They're currently rebuilding their team after drafting popular and dominant college players Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh and Jahvid Best in recent drafts; the investment seems to have paid off, with the Lions coming up with their first 5-0 start since 1956 in 2011 before being narrowly defeated by the 49ers; Detroit also clinched their first winning season and playoff appearance since 1999. The 2012 season was a return to traditional Lions losing form, marked by generally good gameplay followed by inexplicable 4th-quarter collapses.
The Green Bay Packers, originally named the "Acme Packers" during the initial birth of the NFL, were the team of the '60s, when under the reign of legendary head coach Vince Lombardi they won five of their record 13 NFL championships (including the first two Super Bowls) and earned the city of Green Bay the nickname of "Titletown, USA." With a population of just over 100,000, Green Bay is microscopic by American major league sports standards; note although, this is somewhat misleading as they also draw heavily from the remainder of Wisconsin (especially Milwaukee, which is subject to the same blackout rules as Green Bay despite lying outside the normal 75-mile radius of the stadium to be considered "local" for blackout purposes, largely on account of the Packers having from 1933 to 1994 played at least one home game per season in Milwaukee) and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. nonetheless, their success has helped them cultivate a notoriously large and rabid fan base that extends throughout the whole world, resulting in a presence of "cheeseheads" at every road game that sometimes even drowns out the home crowd. Their home stadium, Lambeau Field, is subject to some absolutely terrible weather late in the season, leading to it being termed "The Frozen Tundra"note you might think this means the grass is absolutely terrible to play on by the time January comes around, but thanks to a highly esteemed and obsessive grounds crew, a marquee field heating system, and the team's aversion to lease out the stadium to concerts and any other teams like high schoolers to ruin the turf, the Tundra has been termed one of the best sports surfaces in the world by the players and sports-related media. Countless games have been played (and watched) in ridiculous conditions such as -15 degrees plus wind, including the notorious 1967 "Ice Bowl" which they won to get to Super Bowl II. It is also home to a tradition known as the "Lambeau Leap"note since December of 1993 where players are expected to leap into the stands after scoring a touchdown. The team is also known for its unique community ownership note the people of Wisconsin own shares of stock invested in the team, making the team publicly owned, banned under current league rules but grandfathered in for the Packers, which guarantees that they'll never move to a larger market.
The Minnesota Vikings are another entrant in the "ridiculous fans" department; some fans dress in elaborate Viking costumes for games. The Vikings were led by popular quarterback Fran Tarkenton in the '70s (except for his five-year interlude with the New York Giants), which only led to them becoming the first team to lose four Super Bowls. (Technically, the Vikings first Super Bowl loss was with Joe Kapp as quarterback; this hasn't stopped Fran from being known as the guy who lost 4 Super Bowls) Was the home of Brett Favre for his final two seasons, which caused some drama as he was essentially a cult hero in neighbor/rival Wisconsin (where the Packers play). Known for a rather ridiculous series of painful playoff collapses, including a loss in 1998 when their placekicker (who hadn't missed a single kick all season) shanked an easy game-winning FG against the Falcons, as well as in the 2010 NFC Championship game where despite dominating the eventual Super Bowl champion Saints in nearly every statistic, they gave up 8 turnovers and lost in incredibly painful fashion. Home to the "Purple People Eaters", a dominating defense in the 70's including the likes of Alan Page and John Randle.
The New Orleans Saints have historically been a consistently terrible team, fans of the Saints actually started the practice of wearing paper bags over one's head to protest a poorly performing team. Their inability to win games also earned them the derisive nickname "The Ain'ts". They are the team that killed Archie Manning's once-promising pro career, as he was their only good player (and arguably their only even decent player). For a while in the '90s they were known as "the only team that has never won a playoff game", a label they finally shed in 2000. Their home city has this nasty tendency to get obliterated by hurricanes, so they've played home games elsewhere. Recovered in the late '00s after hiring Sean Payton and signing Drew Brees, they're now quite good, and won in Super Bowl XLIV against the favored Indianapolis Colts - their first ever Super Bowl game. The key to their turnaround has been developing a deep roster of solid, close-knit players rather than relying on big stars. The strategy paid off in the 2010 season when, despite injuries plaguing the starting lineup, the Saints called on a seemingly endless supply of effective running backs and wide receivers well-suited to Brees's pass-heavy play style.
The New York Giants are historically the better of the two teams that play in New Jersey. Like the Jets, they used to actually play in New York, but they moved to New Jersey in 1976 so that they could have a dedicated football stadium instead of having to share with the New York Yankees. One of the oldest teams in the NFL, dating back to 1925. Have won 4 Super Bowls and 4 additional NFL championships from before the Super Bowl. Officially named the "New York Football Giants", even though there hasn't been a baseball New York Giants since 1957. Won a miracle Super Bowl in '07 against the then-undefeated New England Patriots, the most notable part of which being a play where quarterback Eli Manning evaded an almost certain sack and threw the ball to third-string receiver David Tyree, who caught it against his helmet in mid-air with safety Rodney Harrison hanging on him. They're known for being "road warriors" who perform better in hostile stadiums than in their own... which was certainly the case in '07, in which their six losses included only one on the road, and their playoff run to win the Super Bowl was entirely on the road.
The Philadelphia Eagles are known mostly for their rowdy, unpleasable fan base, which the Guardian has compared to British football hooligansnote :Unfavorably, but a typical Eagles fan looks at an English soccer hooligan and goes, "Oh, how cute; does he know any other tricks?". Veterans Stadium, before its demolition to make way for "The Link" (Lincoln Financial Field), had a courthouse in the basement (Seamus McCaffrey, J. of the Philadelphia County Municipal Court, presiding; he was later elected to the PA Supreme Court), because of a number of fans that were arrested during games, although things have calmed down considerably in the past few years. Eagles fans are arguably best known for an incident in which Santa Claus was heckled and pelted with snowballs at halftime.note This is the city's biggest Never Live It Down moment, and an issue with fans of other teams that like to cite it as recent history; the incident occurred in 1968 and the full story can be found here and here. On one occasion, some fans cheered a career-ending neck injury to an opposing playernote Hall of Famer Michael Irvin who was a jerk off the field and the poster boy for everything fans of other teams hated about the Cowboys of the 1990s. That said, however, it should be noted that they have never killed or maimed fans of opposing teams (unlike other cities). They genuinely love their team and are extremely outspoken in their criticism. Their quarterback was Donovan McNabb for most of the 2000's, with whom the fans had a love-hate (well, mostly hate) relationship, which led the team to trade him in 2010 to the Redskins, which opened the door for his backup Michael Vick to start his comeback the next season. Home games always sell out, no matter how bad they are, and to them the most important thing about their players is that they play with all their heart, guaranteeing the city's love (yes, it really does exist).
The Saint Louis Rams are one of the more traveled NFL teams, they started in Cleveland, then moved to Los Angeles when the NFL needed a West Coast presence, then moved out of Los Angeles when owner Georgia Frontiere saw the chance to make more money in St. Louis. Frontiere took over the team 15 years earlier when her husband, Carroll Rosenbloom, died mysteriously in a drowning accident. I'm not saying, I'm just saying... Won the Super Bowl in 1999 after being terrible for most of the '90s, when Kurt Warner rose from obscurity to lead a high-flying offense known as the Greatest Show on Turf. Warner and RB Marshall Faulk monopolized the MVP from 1999-2001, and the 2001 team looked like an all-time great until the Patriots shut them down and upset them in the Super Bowl. Since then, the Rams have declined to near-insignificance once again. During nearly every low ebb of team performance, someone in LA will make the argument that they ought to have them back....
