Football. The very word sends shivers of testosterone through strong men's ovaries. But what IS American footballery? Who are the athletes behind this mysterious sport? How does one do a football game? The answers to no more than two of these questions will be found in this ... the Gentleman's Guide to American Football.
The Origins of Football
Football is, and always will be, a rough-and-tumble game. However, its mortality rate has dropped sharply now that the National Football League no longer issues jousting lances to players.
Originating in New York's Five Points district with teams like the Jets, the Sharks, and the Dead Rabbits, the game was played in the street, and ah, God! -- it was horrifying! Sir, you couldn't advance 3 yards without squelching a loose eyeball underfoot, but if you made a touchdown, you ruled that neighborhood and were allowed to collect protection money until the end of the game.
Women in those days went wild for a footballer, and to seduce a champion, many went so far as to bathe. The best portrait of the game's glory days comes from the autobiography Football & Me: Whaddayagotta Problem Wid' Dat? by defensive end "Jostling" Jim Joyce:
"And me when a hit to the lineman was good in these days for a bare shoulders tart, O! I should love to lick such lovely farty fannies. For me her hair came down but a swollen -- so was the cranium of my addled skully brains that the leather helmet would not take off and, it's alright, said Mara dear, 'tis alright, Jimmy, but her look of disappointment made me weep and then 'twas poverty aye much."
Joyce died of extensive brain damage while writing the book, and critics suspect his editor fabricated the bulk of the text. Its remaining 211 pages waver between masturbation tales and a battle with a cyclops, possibly as an extended metaphor for Joyce's rivalry with the Minnesota Vikings' Odin "Berserker" Borrson. Borrson had only one eye, but man could he scramble! (Interestingly, he was the game's first casualty, killed by a late hit from Skjornmir Icefang of the Shakopee Frost Giants.)
It's just a shame the Ravens weren't a team back then.
League Formation and Early Teams
The direct precursor of our National Football League was the Football Men's No Homosexual Touching League, which adapted its "NFL" moniker after incorporating the failing By Jehoshaphat, Fellows, This Is Cracking Fun Arrgh My Teeth League.
It was not uncommon in those days for coaches to sic lions, bears, and irate goats upon their players to motivate them forward, but as the game established a fast set of rules, these creatures were sidelined with honorary positions as mascots. This, in turn, led to local teams adapting colorful identities, unlike European football (soccer) clubs, who have simple geographic names like the Hottentam Shotspours, La Societe du Kicking de Paris, and Yo No Puedo Creer es Real Madrid.
The earliest known roster was compiled in 1910 by the League of Huzzah for the Football and Mustaches! The listed teams were:
Every single player on these teams died in World War I during a game of inter-company football.
By far the greatest player of the time was Oskar "Butterscotch Nipples" Jaskowicsz, also known as "the Polish Meat Grinder," due to his tendency to murder opposing players and serve them in a pie to unsuspecting officials before the match. These savory pastries curried a lot of favor with referees and allowed Jaskowicsz to get away with on-field shenanigans until his shocking crimes were discovered and then disregarded because he was too valuable to the Depression economy to imprison.
Other early stars include:
Mugsy "Two Knives" Marone (FB) -- The Kewaunee Coyotes
Patrick the Filthy Irishman (RB) -- The Liberty Island Wretched Refuse
Scribbly Mayer -- The Bangor Jews
Marty "Malignancy" Huckleberry (TB, which at the time was a player with tuberculosis who coughed on defenders) -- Dodge City Deadshots
Jimmy "The Iron Pants" Shenanigans (DT) -- The Olympia Olympians Not Affiliated With the Olympic Games
Knuckles McFistpunch (TE) -- The Chicago Violence
Bub Shambling (DZ, Defensive Zombie, a position eliminated from modern play) -- The Miami Sleepwalkers
Breaking the Color Barrier
History was made in 1901 when the league recruited Whitey Uptighterson (FS -- the Paleyville Lilies), an African-American whose light skin allowed him to pass for Caucasian in an overwhelmingly white area. Uptighterson shot to stardom in his rookie season when he intercepted a pass and ran 42 yards to win the Gravy Bowl against the heavily favored Rabbit Hash Recalcitrants.
