Sports for dummies: Game-day guide for the casual football fan

Ashley Potts

Unpopular opinion: Football is weird.

While I—as a person who does not immediately shy away from things involving sports—understand football, I would say it is a conditional understanding.


I understand the basics. I know what a first down is, I know what it means for the quarterback to be sacked and I know that a touchdown counts for six points plus one extra point for the kick after. That is where my football knowledge ends.

In my experience, trying to gain more football understanding is like trying to get into a bar with a fake ID: It is possible, but it is not easy.

A simple Google search uncovers more football words than I care to count, let alone sift through and try to understand.

Football, and sports in general, can feel really cliquey. You are either in the know or you are not. Asking questions usually just warrants laughs and wondering if you “seriously” do not know that seemingly simple rule or player or fact. But the culture is undeniably fun and something that even the most football-illiterate want to be a part of, even if only for a weekend.

For those like myself, who have general knowledge of football but are hesitant to delve deeper into the fanatical world of “true” football fandom, consider this your opportunity to get your questions answered without feeling like a total outsider.

I give you the football lingo for the casual fan, enough to get you through a commercial break-length rundown of what just happened, or keep up with the yells of the crowd at the game this weekend.

Special teams

This term gets thrown around a lot, and it is not exclusive to football. In a sense, it means what it says. There are offensive players and defensive players and then there are special teams players, who “specialize” in situations where typical offensive and defensive lines do not make sense.

In football, this includes place-kickers, punters and field goal kickers. They also include players to protect the kick from being blocked or dropped before the specialist is able to kick it.

There’s even specialization within the special teams. There is a special teams unit that handles punts, punt returns and kickoffs, with another handling field goals and extra point attempts.



This is another relatively simple term. The pocket is simply the area that is created around the quarterback by his offensive line blocking other players so that the quarterback has room and time to make a good pass down the field.

Pass interference

This term comes up frequently in games. Pass interference is a foul that gets called when a player interferes with another player catching a pass beyond reason. This gets a bit complicated because only an “eligible player” can catch a “forward pass” for the whole thing to be legal.

It is kind of like the football equivalent of offsides or icing, which are almost universally misunderstood rules in other sports. Basically if you are eligible to receive a pass and a referee uses his judgment to determine you were illegally interfered with, a flag gets thrown. 

Red zone

The red zone is basically the unofficial pressure zone. It’s essentially the last 20 yards before someone scores.

When your team is on offense, the red zone is a good place to be, but it can also be stressful. If you get all the way there and waste it, it is obviously not good. When your team is on defense, the pressure is really on in the red zone to stop the other team from scoring. Either way, it is the zone where the game gets exciting.

As previously stated, trying to understand all of football is a commitment. It will take more than one article or a Google search to truly contribute to a football conversation, but hopefully this has saved you some level of embarrassment or annoyance at people expecting you to know these things already.

Collegian Assistant Photo Editor Ashley Potts can be reached at