NFL Abroad: An Aussie Unravels the Mystery of American Football

Andrew SimpsonCorrespondent IMarch 27, 2008

OK, I'm not going to lie.

American football is a tough game to get the hang of.

Especially coming from the codes of football we have in Australia.

Having grown up with Rugby League, Rugby Union, Australian Rules Football and Soccer, the concept of stopping for a "rest" between each play seems like a cop out.

However, if one takes the time to understand the concepts of the game, the strategies and nuances of offense, defense, and special teams, it is easier to understand why the game is so popular.

The first thing I noticed when first watching an NFL game is the sheer number of players in each team.

How could so many players be on a team when only 11 were allowed on the field at once?

It becomes apparent that this idea lends itself to specialization, which, in turn, leads to higher levels of performance. Obviously, the more specialized a person is, the better they can perform these specific tasks.

For example, I would rather have a brain surgeon operate on my brain, than have a normal clinic doctor do so. It then follows that a defensive lineman will perform better if he can focus on defense, rather than playing both offense and defense.

In addition to positional specialization, there are also situation specific players. I think the New England Patriots use these players particularly well, with third down runningbacks and pass specific linebackers playing important roles for teams.

This is something that I have found to be in stark contrast to Australian football codes, as we rarely see many situational substitutions, and certainly no offensive/defensive specialists.

The second thing that stands out about American football is the stoppage time between plays.

I understand that there is a play clock, however, compared to other football codes, it appears like a long time between plays.

The reason for this is simply that short explosive performances, which American football is geared towards, are far more entertaining than more aerobic, endurance performances.

Compare Soccer, where the players walk/jog for extended periods, with NFL, where a play is over in five or six seconds, all of which is at maximum effort.

While the stoppage between plays appears to be a negative aspect of the game, it allows us to view more explosive, entertaining football.

Play design is an aspect of the game that takes a long time to understand, and even after extensive analysis, it is difficult to fully comprehend until you have been involved with football for some time.

While my understanding of football plays is basic, I have come to appreciate the strategy component of the game, which gives the game a whole other dimension.

We have all heard how sports are 10 percent physical, 90 percent mental, well, American football puts this theory into practice.

The idea that football players are all cavemen with IQs smaller than their shoe sizes is in question when you consider the complexity of some of the playbooks including, pass protection, route-running, and coverage schemes.

The fact that American football fans turn a football game into an event is another part of the appeal that we rarely see at games in Australia.

While people often meet up at a bar before/after the game, there is no comparison to the tailgating that occurs in the U.S.

I saw a video of an Ole Miss (I could have the wrong team here) pre-game party in the "grove," and that struck me as an awesome atmosphere to turn the game into an event. 

One of the criticisms of the game is that it takes too long. Three hours for a football game. Usually Rugby League and Rugby Union games are finished within 90 minutes.

However, as far as I am concerned, a three-hour football game is twice as good as a 90 minute game. Let’s be honest, in Australia, we watch cricket games that last for five days. Three hours is really not so long, after all.

As for the players, there can be no doubting the athleticism of the individual players.

As mentioned above, the specialization of positions allows players to focus on speed and strength, or whatever trait their position requires.

To see men who can run 4.3 second, 40-yard sprints, and others who can bench press 225 pounds 40-plus times is beyond impressive, it's mind boggling.

As such, I believe that the NFL produces some of the most talented athletes in the world, simply as a result of the nature of the game.

There are however some interesting rules in NFL that I have yet to fully comprehend.

1. The offense is rewarded for getting out of bounds.

2. There is no consequence for an incomplete pass.

While these two rules make sense in the context of the game, they are two of the more difficult rules to understand for newcomers, particularly when these newcomers have been raised on a diet of other football codes.

Finally, the most obvious difference between American football and the other popular football codes is the body armor gridiron players wear.

There is nothing like this in any other code, and it has (incorrectly) lead to assumptions that the NFL is not as "tough" as other codes.

Well let me tell you, the nature of gridiron allows for tougher hits, and, with the protective equipment that players wear, they are able to deliver even stronger contact.

I have played all major codes of football, and, despite wearing full pads and helmet, I have never been hit as hard as I was on the gridiron.

Consequently, I have found that it is difficult to learn the intricacies of American football via Madden and TV, although I expect almost any sport is.

However, I have realized that, if people take the time to understand the game and learn the complexities of the sport, it is a fascinating contest featuring extraordinary mental and physical attributes, with some of the best athletes and coaching minds in the sports world.

I now thoroughly enjoy the game and love to watch all levels of gridiron, and have found the strategic aspects of the game to rival the physical feats for maximum entertainment value.


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