With his picture plastered on the front of the paper, Uptighterson was soon outed as one Thomas Aiken, a local cobbler. There was much uproar, and some felt the new champions "hadn't really won the game" because a player's great-great-grandmother had been one-sixteenth black. But the mayor of Paleyville himself thanked Aiken for the victory at his lynching.
Ironically, that night at theater class the mayor learned how to pantomime "cognitive dissonance."
This guy thought he could excel at every sport he touched while being half-Native American. What nerve! Don't worry, the IOC stripped him of his medals against their own bylaws and he died destitute.
Other Minority Players
Oh, there were plenty, but we couldn't tell you who. We don't see skin color. We see achievement. Sorry for not partaking in your discriminatory social constructs.
Football as we know it came into being in 1969, when the NFL merged with the AFL and abandoned the shotgun euthanization of injured athletes (although many players continued to be put down by gentler methods off the field). New rules were adopted for the well-being of all, including caps on how high a bounty could be for injuring an opponent's spine, establishing a single spelling of "Houshmandzadeh," and sending an all-star team led by Maurice Jones-Drew to hurl the One Ring back into Lincoln Financial Field.
Now let's examine the game as we know it today ...
How to Play a Footballing
The main field of play measures 100 yards long and 53 yards wide. Players must run or pass the ball to the opposing team's end zone. They also have the option of running the width of the field in a single play to score a "mini-touchdown," which is worth 0 points but will be judged aesthetically.
Each team consists of 11 players, or 12 if it's the Jets (come on, guys, we're trying to make this a fair game). At the start of the game, the ball is kicked to the opposing team. Its receiver typically signals for an Eek, Look How Delicate I Am, also known as a fair catch. Then nothing of importance happens for seven minutes.
But occasionally the receiver runs the ball and football is exciting! In the rare instance that he survives the defensive onslaught, the receiver "foots" the "ball" to the goal line by running on the "balls" of his "feet." For years, this was thought to be the meaning of the term football, when in fact it is derived from the game's rough-and-tumble origins of men kicking each other in the crotch. This kind of foul play no longer occurs (on Tuesdays through Fridays).
Each team is given four attempts, or downs, to run the ball to the opposing end zone or an Under Armour endorsement deal, whichever comes first. This is accomplished by either throwing the ball (a pass) or handing it off to a teammate (a trust exercise). He may also lateral pass the ball to any teammate who is not in front of him, which is why many receivers run backward.
If the offense hasn't scored in four downs, the defending team gets the ball and a smug sense of superiority. However, if the offense has advanced the ball 10 yards, or 9.144 meters, they are given a first down, at which point the game cuts to a dumb beer commercial, almost surely Coors Light.
CoorsLight via YouTube
Coors Light ads have sucked for 30 years, and they'll suck for 30 more.
When play is resumed, the offense has another four chances to make the game interesting. At the start of the down, the ball is given to the quarterback, who is usually a very pretty man. He then looks around for someone, anyone, to take this ball before- oh Jesus here comes Warren Sapp I thought he was retired how can this be happening isn't anyone ope-
The game then cuts to black for several seconds of silence, Sopranos style.
To deter the offense, the defending team may tackle, block, intercept, and say hurtful things, unless, obviously, it's about Doug Flutie's kid.
Jesus, what's wrong with you, Jimmy Johnson?
Other Football Terms
Blitz -- Sorry, your security clearance isn't high enough to know the details of this one. Just know that if we can't stop Operation Seeschlange, the world will tremble and bow before its new Super Bowl champions.
