Why Every Traveler Should Catch an American Football Game

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A Growing Love of American Football

For quite a few years now, I’ve been a growing fan of American Football.

What started out as an innocent enough interest in fantasy football spawned by The League slowly developed into watching actual games and finding teams I liked or disliked.

I tuned in to watch my then girlfriend’s Baltimore Ravens beat the 49ers from a beach hotel in Koh Phangan, Thailand back in 2013, and would start my Monday mornings in Australia last year watching whatever game the FTA networks deigned to share.

When I decided to plan my Great US Road Trip, one of my regrets was that we’d be arriving a month after the NFL season ended.

Expats playing American football in South Korea
A much younger CWB does his best to get up to speed with the complications of American Football.

Why the Interest?

Whether it’s a small town that closes up on a Friday night to watch the local high school team play; a stadium packed with over 90,000 fans to see an epic college match up like Notre Dame vs. Southern Cal; or a rivalry between two original AFL teams dating back over 50 years like the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders, few experiences match the raw emotion and drama of a great football game.

Not only is football the most popular spectator sport in America, it has been that way for the past 30 years, according to the Harris Poll. In 2014, a combined total of 42 percent of those surveyed chose either professional or college football as their favorite sport.

College football fans showing their team pride.

Similarities to Rugby & Aussie Rules Football

Sports fans outside the U.S. who follow rugby will see some similarity between rugby and American football. There is some similarity between a rugby scrum and a running play in American football where the ball carrier attempts to advance the ball by running through an opening created by his teammates blocking or pushing defenders. If you carry the ball across the goal line in rugby, that’s called a try; in American football, it’s a touchdown. All three sports have some variation of a field goal where the ball is kicked from the field between two uprights.

One way that American football differs from the other two sports mentioned earlier is the use of set plays. Most plays are run from scrimmage, where the offense lines up across from the defense. A ball is ‘snapped’ where the center lines up over the ball and passes it underneath him to the quarterback, who then typically hands the ball to a running back or throws it to a receiver who is usually tackled, ending the play. Each play usually lasts only a few seconds of real time. In between live playing action, both defense and offense normally ‘huddle up’ to run a set play or call out a specific defense against it.

In rugby and Aussie Rules football, the action is more continuous, with less time between plays. Another obvious difference is that American football players wear padding while players from the other two sports usually wear little to no padding. In American football, each team has 11 players on the field; Aussie Rules has 18 players from each team, while rugby has variations with 13 or 15 players per team.

American Football/NFL is a hard hitting game.

Why American Football has So Much Emotion and Drama Behind it

By its very nature, football is a sport that can leave fans on the edge of their seats. Compared to other sports like basketball, ice hockey or baseball, football has a relatively small number of games. One loss in a 162-game baseball season probably won’t affect a team’s season much; for a football team playing a 16-game season, that one loss could be devastating.

Crowd participation is usually more intense with football than it is with other sports. When the home team is on defense, the fans often make a lot of noise, since offenses rely heavily on being able to hear the quarterback call out instructions known as ‘signals’ or ‘audibles’ to the rest of the offense.

Difficulty in hearing these signals can lead to plays being executed improperly and miscues that result in penalties. This can have so much of an impact on a game that many football teams often refer to a vocal and supportive home crowd as the ‘12th man’.

As is the case with any contact sport, the hard-hitting action of football appeals to many fans. A hard hit, whether it causes a fumble, prevents a receiver from catching the pass, or results in a quarterback sack or other tackle for negative yardage usually draws a visceral reaction from the audience.

Any sports fan visiting the U.S. should make every effort to include watching a game of American football on their itinerary. A little extra research on which games have the best rivalries, and some planning to include tailgate parties and other similar fun activities outside the game will make the visit an experience of a lifetime.

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