I have never been a football fan. My family always skipped the Superbowl. I didn’t know what teams to support when the class got into heated debates. I never even learned how to play football, because all of my PE teachers assumed that everyone already knew. Whenever we played football in school, I would always end up just standing in the middle of the field, clueless as to what was happening or where I should go.

Sometimes it feels like I missed out on this pivotal piece of American pop culture, so I decided to watch a game and document my reactions. I watched the University of Oregon vs. Oregon State game from November 23, 2018 on YouTube. I also watched the National Football League’s (NFL) video titled, “A Beginner’s Guide to American Football” to help me understand the basics.

As the video said, “American football is a game played on a 100 yard field by two teams of eleven players.” The goal of the game is to move the ball into the opponent’s end zone and score a touchdown, which is worth six points. The players move the ball across the field in downs, which they can do by throwing the ball from the quarterback to the receiver or by a running back carrying the ball. Offense must move the ball at least ten yards per four downs (or plays) to keep possession of the ball. If they fail to do this, they can either kick a field goal between the posts, which is worth three points, or punt the ball to the opposing team. A full game of football is four quarters, with fifteen minutes in each quarter.

My main takeaway from watching the game was just how aggressive football is. Three different people got so seriously injured in this game that they had to be substituted out, and there were so many times where someone got piled on or tackled by multiple other guys. Of course, I expected football to be aggressive just with the statistics about concussions, broken bones, and other injuries, but that knowledge didn’t prepare me for actually watching the game and seeing so many people get hurt. I wrote in my notes: “Football looks like it hurts a lot.” 

I was also worried about the referees. They had to be on the field, running near guys practically trying to kill each other, just so they could make sure fair calls were being made? I would be terrified. How do they even stay on the field without interfering with the game?

A problem I ran into while watching the game was not knowing what was impressive or not. I couldn’t tell what was a good play and what wasn’t, which made the game boring to watch. This somewhat faded near the end when I had a better grasp of the exciting plays. After a while, I started to get a better understanding of how to play football. I understood the terminology and phrases used, like fumble and interception.

I did end up enjoying the game. Throughout the third and fourth quarters, I knew what was going on most of the time. I started celebrating touchdowns, getting nervous when calls were under review, and being impressed with the smart plays. One of my favorite moments was when Oregon’s CJ Verdell, number 34, charged through the crowd near the end of the first quarter. “It looked like he was floating above everyone,” I said in my notes.

Did this experience make me a football fan? Not really. But it did let me in on this pivotal piece of American popular culture. I now understand the intensity, excitement, and community that football builds.

What even is football anyway? I have always found it confusing, so I watched a game to better understand it. Illustration By Ru Conrad.
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