The line of scrimmage -- An imaginary boundary that keeps teams separate before the play officially commences, even though that's silly because we're all the same inside. Imagine all the players sharing all the field. It's easy if you try. Are you imagining it? Good. BLITZ!
Although scrimmage is a rarely observed rite these days, we respect its importance to our forefathers, who believed it would offend God. Such ancient traditions may seem a little silly, as these days any reasonable person knows God is a water polo fan.
Since no one can prove whether or not they exist.
Turnovers -- When the offense loses possession of the ball through a fumble or interception, a delicious turnover occurs. This mostly happens in the fourth quarter when you have money on the game.
Neutral zone -- Pretty sure this is where those Kryptonian rebels were banished to in Man of Steel. But they escaped, so its sole occupant now is Justice Cunningham.
Tuck rule -- This recently defunct, short-lived rule was- ugh, you know what? Just ... just forget about this one. You could be learning about chemistry or art or something right now.
Rosebud -- Officials can't agree what was meant by this term, but the consensus is it's the key to happiness that not even Super Bowl victories could buy.
These are some of the most common offenses:
Holding -- Creates a false sense of intimacy between teams when one of them is leaving town tomorrow. It's like, quit playing games with my heart, Seattle.
Offside -- Called when a player crosses the scrimmage line when the ball is snapped. Carries a 5-yard penalty, but totally worth it for that feeling of playing hooky.
Impersonating a referee -- It is unacceptable for a player, whether in active play or off-field, to wear referee garb, unless it is Halloween and the player shows up at work as Sexy Referee. It is also permissible if the athlete is Bugs Bunny playing by himself against an entire team.
Failure to outrage Skip Bayless -- Can only be called with one minute or less to go after evaluating both teams' performances and determining which is less likely to make the most miserable man in sports apoplectic. I'm not saying Skip Bayless is dour, but apparently "bay" is Welsh for "heart." He can't put milk in his coffee for fear it will curdle into cheese by the time he swallows it. He only smiles at the failures of better men, and the only way he can enjoy Christmas is to watch World War II documentaries in reverse. So ... yeah, I guess I am saying he's dour.
Allen Kee/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Here he is criticizing Harry Potter's performance against Voldemort.
Roughing the snapper -- Would it kill you to try a little foreplay first? Maybe imagine something sensual, like a secluded beach? Are you imagining it? Good -- BLITZ!
Prosletyzing -- Any attempt to convert another player to your religion is equivalent to an offside. Unless your religion kicks serious ass, but there are almost no druids in the league anymore. Occasionally you get some good Yoruba, but that's it.
Excessive celebration -- Considered quite unseemly for the modern padded gentleman. Although if you're Brandon Jacobs they'll let you do it because it makes for good television.
Mistaking a fat player for pregnant -- This is why most offensive linemen just greet the defense with a perfunctory "OhmyGAWD, look at YOU!"
For entirely different reasons, there may well be a baby in B.J. Raji's stomach.
Protecting a child molester -- Although rarely called, this strictly enforced penalty has been the ruin of many a Pennsylvania college. Penalization strips a team of its victories and gives opposing teams five decades' worth of rebuttal to its alumni, which, to be honest, takes its shit way too seriously to begin with. I mean, you're good at football, for Christ's sake. MIT doesn't possess Penn State's level of arrogance and they build killer robots and sentient viruses.
Sleeping with the ref's wife -- The league has a zero-tolerance policy on cuckoldry, unless he's into that sort of thing. The ump is allowed to watch but not interfere, lest he trigger the league's ultra-awkward fourth man penalty.
Hurray, Garay! -- This special rule grants a 5-yard gain for the Chargers once per game after the third time the opposing team fails to prevent Antonio Garay from being absofuckinglutely delightful. That man could make the devil titter involuntarily, although he has no effect on Skip Bayless. Who, again, is just the worst. If you offered a Vietnamese orphan the choice between life in a sweatshop or stroking his leathery cheek, she'd pick C) lighting herself on fire in protest.