The San Francisco 49ers (named after the Forty Niners of the California Gold Rush) were a historically terrible team, with four playoff appearances in 30 years in the NFL...until the 1980s, when head coach Bill Walsh's innovative "West Coast Offense" helped transform them into the most dominant team in the NFL. Led by back-to-back Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young, and all-time leading wide receiver Jerry Rice, they notched fifteen playoff appearances and five Super Bowl wins from 1981-1998. Following Young's departure and an ownership change, they faded from relevance for most of the 21st century, but the 2011 hiring of former quarterback and Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh as head coach signaled another change in fortunes. The new-look 49ers, successful behind a power running game and implacable defense, have since reached the NFC Championship game three years running and ignited a ferocious rivalry with the Seattle Seahawks. They were the only team in NFL history to have won more than one Super Bowl without losing once, until they finally lost to the Ravens (who themselves gained that distinction) on their sixth trip in 2013.
The Seattle Seahawks are the current Super Bowl Champions. Throughout their history, though, they have not had many good seasons. In fact, they are known for their stretch of over twenty years without a single playoff win, ending in 2005 with a Super Bowl appearance. Throughout The Nineties, they were the benchmark of forgetfully average, with a majority of their seasons being at, or within one game of, a .500 record. Have gained a reputation as a place for future Hall-of-Famers to play the year before they retire. Were transferred from the AFC to the NFC in 2002 as part of realignment. Lost Super Bowl XL in one of the most controversial championship games in history, with many questionable referee calls consistently in the opponent Steelers' favor. Following a leadership change from semi-retired coaching legend Mike Holmgren to the Coach/GM duo of former USC coach Pete Carroll and Green Bay executive John Schneider in the 2010 season, they became the first team in 28 years to make the playoffs with a losing record (7-9), causing a lot of complaining amongst fans because the playoff system gave them, as a division champion, a home field game in the wild card round against a numerically superior, but lower seeded opponent. Said critics, and most everyone else, were silenced with a shocking first-round win over the then-defending champion New Orleans Saints, culminating in a play late in the fourth quarter which became known as the "Beastquake", after Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch went "Beast Mode" with a 60+ yard touchdown run which sealed the deal for Seattle that caused the crowd to cheer so loudly that the rumbling registered on nearly seismographs as an earthquake. They've since become a surprise NFC powerhouse after completely replacing every player on the team over a two-year period. In 2013, they became the first team in NFL history to re-sign a quarterback who had begun the season as a starter for them previously (Tarvaris Jackson in 2011) back to their roster as a backup. In 2012-2013, the Seattle Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson and made him the starter. In the 2013-2014 season, the Seahawks finally won their first Super Bowl in franchise history by surprisingly blowing out the Denver Broncos whom had the most productive offense in NFL history according to sports experts. The Seahawks had the best defense of the year, as well as one of the top defensive's in NFL history. They held the powered offense of the Broncos to a stunning 8 points, while scoring 43 points of their own.
The Seahawks are also known for having the loudest fans in the league (who had the #12 retired in their honor as the "12th man" under license from Texas A&M, which originated the concept and holds the rights to that name). This is at least in part due to their stadium being deliberately designed to amplify the sound from the stands. For this reason, Century Link Field has more false starts than any other stadium in the league.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the previous NFL Butt Monkey before the Lions. Their first season in 1976 was perfect. Perfectly awful, as they lost all 14 games they played. The next year, they improved. They only lost their first 12 games, then won their last two (also notable that after their first win the opposing team's head coach and starting quarterback got fired). For many years, it didn't get much better, until Tony Dungy was delivered unto the Tampa Bay Area they changed their uniforms from garish "creamsicle" orange-and-white to the current pewter-red-black scheme, and changed their logo from a winking pirate to a skull flag. That's around when they won the Super Bowl, led by coach Jon "Chuckie" Gruden. Team owner Malcolm Glazer is mildly disliked in Tampa. Don't ask English soccer fans about him, especially around Manchester.
How bad was that 1976 winless season? One reporter asked then head coach John McKay, "What do you think of the offense's execution?" He replied, "I'm in favor of it."
The Washington Redskins is the team with the deepest pockets, though this hasn't translated to success on the field since 1992 because current team owner Daniel Snyder seems to love buying overpriced free agents who flame out quickly, and cause fan hate with such actions as charging fans to watch training camp and make HD broadcasts of preseason games cable-only. Also possibly the most politically incorrect team name in all of sports, especially given that Native American-derived team names and mascots have in general been falling out of favor for years. (Although the implications of their name is lessened by the fact that a poll of native Americans came up with 91% of those asked having no problem with it. There was, however, a time when "redskin" was considered just as bad a racial slur as the N-word, and it's largely the existence of this team that's semi-mainstreamed the word.) Because of this and the fact that they play in Maryland, not Washington DC proper, sportswriter Gregg Easterbrook assigned them the joke name "Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons". They are the bitter rivals of the Dallas Cowboys, dating at least back to the early 1970s. Redskins games are jokingly used as bellwethers for presidential elections. If they win, it meant the incumbent party candidate would win.note They got it right every election until 2012, when they "predicted" a Romney victory. They have won 3 Super Bowls; head coach Joe Gibbs was known as the first coach to win three Super Bowls with 3 different starting quarterbacks (Joe Theismann in 82, Doug Williams in 84, Mark Rypien in 91).
NFL Scheduling and Games
Each team plays a 4-game preseason, a 16-game regular season, and a postseason that involves 12 teams.
The 16 games (8 of which are at the home stadium and 8 of which are away games) during the regular season are determined as follows:
6 games against the team's three divisional rivals (2 each; 1 home, 1 away)
4 games against every team in another division in your conference (2 home, 2 away)
4 games against every team in a division in another conference (2 home, 2 away)
2 games against two other conference teams that finished in the same position in their division (1 home, 1 away)
Basically, let's say we have the Washington Redskins. Washington was first in their division last year. This year the NFC East is playing the NFC North and AFC West. That means that 6 of Washington's games will be against their divisional rivals, 4 games will be against all 4 NFC North teams, 4 games will be against all 4 AFC West teams, and the other two will be against the teams that came in first place of the NFC South and NFC West. That's how a 16-game schedule is generated.
Postseason qualification involves 12 teams which qualify for the playoffs. Each division will send the team with the best record - this is the division champion. However, there are also 4 wild-card spots (2 AFC, 2 NFC) that are up for grabs. These go to the teams with the best records remaining in the leagues. There's a lot of math that goes into it - tiebreakers and all that - but that's the basics of how it works.
Each team also gets some seeding based on how they performed during the regular season. Each conference has six seeds. Seeds 1 through 4 are the divisional champions, seeds 5 and 6 are the wild-cards. The top two seeds in each conference get a first-round bye week during the playoffs. The 3 and 6 seeds will always square off against each other, and the 4 and 5 seeds will do the same. The lower-ranking of the teams that wins those contests will face against the 1 seed, and the higher-ranking will play the 2 seed. Playoff games are single-elimination.
In recent years there's been talk of extending the regular season to 18 games and reducing the preseason to two. It's tied to the labor contract talks the league has had with the NFLPA. Preseason games are sparsely attended and generally ignored by fans, but they're important for giving newly-signed players some time on the field, and for determining who should be the starters and who needs more time to develop.
The NFL Draft
The NFL Draft occurs in April or May, as stated before. However, following the Draft is a pastime in and of itself.
The draft scouting traditionally begins during Bowl Week in college football. There have been plenty of great performances that elevate players into first-round consideration, and vice versa - plenty of future first-rounders have given shoddy performances and seen their draft stock plummet.
