The 10 Most Confusing Things About Football to an Outsider

A lot of people start watching football at some point in their adult lives, maybe because they suddenly find it interesting, maybe to have something to talk about with other people, or maybe because they liked Donald Driver on Dancing With the Stars and wanted to see him in "his other show."

In any case, people often say it's really hard to get into, and I can identify with that. There are so many complicated rules that some of the players don't even understand them. Here's some common questions asked by people new to football (well, mostly me) answered by someone who doesn't know anything about football (also me).

#10. Why Is It Called Football if They Hardly Ever Use Their Feet?

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No feet!

Everybody asks this, mostly seriously, but it sometimes gets asked by people who hate American football for whatever reason and think this is a "gotcha" question that shows how dumb the sport is. "I don't know!" the football fan is supposed to reply. "This whole sport is a sham! If the name doesn't make sense, there's no point in watching it anymore! All the plays are meaningless! I'm selling my season tickets!"

Now, I'm sure if you just Google it, there's some pretty simple historical or cultural reasons why the modern day, mostly hand-based sport of American football is called what it is, like it was based on an earlier sport like rugby football that did involve more footwork, but I've recently been reading the teachings of Ayn Rand, and I feel that searching for other people's answers on Google would just be parasitically sponging off their work. As a strong, self-reliant individual, I should make up the answers myself, without leaning on the crutch of "research." Because when I go live in a compound in the desert with the other geniuses, I'm not going to have access to Google. I'll have to answer all historical and science questions by relying on my own imagination.

This is how my imagination pictures George Washington, for example.

So, all that said, my intuition is telling me that when football was first invented in America, in the 1300s or thereabouts, it was originally played with an actual human foot. America was a savage place back then, and executions were such a common way of dealing with crimes that there were too many body parts to deal with. Arms and legs could be used for furniture, hands made good coat hooks, and heads were round enough to be used for basketball, but nobody could think of a use for feet, and they kept piling up.

That's when Thomas Jefferson invented a new sport where the ball would never have to bounce on the ground and didn't need to be round, where a human foot would work perfectly for sailing through the air aerodynamically, at least if you threw it heel first.

He is not throwing it the right way.

As the nation became wealthier and the sport became standardized, people started encasing the feet in elongated leather pouches so that ladies watching the game would not faint at the sight of rotting human flesh. Nowadays, of course, executions are very rare, and so only official NFL game balls have actual feet enclosed in them.

#9. What's the Deal With "Throwback" Uniforms?
The Philadelphia Eagles' throwback uniforms ensured that they would not be run over when crossing the street at night.

Sometimes you turn on the game and all the players seem to be wearing hideous uniforms from another era, or maybe borrowed from a generous high school team. The announcers keep talking about these "throwback" uniforms. What does it all mean?

Supposedly they are tributes to the team's history, bringing back old uniforms from the past that make winning teams proud of their tradition and losing teams remember a glimpse of light from a time when they didn't suck. Actually, though, given the constant rancor between the NFL owners and the NFL players' union, I suspect that these are passive-aggressive moves by the owners, who, unable to get the salary concessions they wanted, are lashing out petulantly by forcing players to occasionally dress up like circus clowns.
Or circus tents.

Or in pee-and-poop colors.

As for the reason they are called "throwbacks," it's pretty simple, and you've probably already figured it out. When the team employees hand the new uniforms to the players for the first time, the players naturally "throw back" the uniforms in disgust until they get a stern talking to from the team owner.

#8. How Come the Pittsburgh "Steelers" Team Name Is Misspelled?

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If you've seen the Pittsburgh Steelers play, you've probably wondered why they misspelled "stealers," and then, whether "stealers" is even a real word. It isn't, obviously; the correct word would be "thieves."

Which goes back to an interesting story. Pittsburgh started as a booming manufacturing town (I think they made steel or something) with a solid working class, but as times changed and the demand for manufacturing dropped, a great deal of people lost their jobs and the city fell into chaos and rampant looting, sort of like RoboCop's Detroit, or actually, modern day Detroit.

What's the difference, really?

Civilization fell apart, and the only law was the law of the Thunderdome. The school systems crumbled into ruin, and the only way to earn a living was through scavenging and theft. With their lack of education, the roving bands of pillagers scrawled their semiliterate graffiti calling cards around the city with phrases like "The steelers wuz here" or, on the front of a recently looted house, "Steelers owned u."

Eventually, with the return of civilization brought by a combination of economic improvement and strong law enforcement (known to the locals as "the shooterers"), the city returned to normalcy. However, the team name pays tribute to a former era of hard times and survival whose lessons the city hopes never to forget.

And if you think I'm bullshitting you, then go ahead and explain why this week's Steelers "throwback" stunt had them dressing up like convicts.

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Or maybe bees.

#7. Why Is a Safety Both a Guy and a Play?

Pool safety.

If you haven't watched football before, you're probably only familiar with "safety" as an abstract concept of freedom from danger, or maybe a kind of dance. However, football gives it two totally new and confusing meanings.

A safety is a kind of defensive player who goes all the way back and tries to stop receivers from catching the ball. I guess they are called safeties because they are the last line of defense, and once you get past them, there is nobody to stop you. One of the safeties is called a strong safety (because he is strong) and one of them is called a free safety (because he's not a conformist). You could probably do a good buddy movie with two safeties.

I'm not married to the title.

Unfortunately for the new football viewer, a safety is also a kind of play. When the offensive team is so far back that the ball carrier gets taken down in his own end zone, the defensive team gets two points for humiliating them in such a manner. Theoretically, a safety could cause a safety, which is really really confusing.

Why are these terms so confusing? I'm pretty sure it's part of the NFL's master plan to keep regular people from thinking that football is easy to understand, because otherwise you will start complaining more, and they think you already complain enough. If you think it is a mysterious, complex thing that you can't possibly grasp the ins and outs of, then the commentators will keep their jobs and the teams will supposedly get less complaints.

That probably sounds crazy, but keep in mind that the NFL kept the All-22 footage (a high-up camera angle of every game that shows what every player on the field is doing) under wraps for so many years specifically because they didn't want fans to find more stuff to criticize coaches about. Well, it's public as of this year, so take a look and complain your heart out. See if you can find any safeties causing safeties.

#6. How Can You "Run Downhill" on a Flat Field?

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This is not what the politicians would call a "level playing field."

One thing you'll notice a lot if you listen to the commentators (which you probably shouldn't) is that they keep saying that a running back "runs downhill" or "needs to run downhill," which seems to imply that he should leave the stadium and go for a jog somewhere, because the playing field is flat.

I mean, obviously this is some kind of expression or metaphor for a guy building up so much momentum that it's like he's running down a hill, or something. At least it usually refers to a guy who pretty much smashes straight ahead through defensive players like a bowling ball, as opposed to going sideways and trying to run around them. Why the commentators won't use words like "direct" or "straight," I don't know; I guess it's tradition, or part of the conspiracy I mentioned above.

I propose getting revenge for being confused by making up our own random directional phrases. "They have Eric Decker running a counterclockwise route on the anti-meridian." "Frank Gore is getting some great yardage going south-southwest." "Matt Forte needs to follow the trade winds."

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Christina H

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