Performance-Enhancing Drugs (PEDs)
Like all pro sports, football has suffered its fair share of banned substance scandals, including but not limited to: steroids, painkillers, stimulants, Kardashians, and delicious Nutella, which goes straight to your hips.
Of these, steroids are the most prevalent, because this is a game of strength and small testicles. Many brilliant careers have been cut short by steroids after having been made fantastic by steroids. The most prominent example is Lyle Alzado, who once cracked a man in twain to get at the tasty steroids within him. Alzado was what bricks imagine smashing when they work out. If you put him in a room with Bruce Banner and a nest of angry bees, an hour later you'd find Hulk meat on the walls and a hive that had abandoned honey for steroid production if they knew what was goddamn good for them.
Football draws all the usual criminal accusations you'd expect of the Visigoths -- or worse, Ben Roethlisberger. Oh, and the occasional dogfighting. Can you believe Michael Vick is working again? You know he strangled dogs, right? Fuck that guy in the face with an angry pit bull dick.
Football is a man's game -- in fact, a recent study found that as many as 100 percent of NFL players are men. Ladies, don't you like football? Here are some leagues that don't require a certain percentage of hair on the chest.
Canadian Football League -- Rules are generally the same, but there are only three downs and players apologize for tackling each other. Also, cross-checking is not allowed. In CFL play, a team may not have more than one moose in its defensive line unless the offense includes a bear.
Todd Korol/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Derpy football is the second-most entertaining football.
The XFL -- This is what happens when you make the CFL angry. Mister, you wouldn't like the CFL when it's angry. (I apologize for making two Hulk jokes in succession, but this is the world we live in now.)
Legends Football League -- To show more respect for its players, the LFL changed its name from the Lingerie Football League and removed all pink bows from the lingerie. Known for its exceptionally vicious play, it includes special rules, like an automatic first down after putting Nair in a player's helmet. There is also a same-side 5-yard penalty for talking about a teammate behind her back, although this is waived if you can't believe that bitch Jessica would do something like this to you; you thought she was your best friend.
Tiny-Mite Pop Warner League -- Known primarily for its running game, this team of 4- to 6-year-olds found itself utterly crushed in an All-Star exhibition game against the NFC East.
Pop refused to look at them out of disgust (at both their performance and their crumpled little collarbones).
Fantasy Football -- Christ, this is depressing. It's Dungeons & Dragons minus a story and with even more stats. Unless you play this for money, consider doing something more productive with your time, like molesting dolphins. I know that will offend some readers, but I'm not worried, because I just rolled 20 to defend against Impotent Rage spells.
The LXF -- The League of Extraordinary Footballers is composed entirely of football players from fiction who band together to defeat Raiders, Buccaneers, and Bill Belichick. This true fantasy league re-emerges every 20 years or so to defy everyone who says they'll never make something of themselves. Star players include the Waterboy, The Replacements-edition Keanu Reeves, and the entire cast of Friday Night Lights, who may be doomed to heartbreak, but dammit, they're going to win this game.
They win because they let Coach Taylor tell them something.
Yes, football is truly the American sport. It's come a long way from its brutal origins. Like America, it has grown, matured, and improved. Unless we're talking about Michael Vick, because that guy drowned dogs for not being bloodthirsty enough. In a way, dog torture is itself a metaphor for football, which is, in turn, an allegory for America.**Which is itself an extended analogy for Virgil's Aeneid, but that's irrelevant right now.
With so many layers of symbolism, the only thing we can be sure of is that football is back at last, and it's goddamn good entertainment.
Brendan recently interviewed EpicMealTime's Harley Morenstein about bacon, whiskey, and cheesesteak (also known as a happy death). He avoids football talk for fear of spoilers on Twitter @brendanmcginley.
Recommended reading: Brendan also revealed 6 Fun Things About Fall (That Actually Symbolize Death) and said goodbye to summer in 8 Things You Must Know if You Don't Want to Die at the Beach.