The next portion of the draft comes during the NFL Combine, which is always held in Indianapolis, where a select few players get to come to Lucas Oil Stadium to work out for coaches and scouts. There are a few traditional drills (the 40 yard dash, the cone drill, and others) that everyone participates in - and people are looking for specific things. Plenty of players decline to attend the combine for various reasons - but declining usually hurts their draft stock (though usually not as badly as a poor Combine performance would). Also, there will almost always be a no-name player who turns in a stunning performance at the Combine and shoots from "nobody" to "first-round pick" (Oakland has become sort of a joke for drafting these players). These players are called "workout warriors".
Next would be a college's Pro Day, when professional scouts come to the player's college where he is able to play in his own facility.
Finally, the Draft occurs. The first pick of each round goes to the team that had the worst record in the league in the previous year, and each selection goes up until the team that won the Super Bowl makes their pick. Draft picks can be traded just like players - and they often are (the Ricky Williams trade, in which New Orleans traded eight draft picks for the #5 overall pick with which they selected Williams, is an especially notable one). It's almost always speculated every year that the team holding the first overall draft pick will try to trade down to avoid giving a giant contract to a guy who hasn't even played in an NFL game, but that rarely happens.
There are traditionally seven rounds of the draft, though there have been supplemental rounds in the past. The last overall draft pick is called "Mr. Irrelevant" and receives the distinctive Lowsman Trophy (which looks like the Heisman, except the player is fumbling the ball).
A player who is highly-drafted but, for whatever reason (injury, underperformance, off-field issues), fails to have a distinguished career is known as a "draft bust". Since "bust" players are usually let go to save face and team reputation if no one else will take them in a trade, the drafting team may literally have nothing to show on-field for their drafting effort. This is especially painful if the team is consistently bad enough to be awarded high picks for consecutive years. Some fanbases in particular seem perpetually haunted by their team suffering either years of draft futility or instances of drafting a merely passable player ahead of one who became a legitimate star. Ryan Leaf, drafted #2 overall in 1998, and out of the league by 2001; is known as the biggest bust in NFL history, and arguably in professional sports overall. Conversely, a player whose retrospective performance is greater than one would expect given their draft position is known as a "draft steal" (Best example: Tom Brady, picked 199th in 2000, in the sixth round). While the biggest examples of draft steals are low-round picks that turn out to be top-tier players, players drafted in the second, third, or even low in the first rounds can be considered steals depending on their talent and the interest on draft day.
After the draft, players who were eligible to be drafted but who were not selected may sign with any team as "undrafted free agents." Very few ever make a team's final roster right away, but are frequently signed to the practice squad, are resigned the following offseason for another chance, or move on to play in the CFL or Arena League. While it is not especially common, undrafted players can and have gone on to be highly successful players in the NFL. Some of the most famous examples in the league today are Tony Romo, Wes Welker, Antonio Gatesnote who, as noted above, played basketball instead of football in college, and Arian Foster. Hall of Fame players John Randle, Warren Moon, Dick "Night Train" Lane, and (likely future Hall of Famer) Kurt Warner also started their careers as undrafted free agents.
Prior to 2011, the contracts awarded to highly drafted rookies were ludicrously out of control. Frequently, players drafted in the top 10 picks were given total contracts and guaranteed money higher than all but the most elite veteran players at their respective positions. (For example, quarterback Sam Bradford, selected #1 overall by the Rams in 2010 received a contract worth $78 million, which had $50 million of guarantees and has a maximum value of $86 million. This placed him in the top 5 highest earning quarterbacks in the NFL before taking his first snap in the pros.) In 2011, the NFL instituted a "rookie salary structure" which greatly restricted the money that could be given to rookies, meaning more would be available to spend on veteran players. (Cam Newton, the #1 overall pick in 2011 to the Carolina Panthers, received a much more modest $22 million deal.) This, along with increased minimum veteran salary floors, has led to an unintended consequence of many teams going with a youth movement of higher-round rookies rather than mid-level veterans at many of their positions, preferring to look more often for rookie sleeper hits than pay higher salaries for a fair-to-middling placeholder. This means that some teams have a majority of rookie and first-contract players at a majority of positions with a handful of superstar contracts, with a decreasing amount of veteran depth.
The Pro Bowl
Most leagues have All-Star games, and the NFL is no exception. However, this league is notable because of how irrelevant their All-Star game is. The NBA and NHL have All-Star Games that are big to-dos, with the league's best and brightest coming out to play with giant concerts, festivities, and fun times for all. The MLB All-Star game determines which league, American or National, has the home-field advantage in the World Series (while few baseball fans actually like this, it does keep the game relevant). The Pro Bowl... is roughly analogous to a flag-football game.
Late in the season, players are named to Pro Bowl teams. It's (supposed to be) considered a huge honor to get sent, but many players will pull out for whatever reason, usually because pro football is quite risky enough when there are meaningful stakes involved; it wouldn't be worth it to be injured in an exhibition game that doesn't count except for conference bragging rights that only stat geeks care about. Fan ballots account for a full third of the votes, with coaches and players making up the remaining two thirds.
All-Star games are generally relaxed affairs, with players taking a more casual approach because of the risk of injuries. Since American football is such an injury-heavy sport, the NFL codifies this by playing the Pro Bowl under a slightly different rule set than the regular game. Offensive changes basically remove any elements of surprise such as offensive motion, while all defenses must be run in the 4-3 formation, and absolutely no blitzing is allowed. Punts, field goals and PA Ts are kicked unopposed as the defense isn't allowed to rush the play.
The Pro Bowl got even more irrelevant in 2010, when the game was played the week before the Super Bowl (as opposed to the week after), and moved from Aloha Stadium in Honolulu to the Super Bowl host city (in 2010, this was Miami). This meant three things: first, that the Super Bowl teams universally barred their players from participating (even with the restrictive rules, there's still some chance of injury, and no coach is going to let one of his players skip out on practice the week before the Super Bowl to play in a meaningless glorified scrimmage); second, that any number of players who didn't want to go to South Florida were pulling out; and third, the draw of a free trip to Hawaii was gone (many players live in Florida anyway, so a visit to suburban Miami isn't that exciting to them; the game was likewise a treat for Hawaiian fans, as Hawaii has no top-tier professional teams). All told, around 40 players ended up dropping out, allowing such luminaries as David Garrard (he of the 7-9 Jacksonville Jaguars) - the sixth alternate at quarterback - and Vince Young (of the 8-8 Tennessee Titans) to play in the game. Huge honor, indeed. To add insult to injury, the league more or less had to force the Super Bowl teams to sit and watch the entire game. The game has since been moved back to Hawaii, but is still scheduled before the Super Bowl, so many of these problems are expected to persist. After NFC starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers publicly criticized the lack of effort from his teammates, commissioner Roger Goodell has mentioned the possibility of changing the Pro Bowl format, or dropping the game altogether.
In 2014, the AFC-NFC matchup will be dropped in favor of a draft format, in an attempt to prevent one team having a massive skill advantage due to drop-outs. Only the team captains will be assigned, and they each will be assisted in the selection process by a retired Hall of Fame player (for 2014, Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders) and the winner of either of two Fantasy Football competitions.
From 1961-70 the Pro Bowl was paired with the "Playoff Bowl", a match between conference playoff losers to determine third place in the league overall (which is relevant for draft purposes, but can just as easily be handled on the basis of overall record). It was never very popular (Vince Lombardi called it "a loser's bowl for losers" among other, less printable, things), so it was eventually discontinued after the AFL-NFL merger.
