The 10 Most Confusing Things About Football to an Outsider

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).
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).

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.

The 10 Most Confusing Things About Football to an Outsider

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.

What's the Deal With "Throwback" Uniforms?

The 10 Most Confusing Things About Football to an Outsider

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.

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Or circus tents.

Or in pee-and-poop colors.

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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.

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.

Why Is a Safety Both a Guy and a Play?

The 10 Most Confusing Things About Football to an Outsider

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.

How Can You "Run Downhill" on a Flat Field?

The 10 Most Confusing Things About Football to an Outsider
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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."

Why Do so Many Football Terms Sound Dirty?

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If you have the slightest hint of immaturity in your mind and you watch a football game with the commentary on, you will hear a lot of things that make you giggle. Like:

- He really knows how to work the seam.
- They're really pounding it up the middle.
- They're getting great penetration in the backfield.
- The tight end was wide open.
- The call is "illegal touching." (Yes, that's an official call.)
- Trent Dilfer (retired quarterback and current commentator)

Some of it is just that football has been around a long time, and old words turn funny if you leave them around long enough. Guys used to be able to introduce themselves as "Gaylord" or "Dick" without anyone giggling. People used to be able to say, "What a lovely pussy," and you would expect to see a cat.

The 10 Most Confusing Things About Football to an Outsider

Nowadays, of course, you would expect to see a wimpy or cowardly person.

Why Are People Just Milling Around When the Game Isn't Over Yet?

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One of the most confusing things for me at first was watching everyone mill around on the field, chatting and shaking hands like the game was over, when there were like 40 seconds left on the clock. "Man," I thought, "these people are quitters! What's wrong with you! Why are you just giving up?"

Then I found out about kneel downs and how teams with a certain number of plays left can just have the quarterback kneel down, ending the play, and let the time tick down while they prematurely (technically) congratulate each other. Obviously you only do this if you are ahead. I still think it's weird that the other team just lets you do that, but I guess it's an unwritten rule everybody follows, except a rogue coach here and there, and when they don't follow it, everybody gets mad.

Still, there's something weird about watching the final seconds of the game tick down while you're walking around socializing.

Is There Really Still a Team Called the Redskins in This Day and Age?

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If you've followed football long enough, I guess you get used to it, but if you've just started getting to know NFL teams, you sort of do a double take the first time you find out that there is a team named after, let's face it, a racial slur. Admittedly, an old-timey racial slur. It is like stumbling upon a team called the San Francisco Chinamen or the New York Dagoes or something.

Rest assured, though, the meaning of the team name has evolved so it no longer refers to a derogatory term for Native Americans, but to the complexions of the players, management and fans as a result of embarrassment at the team's performance over the past couple of decades.

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This Eagles fan with the surprisingly understated sign makes the point I am getting at.

Why Is There a Baseball Field on the Football Field?

If you've asked this question, you were likely watching an Oakland Raiders game, in which case, I'm sorry. The Oakland Raiders are kind of like the Harlem Globetrotters of football, if the Globetrotters' humor was unintentional and they usually lost. While they provide ample entertainment with their off-field drama and their often bumbling play, they top it all with the last multipurpose stadium in North America, shared with Major League Baseball's Oakland Athletics.

The 10 Most Confusing Things About Football to an Outsider
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It's currently called the Coliseum, believe it or not.

Once upon a time, some people thought that multi-use stadiums were the future, so they built some. Now they know better.

The end of baseball season runs into the beginning of football season, so for the first few Raiders games, there's a big dirt baseball diamond in the middle of the football field. In addition to just looking hilarious, I can't imagine how this screws around with actual play.

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Fumble at ... second base?

Fortunately, being a true Oakland team, the A's don't usually get very far in the postseason, so the Raiders only have to put up with it for a few games.

What's the Deal With Fantasy Football?

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You might have seen "fantasy football" stats running across the bottom of the screen during an NFL game broadcast, and you might have heard that fantasy football is a billion-dollar industry, and you might have tried to talk about football with a co-worker or associate and been treated to a long-winded discussion of their fantasy football team.

Fantasy football is not that different from women's fantasies, but is adapted to appeal to guys. While women may fantasize about some sexy guy coming to deliver pizza, whereupon the woman finds out that she has no money and wonders if there is some other way she can pay for it, guys' fantasies are somewhat different, in that they imagine Aaron Rodgers coming to deliver pizza, whereupon the man finds out that he has no money and wonders if there is some other way he can pay for it. I don't want to go into detail with minors on this site, but it all ends up in a hot tub with Rodgers and Clay Matthews.


It could be you in that tub with your poorly Photoshopped heroes!

Again, I want to emphasize that I've been following the teachings of Ms. Rand in not looking anything up and relying on myself in coming up with these explanations, so I could be totally off base. Obviously I've heard from guys that fantasy football seems to have a lot to do with pretending you are the owner of the team and "buying" a whole stable full of players, which sounds like a pretty hot setup to me.

Check out more from Christina in 6 Reasons The NFL Is The Trashiest Reality Show on TV and The First QB to Ever Eat Himself Out of the NFL.


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