Quarterback Peyton Manning is one of the NFL's most talented individuals
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Michael Vaughan has announced his resignation as captain of England's one-day side, while insisting he still has a part to play in the limited-overs game.
Tuesday, 19, Jun 2007 04:14
With football off the radar for a few months, InTheNews takes the opportunity to look at some of the sports you may not know so much about - this week it's the big-game shenanigans of American Football.
American Football is a squad-based game - each team has 54 active players on its roster at any one time. However, when the game is in play it is an 11-a-side contest, much like our own brand of football. Unlike 'soccer' where those 11 men are responsible for both attacking and defending, in the National Football League (NFL) the players are split between offensive and defensive units.
Points are scored by a touchdown or by kicking field goals. A touchdown is scored when a player is in control of the football in the opposition's endzone (goal area). This can be achieved by catching a pass (usually thrown by the quarterback) or by running into the endzone. This earns the team six points with the chance to add another point with a conversion.
Field goals are similar to penalties in rugby and earn three points if they are successful. Many NFL games are won in the final seconds of the game by the designated kicker so while these players are less physical than their team mates, they are just as critical.
The game is played over four 15-minute quarters, though the clock stops if a player goes out of bounds, if there is an incomplete pass, or if a coach decides to use one the three time-outs he has per half. Thus the game actually takes around three hours to complete.
Teams have four downs (attempts) to gain ten yards and if successful will continue to move forward with the ball, getting a fresh set of downs every time they get past the ten-yard marker.
Unsurprisingly the team on defence is trying everything to stop them. If the offence has failed to get close to the required ten yards after three downs they will usually punt on the fourth down.
Players on defence can also score touchdowns either by intercepting a quarterback's pass or by knocking the ball out of an offensive players hand and running into the endzone.
There are 32 teams, which are split into eight groups of four. Half the teams play in the American Football Conference (AFC) and the other half in the National Football Conference (NFC).
The six best teams from each conference go into the play-offs and the respective conference winners meet in the Superbowl.
The big event
American Football's showcase event is the Superbowl, which even if you are not already an NFL fan you will most certainly have heard of. That's because it is the most watched sports event on the planet in a non-World Cup year, with a global audience of about one billion.
The game takes place at the start of February and is famed for it's razzmatazz pre-game and half-time shows as much as the game itself. Prince, Sir Paul McCartney and Billy Joel performed at the 2007 event. There's more tickertape and fireworks than a New Year's Eve party and you could be forgiven for not noticing that a game was taking place as well.
Basically it's like the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games and the FA Cup final all rolled into one and crammed into four hours of entertainment.
The world's best
The best team of recent years is the New England Patriots, having won three of the last five Superbowls and an ever-present in the end-of-season playoffs. They have a bitter rivalry with current champions Indianapolis Colts, who beat the Chicago Bears for the Vince Lombardi trophy this year.
These two teams have arguably the two best quarterbacks in the league. The Patriots have Tom Brady - an old school warrior who always seems to find a way to win; he also boasts a superb record in the big games.
The Colts' Peyton Manning plays the game with great finesse and two years ago beat Dan Marino's record for most touchdowns in a season. If you like to see points then Peyton's your man.
Elsewhere on offence LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers is an amazing athlete and looks set to break every record going for running backs. He possesses speed and physical strength and also has good hands when throwing the ball.
The saying goes that defence wins championships and the Bears nearly proved that this year. Linebacker Brian Urlacher (co-star in a late-night Paris Hilton video) marshals their team and uses his size and speed to stop teams in their tracks.
However, the league-leaders when it comes to defence are the Baltimore Ravens. Linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed are the standout players on a unit that almost matches their offence for points scored.
There are players of all shapes and sizes on an NFL team though a combination of speed and strength is helpful. The best players are the ones who are able to anticipate a play before it happens and help their team take advantage, thus for all the brawn it is brains you need to truly succeed in the NFL.
That's where the coaches come in and are another reason why the Patriots and Colts are so successful. New England coach Bill Belichick is one of the all-time greats, while Tony Dungy is similarly successful with both his man-management and tactical nous.
In the American tradition, the fans tend to be loud and boisterous.
Many paint their faces and dress in anything from the team jersey to more adventurous home-made apparel. The team with some of the most vibrant fans is the Oakland Raiders, whose army of fans are legendary. Tailgating is also popular in the US where fans gather in the stadium car park for a barbeque before the game.
There is no stereotypical overall player for American Football as each position requires different and very unique characteristics. They're all pretty big, though.
Each position perhaps lends itself to certain types but it can be the players who break these conventions that are the most enjoyable to watch: Michael Vick of the Atlanta Falcons and Vince Young of the Tennessee Titans are quarterbacks who rely on their athletic abilities to move the ball up the field, often running rather than throwing the ball.
Shawne Merriman of the San Diego Chargers is a linebacker with immense power and tackling ability but can also get to the quarterback like a defensive-end. A combination of strength and speed is ideal for any defensive player.
Wide receivers are often former track athletes (Dwain Chambers' efforts in NFL Europa, is an example of the sort of speed that is handy) but receivers must also be able to catch the ball under immense pressure to make it in the NFL. Some of the most successful receivers also have the biggest egos because of their on-field prowess.
Terrell Owens of the Dallas Cowboys is often in trouble and Chad Johnson of the Cincinnati Bengals is famous for his touchdown celebrations, though if you are looking for the model receiver then the Colts' Marvin Harrison is just about as perfect as they come.
Having been brought up on the sport most of America's celebrities support a side.
Alice Cooper is a huge Detroit Lions fan (it probably matches his sado-masochistic tendencies) while a range of British sports stars also follow the game.
Rugby World Cup winner Martin Johnson is a San Francisco 49ers supporter and played the game as a youth at tight end and defensive end, while Portsmouth goalkeeper David James is a Miami Dolphins fan.
Why should I watch/play it?
American Football is completely different to any of the traditional British sports. Some people argue that it is rugby with pads. far from it. American Football is a collision sport which borders on brutal - part of the appeal for many fans.
It also provides a respite from the stress of following your usual British football or rugby team. The game is not as stop-start as some would have you believe, though it does not flow in the same way as football, I find any stoppages provide an opportunity to get another beer!
Once you have seen a few games it becomes a game that is rewarding to follow. All the plays are evaluated by the commentators and you soon get the hang of what is going on.
Where do I go from here?
The new season begins on September 6th with the defending champion Indianapolis Colts hosting the NFC runners-up New Orleans Saints live on Sky Sports. Sky will then show a double-header of live games every Sunday from 6pm for the rest of the season, which ends with the Superbowl in February.
They also offer an interactive service where two other games are available to view. Channel Five air the famous Monday-night game live every week with games late on a Sunday night when the baseball season finishes.
To find out more about the sport visit www.nfl.com, or for specific information about events and clubs in your area see www.nfluk.com. The UK site also runs a free fantasy football competition each year. Both of these sites offer further guides on the rules of the game while the main NFL site provides links to the individual sites of all 32 teams.
The NFL is keen to reach out to an international audience and is planning to have a regular season game outside the USA every year.
Here in the UK we are lucky enough to be hosting the first of these games at the new Wembley Stadium on October 28th when the Miami Dolphins take on the New York Giants. Further information about the game can be found at www.nfllondon2007.com.