Ah, awards; one of the many reason anyone follows sports leagues in general. Well, the National Football Leauge has got 'em if you want 'em. There are actually several bodies that give awards, but the ones from the Associated Press are the most widely recognized. They are as follows:
Most Valuable Player (duh): The award given to - wait for it - the player who makes the biggest impact in the entire season. Peyton Manning has four of them, one shared with Steve McNair. Almost always goes to offensive players, specifically those of the quarterback and running back positions.
Offensive Player Of The Year: Given to the best offensive player of the year. A lot of people view it as the official runner-up to MVP, given that it will usually (but not always) go to the player who finished second in voting (sometimes it will just go to the MVP anyway). Again, quarterbacks and running backs are almost universally favored here, but after an epic season, wide receivers note OK, just Jerry Rice have occasionally been known to sneak away with this award. Offensive linemen? Who're they? note The guys who made the Packer Power Sweep an unstoppable play, back in the 1960s... Marshall Faulk and Earl Campbell each have three.
Defensive Player Of The Year: Given to the best defensive player in the league in a given year. Linebackers, cornerbacks, and defensive linemen can be counted on to usually win the award. Safeties get the short end of the stick - only five have won the award since its inception, but three of those have been within the last decade, so maybe opinions are changing. Lawrence Taylor has three to his credit.
Defensive Rookie Of The Year: Best defensive rookie. Usually goes to linebackers or defensive linemen.
Offensive Rookie Of The Year: Shockingly enough, this one doesn't go to a lot of quarterbacks (to explain, a lot of teams that draft a quarterback early are wanting for other skilled players at other key positions, knowing that they'll accept a couple of years of losing so that they can build the team they want around that guy, and without a good line to protect him and good receivers to throw to it's hard for any quarterback, let alone a rookie, to really shine). There was a 34-year period between quarterbacks winning this award (Dennis Shaw in 1970 and Ben Roethlisberger in 2004); so, running backs and wide receivers tend to dominate it; and offensive linemen are still left out in the cold.
Coach of the Year: Given to the league's best coach. Shockingly, this one isn't automatically given out to the coach who has the league's best record, but instead, it's usually given to a coach who has experienced an epic turnaround, especially a coach who was just hired to a new team and turns them from losers to a playoff team. Don Shula has four of them.
Comeback Player of the Year: The redheaded stepchild of the awards, the AP initially ditched it after a few seasons (1963-1966) and brought it back in 1998. "Comeback" has a lot of definitions with regards to sports - so, a comeback player could be a player who came back from a massive injury (Tom Brady, 2009), or came back from a couple of down years (Michael Vick, 2010note Although for Vick's case, when we say "down years" we mean "prison sentence and Unperson status"), or maybe even finally had a good year when he had never had one before (Tommy Maddox, 2002note Although his one good NFL season was followed by an excellent season in the lone season of the XFL). This one might create the most arguing among fans.
Other American Pro Leagues
The NFL has been the dominant Football league in America for almost its entire existence. There have however, been various attempts to compete with the league. A few of the more notable include:
All-America Football Conference (1946-1949): While this league as a whole was not successful, three of its teams were taken into the NFL when the AAFC broke up: the Cleveland Browns, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Baltimore Colts (which folded after one season in the NFL, though the current Colts—now in Indianapolis—are a Spiritual Successor). The Browns proved to be one of the top teams in the NFL for the next decade.
American Football League (1960-1969): Actually the fourth league to use this name, although they were the most successful. Probably the most visible competition to the NFL, and the two leagues merged in 1970, creating the current AFC and NFC divisions. All of the AFL's teams are now NFL franchises (though the Houston Oilers are now the Tennessee Titans; also the Seattle Seahawks, which were placed in the AFC in 1977, were switched to the NFC when the Houston Texans were created as an expansion team). The NFL occasionally celebrates the history of the AFL, with the most notable being the 50th anniversary celebrations in 2010 (which included numerous "throwback" games in which teams and even referees wore AFL-style uniforms, even if the team name and/or location on the old uniform was no longer accurate). A list of notable players who started out in the AFL (even just a list of Hall of Famers) would be too large for this page. However, there is only one player in the Hall of Fame who played only in the AFL and never in the NFL: offensive guard Billy Shaw.
World Football League (1973-1975): A complete and total flop (and not even a"world" football league, the only team not on the American mainland was a team in Hawaii). Managed to last for two seasons despite laughable amounts of ineptness (one team had its equipment confiscated following the league's championship game) from almost everyone involved. Only two WFL alumni - Larry Csonka and Paul Warfield, both former NFL stars at the end of their careers - made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This is not the same as the World League of American Football, a league that began in the early 1990's and later evolved into NFL Europa; they are discussed later, under "American Football in Other Countries".
United States Football League (1982-1987): The first serious competition with the NFL since the AFL's halcyon days. The league ran in the spring and signed several star college players (the first being Herschel Walker) before the NFL could snatch them up. The league had problems with solvency early on, and the more cash-strapped teams moved frequently making it hard to cultivate fanbases or secure long-term TV deals. Stories abounded of teams playing in near-empty stadiums and players having their paychecks bounce. Even so, it was rather popular in some markets and looked to be on the way towards success until Donald Trump (yeah, that Donald Trump) bought a team and slowly started to take over the league. He had the league sue the NFL for an anti-trust violation and planned on moving the USFL to the fall (possibly because he may have planned to have the more successful USFL teams folded into the NFL and acquire his own NFL franchise). The USFL won its anti-trust violation and was awarded...$3. The league folded shortly after that. Four USFL players (Steve Young *
Steve Young, in fact, signed the single most lucrative contract in football for the next twenty years when he signed a 10-year, $40 million deal, which he accepted as a long term annuity beyond the contract length in order to help his new team's finances. The league went out of business, but Young had taken out an insurance policy on his contract, which will let him collect the contract's full value. By the terms of his settlement, he will collect $1 million per year until 2027.
Jim Kelly, Reggie White and Gary Zimmerman) are in the Hall of Fame. All of them signed with NFL teams. The USFL was also where players like Doug Flutie and the aforementioned Herschel Walker played their first pro seasons.
That $3 check was never cashed (as of 2006), and is considered one of the biggest collectors' items out there. Incidentally, the original amount of the award in that case was only $1, but under anti-trust law at that time, any damages awarded by a civil jury were to be automatically tripled, hence the odd value. The reason for the itty bitty award is interesting in itself. The league sued the NFL for anti-trust violations, stating that the NFL used its dominant position to employ predatory tactics to take over the USFL or otherwise put it out of business, by outbidding them for top players, monopolizing the best venues, and the like. Which on the whole was true. However, the court also found that most of the USFL's problems were caused by mismanagement; specifically, their decision to move from a spring schedule to a fall schedule where they would compete directly with the NFL. This move alone caused four teams in top markets to shut their doors or relocate rather than be wiped off the map by NFL teams playing in the same cities. This in turn meant that there were too few teams to accept a leaguewide television contract that would have sustained the league for at least three or four more years had they stuck to a spring schedule, and there were almost no bidders among the major networks willing to pay the bills for a schedule with direct competition. Thus, the NFL did indeed have a monopoly, but the court found that the USFL died without help from anyone else, leading to their Pyrrhic Victory.
