The Sweet Sports Talk Dictionary: Football Edition

When you're only there for the seven-layer dip.

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The Basics

American football has a whole lot of rules—but let's keep it simple. Here's the general idea:

The Teams: Two teams of 11 players take to a 100-yard-long rectangular field. Unlike the other major sports, football teams have entirely different players for offense and defense, and only one group is on the field at a time for each team (one team's offense vs. the other team's defense). This is, after all, a full-contact sport, so this set-up is really for survival.

Here, the referees are measuring to see if the offense has managed to move 10 yards down the field. If so, they will be awarded four more chances to go another 10 yards. (It's harder than it sounds.)
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What They're Doing: The offense takes the football (made of cowhide, by the way, despite the popular "pigskin" nickname) and tries to take it down the field to score. They get four chances, or "downs," to take it 10 yards; if they manage to get 10 yards down the field before being stopped by the other team's defense, they're awarded another four downs to try to do so again.

Yes, this is the much sought-after touchdown you keep hearing about! Here's Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant making one of his famously acrobatic catches in the end zone, scoring six points in the process.
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How to Score: A team scores six points if the offense gets the ball into the end zone (touchdown!), and an extra point afterwards if they kick the ball through the goalposts. Or, If they don't manage to get the ball into the end zone, they can settle for just kicking it through the goalposts for three points (field goal).

The Lingo

Those aren't air quotes New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is making. He's motioning to his teammates to let him know the play they'll be running, because he just called an audible!

Audible: When the offense takes the field with a plan to run one play, but the quarterback decides to change it at the last second, he's calling an audible.

How to Use It at a Party: The great thing about this term is that you can use it outside of game-related situations. For example...

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You: "No! The pizza place is closed."

Your Friend Daniel: "Don't worry, man. [Hands you a menu.] Santino's is still open."

You: Winking. "Nice audible, Daniel."

When Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer goes to work, he risks being the victim of a surprise attack, known as a blitz, from the other team. And sometimes he just can't escape it.

Blitz: When the defense sends additional players toward the quarterback in a surprise attack.

How to Use It at a Party: This is a term that gets thrown around quite a bit, so you won't have trouble finding someone to talk shop with.

You: "Fitzpatrick had no chance of escaping that blitz!" [Ed note: Ryan Fitzpatrick is quarterback for the New York Jets, graduated from Harvard, and has a very formidable beard.]

Random Partygoer: "Yeah, he was toast on that one."

While you're sad that your favorite player is struggling, you're also happy to have made a connection with a fellow football fan. The party is officially under way.

A wide receiver from the Seattle Seahawks is poised to catch a perfect pass from quarterback Russell Wilson (yes, the very Russell Wilson who just married singer Ciara, for those keeping score at home).

Drive: The drive is the series of offensive plays that, if all goes well, leads to a score.

How to Use It at a Party:

You: "A few sweet passes, a well-timed run, and into the end zone for six! That was a nice drive."

Angry Partygoer #1: Smashes can of beer on coffee table.

You: "'re not a Jets fan. Sorry about that."

There is simply nothing as thrilling as a successful Hail Mary. It makes you believe in miracles!

Hail Mary: This is the craziest and, by far, most fun play in all of football—and one called only when your team is in dire straits. When a team desperately needs a last-minute score, the quarterback basically throws the ball up for grabs, as hard as he can, and prays someone will catch it and score a touchdown.

How to Use It at a Party:

You: "All right! We're down by five with six seconds left. Hail Mary time!"

Partygoer #6: Muttering incoherently, sweating.

You: "Don't worry, friend! We've got this!"

That feeling when someone cuts you in line and gets the last slice of pizza. (In football terms, what you're seeing here is an interception, also known as a pick.)

Pick: Both a noun and a verb, this is a slang term for an interception, which happens when a member of the other team's defense catches a ball thrown by the quarterback meant for one of his teammates on offense.

How to Use It at a Party:

You: "NO! Nonononononoooo—"

Heartbroken Partygoer #6: "Ugh. Of course. They picked him off." [Translation: the defense intercepted the pass the quarterback threw.]

You: "You win some, you lose some. See you next Sunday."

Big hug.


For schedules, statistics, and to download all 86 pages of the NFL rule book, head to

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