Figuring out Football with Foreigners

“Can you help me understand? Why do Americans call this game football, when they do not use their feet? Why is it not ‘handball?'”

Umm… I’m not really sure. I think there are a lot of different theories for why that name has stuck, but I don’t really understand the reason.┬áThere are parts of the game where players use their feet, though you’re right that it’s not very logical to call the sport “football.” The sport that we call “soccer” is actually a much more rational choice. But the name has stuck for many, many years now — and I don’t think there’s much hope of changing it, at this point.

“Why are there so many players on an American football team?”

Well, it’s a highly specialized sport — where each position requires a unique set of skills or abilities. Some players have to run quickly and catch the ball. Other players have to be big and strong and hard to move, so they can protect the other players. For offense (when a team is trying to score) there are 11 players on the field, and then for defense (when a team is trying to stop the other team from scoring) there are another 11 players. In addition there are some players who only come into the game when they’re changing from offense to defense, or from defense to offense — and they involve another special set of skills that require an additional 3-5 players. And for each of those 35 players, they need back-ups who can help the team when one of the starters is injured or tired. You’re right, though, it’s an unusually large number of players needed for an American football team!

“This is so boring. Why do they just stand around?”

That is something that’s very unique about American football, isn’t it? You have 5-10 seconds of super-intense activity, with people using all their strength and speed against the other team. And then you have one or two minutes of resting and re-setting for the next play. There is a lot of talking and waiting that happens. But we Americans don’t really mind the waiting periods. We’re used to it. We listen to the broadcasters talk about the play, and we watch replays of everything that happened during the periods of intense activity. Then because our eyes have been trained to see what’s happening during the spurts of activity — and because it’s so intense and powerful — we think it’s actually very interesting and exciting to watch the games. Believe it or not: many Americans would even describe it as the most exciting of all sports!

“Do the players get extra points for dancing?”

No. The players do not get extra points for dancing. I have to admit, though, that this part of American football also seems very silly to me. I don’t think it was like that when I was younger, and my time living abroad kept me from seeing this development in the sport. So yeah: It’s strange to see a player’s teammates come around him to celebrate while he’s dancing or demonstrating — and then only after the dance is finished can they actually congratulate him. But that’s just what they do. Some Americans think it’s really fun to watch the individual celebrations, and it almost becomes a part of the player’s personality. I think some of it may be related to drawing more fans and making more money. But I don’t really know.

“What is so important about the Super Bowl in the United States?”

The Super Bowl is partially significant because it’s supposed to be the championship game between the two best American football teams. But it’s also become a social event, where friends like to get together. And because it’s become a social event, it’s also become an opportunity for businesses to make extra money: selling special foods, making people aware of new products, and having their company’s name associated with good times. So the advertising makes it seem like an even bigger deal than the social element of things might naturally suggest. Even so, it’s not all hype. Most Americans look at Super Bowl Sunday like something of a holiday. It’s kind of like the rest of the world thinks about the World Cup finals. Except exponentially-enlarged with American excess in food and finances. We’re really just trying to have fun.

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