Arena Football League (1987-2008, 2010-present): Just based on longevity and popularity, the Arena Football League is probably the best known alternative league since the 60's American Football League, even though the Arena League isn't technically a competitor to the NFL. The league plays "Arena football" which is different in several ways to regular football, stuff we'll let The Other Wikiexplain better; the most obvious difference is that it's played on smaller fields in indoor arenas. Did decently in the ratings and in popularity until the league surprisingly crashed and burned in 2008. The AFL's second-tier league, being a subsidiary, was dissolved in the AFL's bankruptcy, but since they were at least reasonably profitable, they soon reformed into a new legal entity and bought the rights to the AFL name, effectively reinstating the league in 2010. Like the AFL, a list of notable NFL players who also played/currently play in the Arena league would be way too long for this page.
X Football League (2000-2001): Founded by Vince McMahon, it represented the first new nationwide pro football league in nearly twenty years. Strong promotion by UPN and NBC gave it incredibly high ratings for the first two weeks of games (in most cases, with over triple the viewership of the most optimistic projections), but those ratings quickly spiralled downward as the curiosity crowd and WWF audience went away and the remaining football fans realized that the game quality just wasn't very good. By the end of the season, games airing on NBC were drawing record low ratings for prime time programming. Was the home for a handful of very good players - mostly NFL second-stringers who were never really given a chance, like QB Tommy Maddox, the league's lone MVP. Probably best known at the time for Rod Smart, a RB for the Las Vegas Outlaws whose jersey read "HE HATE ME" on the back instead of his own name. Most of the XFL's Hatedom was a result of McMahon's attempt to promote certain players as "characters" with a focus on interpersonal storylines rather than interteam stories, which, while interesting, was a very Love It or Hate It move that did little to encourage the watching of the game. Also criticized was the XFL ruleset's focus on smashmouth football, encouraging hard hits with a lesser emphasis on penalties. Which served as a reminder of why the rules evolved the way they did. Aside from the gameplay itself, several factors worked against it, including the fact that it was owned and operated in partnership with NBC to field their own "in-house" football league. note In the abstract, this seemed like a risk worth taking. Whatever else his faults, Vince McMahon is a hell of a businessman. The teams were not independently owned; McMahon owned the league and all the teams and instituted a leaguewide salary structure that helped limit costs, with NBC helping foot the bill in exchange for broadcasting rights. If the league were a success, or at least broke even, then NBC would be on the ground floor to a viable alternative to the NFL and could garner the high ratings of airing football at a fraction of the cost of constantly negotiating for NFL programming. The high ratings for the first few weeks were encouraging, but when they began to tank, NBC didn't have the patience to let the league evolve and recover. There was talk of going forward with a second season, but the price would have been shutting down McMahon's "SmackDown!" wrestling show. He wasn't willing to do so, and that was that. That, combined with Vince McMahon's tendency to cross-promote with the WWF, eventually led to a perfect storm of casual fans not taking it seriously as a legit football alternative (most saw it as the same kind of "sports entertainment" as pro wrestling, with some even convinced that the game results were scripted) and professional sportscasters having no incentive to show results of a league owned by a rival network. This meant no game recaps on SportsCenter or FOX Sports, no scores recorded in newspaper sports pages, and almost no coverage in Sports Illustrated.
United Football League (2007-present): The most recent entry into the NFL competitor sweepstakes, it's remained largely low key and currently features only four teams in small markets. Has recently gained media attention for extending invitation to NFL players to play for them if the 2011 NFL lockout lasted until the regular season. This didn't happen. Current teams are in Virginia Beach, Virginia; Omaha, Nebraska; Las Vegas, Nevada and Sacramento, California. Not exactly football hotbedsnote Nebraska is, though its Mecca is Lincoln, not Omaha, and they worship at the altar of Big Red (the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers), but each team has a small yet devoted fanbase. Technically still in business, but the 2012 season was cut short and a promised date of resumption has come and gone without any news from the league, nor has there been any word on whether the upcoming 2013 season will see the light of day.
Legends Football League (2010-present): Formerly known as the Lingerie Football League, it is, at this point, the only "major" female football league with any media attention, though most of it is negative attention because the players basically play in athletically-minded Chainmail Bikinis with padding and helmets, with games carried in edited form on MTV2. Some of the female players are just glad to play at all (using the example of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League seen in A League of Their Own) and try to ignore that the league basically exists as fanservice for guys too cheap to even get Cinemax. Uses a 7-on-7 indoor format with no punts and field goals. Started to exploit the publicity that came with the Lingerie Bowl, a pay-per-view event that counterprograms the Super Bowl yearly. Between 2012 & 2013, the LFL made significant changes in hopes of legitimizing the league. The league expanded by adding new teams in Canada for 2012, Australia for 2013, and Europe for 2014, with each country/region acting as its own separate league. The US teams shifted their schedule from a fall schedule to a spring-summer schedule similar to Arena Football and other indoor leagues. In 2013, the league rebranded itself by changing its name and announcing that it would downplay the "sexiness" factor of the league; depictions of sexualized women will be removed from team logos, and the "lingerie" aspect will be removed, although uniforms will still be revealing.
Though the NFL no longer has a developmental league (similar to reserve or practice squads in other sports), NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has shown interest in establishing such a league. As it currently stands, college football programs provide most new NFL prospects, with owners and coaches also keeping an eye out for standout players in the Arena League, UFL, and Canadian Football League (more on them later).
Though the concept of fantasy sports began with Baseball, it truly exploded once it was expanded to Football. With the advent of the internet, and thus computers happy to do all that obnoxious "tracking of every game stat" and "doing math on those stats to turn them into points" stuff for people automatically, fantasy football (along with fantasy baseball, naturally) became even more popular, as it was now accessible to people unwilling or unable to do the tedious record-keeping and calculations. Plus, they no longer had to find all their players in the same geographical area, so that was easier too.
Players meet once before the season, either online or in-person, and select real NFL players in their fantasy draft. One the regular season rolls around, the players choose a "team" based on the players they have selected, and receive points based on how well the real-life players do. This is Serious Business for many fans and there are literally thousands of websites, magazines, books, articles, television programs and even sitcoms (The League) dedicated to discussion of Fantasy Football. Some players have gambled huge sums of money on this. This became exceptionally notable when Brian Westbrook of the Philadelphia Eagles chose to stop on the 1 yard line rather than score a touchdown late in a game. By stopping, he allowed his team to run out the clock and win the game without risk, but many, many fantasy football teams lost as a result. Bill Simmons of ESPN.com wrote that one of his readers lost one hundred thousand dollars because of that play.
By extension, it can result in some fantasy players wanting real teams to run up the score (ordinarily considered unsportsmanlike) in order to improve their fantasy team's stats.
Since Fantasy Football was previously prone to the Rage Quit, some leagues have begun enforcing financial penalties for the teams which finish in last place. In the aforementioned Bill Simmons' league, the loser pays for the pizza and beer at the next season's draft. However, this has gotten more creative, as one small league in Nebraska became infamaous for making the loser get a tattoo designed by the winner, with their only choice being it's location on the body. ESPN found this so hilarious, they covered it for the entire season with the seriousness of a real league.
American Football in other countries
Because the word 'football' refers unambiguously to association football (soccer) outside the United States and Canadanote and Australia, and Ireland, and South Africa, and Japan, with varying levels of ambiguity, the sport is referred to as "American football" (or a translation thereof) to differentiate it from other football codes such as association football and rugby football. In Australia and New Zealand the game is known as gridiron football, although in the United States the term "gridiron" refers only to the playing field itself.
The NFL has attempted to introduce the game to other nations and operated a developmental league known as NFL Europa (previously NFL Europe or the World League of American Football), which over the years had teams in Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Great Britainnote in fact, in its first two seasons (as the WLAF), it had North American teams as well before switching to Europe-only and changing its name to NFL Europe, but the league gradually shrank and condensed into a six-team league, five of which were in Germany. The league folded following the 2007 season.
The professional Canadian Football League (CFL) and collegiate Canadian Interuniversity Sport play under the only slightly different Canadian rules. Though the CFL is considerably older than the NFL, and its rules remain closer to those originally developed for gridiron football, there has been a substantial Adaptation Displacement making U.S.-style football far better known worldwide. Among the main differences are 12 men per side versus 11, 3 downs per series versus 4, the neutral zone being a full yard wide rather than just a football's length (meaning that quickness is more important for Canadian offensive linemen than it is in the U.S. game), a 110-yard long field with 20-yard end zones (Originally 25 yards but shortened as a side effect of the American expansion experiment) versus 100/10, unlimited backfield players in motion, and the fact that any kick that goes into the end zone and isn't returned (including missed field goals) counts for one point (a "single" or "rouge"). These rules open up the passing game considerably and result in several otherwise unmemorable NFL players being able to do very well in the CFL, as well as the inverse. The leader for combined passing yards in all North American professional football leagues, Anthony Calvillo, played exclusively in the CFL and quarterbacks like Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia have done extremely well in the CFL despite average careers in the US note Additionally, there is just one player that played with the CFL at some point in their career who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Quarterback Warren Moon (who after playing a few very good years with the Edmonton Eskimos, went on to an outstanding NFL career). CFL supporters in Canada tend to point to this as evidence of a more exciting game while NFL supporters point out that there is a significant difference in skill between the two leagues. At any rate, the NFL and CFL have always had a good relationship, and were more or less on equal footing until the 1980's, when broadcasting rights to NFL games became ridiculously lucrative.
As of the next CFL season in 2014, the roster of CFL teams consists of:
BC Lions: AKA the Leos. Created in 1954 and has never folded. It has long had to compete with hockey for fans' attention and lost miserably on this front, but recent events have given it a large insurgence of viewers. No inherent major rival, although Saskatchewan ends up being the default one, since the other two Western teams have each other to hate.
Edmonton Eskimos: AKA the Esks. Though Toronto has the most Grey Cup wins of the overall history of the league, Edmonton has the most Grey Cup wins of the league in its current incarnation, and is thus a very popular team. Continuing the "Battle of Alberta" tradition made famous by the NHL, its main rival is Calgary.
Calgary Stampeders: AKA the Stamps. Founded in 1935, this team was originally called the Calgary Broncs. Its main rival is Edmonton due to the aforementioned provincial rivalry. Saskatchewan has also been listed as a rival in recent years, but its animosity was not for Calgary itself but for its star player, Henry Burris; Burris was traded to Hamilton in 2012, eliminating this reason for heat with Rider fans. However, the sheer number of former Saskatchewan residents in Calgary (thus Riders fans at McMahon Stadium) and the memory of previous venom often leads to friction when the teams play in Calgary. A fight in the stands will erupt during most games.
Saskatchewan Roughriders: AKA the Riders. Founded in 1910. Not usually a successful team, though there have been seasonal exceptions, the Riders are nevertheless known for their absolutely insane fans, to the point of being called the Canadian counterpart of the Packers. Their major rival is Winnipeg, (often) crossing division lines, especially after an incident in which a Winnipeg player recalled a provincial stereotype in an interview and referred to the Saskatchewan population as "banjo-pickin' inbreds". However, much like Toronto, they also hate nearly every other team in the league for some grudge or another. For many years, the Riders were one of two similarly-named teams in the CFL. From the 1950s (when Canada's Eastern and Western leagues merged into the modern CFL) through 1996, the 'Riders co-existed with the Ottawa Rough Riders.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers: AKA the Bombers. Founded in 1930. Though Winnipeg played Hamilton for the Grey Cup on numerous occasions before the division lines were enforced for the playoffs, its main rival is actually Saskatchewan, regardless of divisional alignment. The Bombers are the team the CFL traditionally uses to balance divisions — if there are four other Eastern teams, Winnipeg goes back to its traditional roots in the Western Division. When the East is down to three teams (during one of Montreal or Ottawa's hiatuses), Winnipeg moves to the East.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: AKA the Ti-Cats. Created in 1950 from a merger of two teams. Throughout the twentieth century, either Hamilton or one of the two teams it had been before the merger won the Grey Cup at least once per decade. Its rival is Toronto, being from the same province. Their stadium (Ivor Wynne Stadium, to be rebuilt as Tim Hortons Field on the same property and set to reopen in 2014) is notable for being smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood, giving home games a feel similar to a block party.
Toronto Argonauts: AKA the Argos. One of the oldest North American sports teams still existing and the oldest North American football team, this team was founded in 1873. Has the largest amount of Grey Cup wins in the league in part because it is the oldest and has also never folded. Has near-equal animosity towards the entire Eastern Division, but its main rival is Hamilton.
Montreal Alouettes: AKA the Als. Created in 1946, this team has been in Montreal for most of its history. It folded in 1986, and was later recreated from the ex-Baltimore Stallions in 1996; league-wide team histories recognize Baltimore in Montreal's history but the Montreal team itself does not. One of the strongest teams in the league today, it won the 2009 Grey Cup when Saskatchewan received a penalty at the last second. They consider both Toronto and Edmonton their rivals.
Ottawa RedBlacks: New for 2014, the RedBlacks are the CFL's third team in Canada's capital. The first, the Ottawa Rough Riders, was one of the oldest teams in the CFL, founded in 1876. The team folded in 1996. The second team, the Renegades, only lasted for a few years before folding. With the issues regarding the redevelopment of Ottawa's football stadium and the area around it having been worked out, the way was cleared for the RedBlacks to return the CFL to Ottawa.
In recent years, the CFL has explored the idea of adding a team somewhere east of Montreal. One-off games have been played in Quebec City, Halifax, and Moncton, and all were well attended.
For a trial period in the early-to-mid 1990s, the CFL also included a few American teams; these are no longer a part of the league. The most successful of these teams was the Baltimore franchise, who played two seasons (1994-95), reaching the Grey Cup game both times, and winning in 1995. The team was sued by the NFL to keep them from going by the name "Baltimore CFL Colts", although this didn't stop Baltimore fans from using the Colts name (the PA announcer would give a pause after "Your Baltimore CFL" to allow the crowd to shout "Colts!" before finishing with "... football team"). By the start of the 1995 season, the team had settled on "Baltimore Stallions". While the American experiment ended in 1995, the Stallions were a strong enough franchise that they might have stayed, had Art Modell not been about to bring the Ravens to town.
In the UK, where it's often derided as "Rugby for pansies", 46 teams play in the British American Football League. The BAFL has three levels: The Premier, of which there are 7 teams; BAFL 1, of which there are 12 teams; and BAFL 2, of which there are 27 teams. While the lower level teams have their own championship games during BritBowl Weekend, only Premier league teams face each other in the BritBowl which is it traditionally held in Sheffield's Don Valley Stadium. Unlike the NFL, the BAFL season is played through the summer (April to September), with the British university season spanning the autumn and winter. In the 1980s, the Sky network featured live broadcasts of American football games. Unfortunately, those broadcasts were early in the morning. Despite this, it managed to get small but devoted audience.
Recently, there's renewed interest in the game with Sky Sports showing the early doubleheader and NFL Network games, the local ESPN airsMonday Night Football, while the terrestrial Five network gets Sunday Night Football, all live (though in the latter cases the night games air in the early mornings after midnight London time due to time zones). The NFL currently plays two yearly regular season games at the new Wembley Stadium in London in order to stoke further interest in the American game with the Jaguars giving up one home date in order to play every year because their owner also owns English Premier League side Fulham, thus twice a year two team's "home games" takes place at least 2,000 miles away across The Pond at a neutral venue. The NFL, while doing well in the US, sees its future in expanding the league in other countries, and regular season NFL games abroad are a part of this plan. The Arena Football League has stated similar aspirations, and has established a subsidiary to build a 6-team league in China by 2014, featuring both American and local talent.
In Mexico, the ONEFA is a college league with 26 teams in 3 conferences. It is the most important championship in Latin America. Mexicans have been playing college American football since the 1920s. When broadcasts of American football started in 1960s, games featuring the Dallas Cowboys were shown. Its popularity grew during the 1970s with returning migrants who were American football fans popularizing the sport. While its popularity can't compare with Soccer, it's by far the most popular minor league sport there. It's also the most popular sport to bet on there, with the odds of winning at 50/50 as opposed to 1/3 of winning with soccer. The NFL has also expressed interest in playing at least one yearly game in Mexico City, like it does in London.
In Japan, the X-League is a professional league with 60 teams in four divisions, using promotion and relegation. After the post-season playoffs, the X-League champion is determined in the Japan X Bowl. There are also over 200 universities fielding teams, with the national collegiate championship determined by the Koshien Bowl. The professional and collegiate champions then face each other in the Rice Bowl to determine the national champion.
In Germany the sport got a foothold because of the American troops stationed at bases there. The German Football Leaguenote Not a translation—that's the actual German name. organizes roughly 200 teams, the elite division is called Bundesliga and comprises 14 (16 from 2012) teams partitioned into north and south conferences. The finalists from the playoffs determine the German champion during the German Bowl. All but one of the NFL Europa teamsnote It was renamed NFL Europa starting after its penultimate season were based in Germany by the time it folded. Curiously, although American soldiers are stationed mostly in the southern parts, the north dominates strongly, having won all German Bowls since 1993 - with only two southern teams even reaching the finals in that period - 26 out of 32 total and in some years winning all interdivisional and playoff games against southern teams. German teams (especially the Brunswick Lions and the Hamburg Blue Devils) dominated European football in the mid to late 90s but had an Austrian caused drought until the most recent win in 2010. The most succesful teams are Brunswick Lions, Düsseldorf Panther, Berlin Adler and Hamburg Blue Devils.
Finland has traditionally had the strongest European national side (holding a record 5 European titles out of 12, with two each for Italy, the UK and Germany (the current holders) and one for Sweden) and Finnish teams winning the first two Eurobowls (a playoff competition between the winners of the European leagues) but has faded since.
In Austria, the top-tier Austrian Football Leaguenote Also the league's actual German name. consists of seven teams (one of them from the Czech Republic). Austrian teams dominated European club competitions, winning all Eurobowls from 2004 through 2009, and is now competing with the German league for the moniker "strongest league in Europe".
In Hungary, 18 registered teams participate in a the MAFL's two division league structure. The sport has grown significantly since 2004 and with some top Division I teams participating in the CEFL.
In Norway, div I consists of only two teams, Oslo Vikings and Eidsvoll 1814's. These two teams also compete in the European Football League but they play an annual game for the Norwegian Championship title. Norway has seven other teams that play in div II and this division is looked upon as the Norwegian Football League.
Poland launched its league, the Polish American Football League (PLFA, its Polish initialism), with four teams in 2006. By 2008, the PLFA had 17 teams, and the league split into two divisions. For 2013, there are a total of 74 teams in five leagues, with both 11-man and 8-man leagues. The highest level, the Topliga (11-man), has 8 teams, with 29 other teams playing in two divisions below that. In the 8-man game, there are 37 teams in two divisions. The final match of the Topliga, officially SuperFinal PLFA and usually known in English as the Polish Bowl, had traditionally drawn small crowds in the 1,000 to 1,500 range... until it was moved to the National Stadium in Warsaw for 2012 and drew 23,000. The 2013 Polish Bowl returned to the National Stadium and drew 16,500.
The International Federation of American Football is the governing body for American football with 45 member associations from North and South America, Europe, Asia and Oceania. The IFAF also oversees the American Football World Cup, which is held every four years. Japan won the first two World Cups, held in 1999 and 2003. Team USA, which had not participated in the first two tournaments, won the next two in 2007 and 2011.
Major American leagues have also held some regular season games outside of the United States. On October 2, 2005, the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers played the first regular season NFL game outside of the United States, in Mexico City's Estadio Azteca, From 2007, the NFL has played or has plans to play at least one regular season game outside of the United States, with London being the typical location. The NCAA will also play games outside of the U.S. In 2012, the United States Naval Academy played the University of Notre Dame in Dublin, Ireland. In 2014, Dublin will again host the sport, though at a different stadium,note The 2012 game was held at Aviva Stadium, home to the Republic of Ireland soccer team and the Ireland rugby team. The 2014 game will be at Croke Park, home to the Gaelic Athleric Association. when Penn State and UCF (Central Florida) play, and the Bahamas will host a postseason bowl game.
A home improvement store ran an ad featuring an expecting couple selecting paint carefully, with the mother-to-be softly smiling and holding a hand over her belly. Where does the paint go? On their faces as the mother yells something less than complimentary at a quarterback.
Oddly, the dubbing for Project A-Ko has B-Ko declaring the upcoming mecha-versus-superhuman battle will be their own Super Bowl ... while the sight-gag is of her changing into a baseball uniform, and taking a batting stance.
Because the NFL and NCAA are very protective of their images, very few movies feature real teams, preferring to use fictional leagues or Brand X versions of real teams.
North Dallas Forty: a 1979 movie about the life of a professional sports team. Used a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of the Cowboys.
Any Given Sunday: a movie by Oliver Stone from 1999 about the ways business and sport clash in a professional league. Used a fictional rival league to the NFL, called the AFFA.
The Replacements: a generally panned 2000 movie based on the 1987 NFL players' strike. Used a Brand X of the Washington Redskins, though it did use NFL insignia.
Rudy: 1993 movie about a player who earns a place on the Notre Dame football team through hard work. A more-or-less true story, except that the real coach is such a nice guy that he gave the moviemakers permission to turn him into a Coach Nasty villain for the sake of drama.
Knute Rockne All American: the movie that made Ronald Reagan famous and gave him his nickname, the Gipper.
The Program: 1993 movie that dramatized college football similarly to Any Given Sunday, though The Program was much more well received. Also famous for having a scene in which several characters walk into traffic and lay down in the middle of a busy street to prove their bravery. This scene was cut from all post-theatrical versions of the film because some kids tried to imitate it with predictable results.
We Are Marshall is a 2006 film which tells the true story of the 1971 Marshall University football team's attempts to rebuild following a plane crash which kills most of the 1970 team.
Ashes To Glory is a 2000 documentary about the 1970-1971 Marshall University football team. The makers of Ashes To Glory sued the makers of We Are Marshall for plagiarism, but the case was dismissed as being without merit.
Ace Ventura had Dan Marino playing himself. And also a Dolphin mascot; we presume the Dolphin also played itself.
Remember the Titans, a 2000 film about a coach trying to create a racially-integrated high school football team in the 1970s.
Black Sunday, where a group of terrorists hijack the Goodyear blimp in order to attack the Super Bowl with a flechette bomb. Has Miami Dolphins owner Joe Robbie playing himself in a ten-minute segment.
The Blind Side a Based on a True Story movie about Michael Oher surviving high school, becoming an offensive lineman and eventually getting courted by a number of universities, and finally being drafted by the Baltimore Ravens (where he still plays).
The Last Boy Scout, and action film featuring Bruce Willis as a private detective who teams up with a disgraced NFL quarterback (Damon Wayans) to take down the corrupt owner of the team, climaxing with a shootout at a football game. The opening credits sequence was a satirical take on the Monday Night Football intro.
One iconic moment in The Dark Knight Rises is when Bane and his henchmen announce their takeover of Gotham City. They go to the city's football stadium where a game is to be played between the Gotham Rogues and the Rapid City Monuments (the stadium is represented by Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, and actual Steelers are seen cameoing as the Rogues). Just after kickoff to start the first quarter, Bane and his men hit detonators that blow up all of the bridges, trap all of the city's cops in the tunnels underground, and also collapse most of the infield. The field opens up, swallowing all but one player. Bane then makes his entry, reveals the nuclear bomb, and breaks Dr. Pavel's neck in front of the crowd.
Invincible is a fictionalized story of Vince Papale, who earned a spot on the Philadelphia Eagles at age 30.
The upcoming movie Draft Day will star Kevin Costner as the general manager of the Cleveland Browns during the NFL Draft. Notable for the NFL allowing the film to shoot footage during the 2013 NFL Draft.
The Draft, a novel written by football analyst Will Mara, features a fictional General Manager of an Alternate History Baltimore Ravens team which had just won two Super Bowls and have all the piecess to win a third. But during the offseason, a little old lady on her meds crashes into the car of the team's star QB, potentially ending his career and leaving a gaping wound on the team roster. Fortunately, the upcoming draft has a promising QB candidate who's bound to go as the 1st overall pick. The San Diego Chargers, who own that pick, announce that they are willing to trade that choice away for the right price, leading to a league-wide Gambit Pileup for the rights to the next young superstar.
Playing For Pizza by John Grisham, details the not oft seen world of European Italian "American Football". The teams are mostly fielded from various odd workers, craftsmen and athletes of other sports past their prime, bank-rolled by the nearest top businessman/politician in the area (and just barely; the title comes from the players' "pay"), and their local supporters would be shamed by most high school booster clubs. The rivalries and dedication to the game, however, are "REAL football". There's also some nice bits about Italian history, art, food and opera. Bene.
Playmakers, an unsuccessful attempt at bringing the idea behind Any Given Sunday to the small screen.note It was possibly killed by the NFL, as they probably didn't want a show featuring a large storyline about football players using drugs to get ahead on ESPN, a network that airs NFL games once per week.
Columbo has solved the murders of team owners in two separate cases. Both episodes involve Brand X teams.
Coach, a sitcom starring Craig T. Nelson as a coach of a fictional college (later NFL) football team.
The 1971 made for television movie Brian's Song is the source of many Manly Tears.
Al Bundy from Married... with Children has several plotlines through the course of the series where he relives what he considers the only happy time of his life as a star fullback on his high school football team before reality and adulthood set in.
The American music video (one of two produced) for U2's song "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" features a placekicker missing a critical field goal and repeatedly reliving the moment. It also features a cameo by John Madden.
AndyGriffith first entered the national consciousness as a comedian with the sketch "What It Was, Was Football", depicting a college football game through the eyes of a country preacher who had never before seen the sport.
George Carlin has a whole routine comparing football to baseball. See the page quote up top for a taste.
Bill Cosby describes playing football in the streets of Philadephia as a kid:
Quarterback: Arnie, go down ten steps and cut left behind the black Chevy. Filbert, you run down to my house and wait in the living room. Cosby, you go down to 3rd Street, catch the J bus, have them open the doors at 19th Street— I'll fake it to you.
Bill:(narrating) There was always one fat kid you never thought of—
Fat kid: What about me?
Quarterback:(not missing a beat)You go long.
Bill:(narrating) We got a lot of good plays going that way.
Quarterback: I'll throw it over the water tower— you'll catch it as it bounces out.
Electric Football, possibly the earliest marketed tabletop game.
Gridiron: a collectible card game.
Lombardi, an NFL-sponsored theater-in-the-round play about Vince Lombardi and his relationship with football. This is only a slight exaggeration, as Mrs. Lombardi (who narrowly prevented an unthinkable alternate universe by encouraging her husband to accept a request to be head coach of an NFL team in tiny Green Bay, Wisconsin instead of settling for a job as a bank manager) states that the three most important things to her husband was "God, family, and football, but not necessarily in that order".
Madden NFL is one of the most successful video game franchises in history. A simulated game is played out every year before the Superbowl, which correctly predicted the winner every year for the first several years it was done.
NCAA Football is close behind.
Tecmo Bowl was the first truly successful football video game. Because of a licensing snafu, it featured real players on Brand X teams. Tecmo Bo Jackson is considered the greatest athlete in video game history. Tecmo later obtained an NFL license and created the also successful Tecmo Super Bowl, which still retains a cult following for its easy and fun (if somewhat unrealistic) gameplay. There's a video series that amusingly follows Madden NFL's lead in simulating games to predict winners, starting with an explanation that both coaches completely dropped their full line-ups in favor of the now-retired players that were featured in Tecmo Bowl, and stright-laced announcing of impossible plays such as Jeff George's "Wonder Pass".
NFL Blitz: a series of ultraviolent football games originally by Midway that cycle in and out of favor. Since EA now holds exclusive rights to the NFL and NFL Players' Association, the last Midway Blitz games used fake teams and players; however, this let them get away with content that would be slanderous if used with real athletes, such as giving players the option of feeding their team illegal drugs or sending prostitutes to the other team's hotel. After Midway's bankruptcy, EA Sports relaunched NFL Blitz as a download-only complement to Madden.
Roy Bromwell of the Rival Schools games, being one of the token Americans in the series, is noted in his bio as the star quarterback of Pacific High's football team. In-game, however, this is an Informed Ability; the only evidence of his football background is one of special moves being named Touchdown Wave.
Johnny Maximum, from the World Heroes franchise, had more of a football theming; he was dressed in full football gear, and initially had football-shaped projectiles that were either passed or kicked to enemies.
Black College Football: The Xperience, an experimental title that focused exclusively on historically black universities. Mostly known for its focus on non-football stuff, such as a halftime drum competition minigame, and an interactive player museum.
Shows up in It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown as a homecoming game for the kids. Their school's athletic budget is pretty minimal: no actual uniforms for Peppermint Patty's team; Snoopy ends up playing the roles of referee, cheerleader, and news helicopter; Woodstock is a linesman and cameraman. Based, of course, on Peanuts strips featuring football, the playing of football, and the pulling away of footballs.
There was also You're in the Super Bowl, Charlie Brown, where the kids competed in a punt-pass-and-kick contest for Super Bowl tickets, interspersed with Snoopy coaching a team of Woodstock and his friends in an Animal Football League.
An episode of King of the Hill featured Bill going back to his high school to graduate and play one more year and trying to regain a rushing record he had recently lost in the process.
The NFL made their own animated show in 2010 called NFL Rush Zone: Guardians of the Core, a terrible Flash cartoon which aired on Nicktoons Network to complete apathy as it was pretty much a half-hour Infomercial for the league for kids. What little plot there was revolved around an Ancient Artifact called "The Core", and kids trying to get back team logo festooned shards to reform it while dealing with rather poor football-themed enemies and being assisted by football-themed allies.
For more information, watch Eyeshield 21 or Friday Night Lights. Or show up at a sports bar full of drunk Americans on an autumn weekend afternoon. Or any part of Texas, with anyone, at any time, especially if you like high school football. Or anywhere near a public television in a college on game day. For some of the more notable NFL plays, go here.