Even if you only watch one game per year (the Super Bowl) and you mainly watch it for the commercials and the iconic halftime show, we promise there’s something for you in this guide.
To start, it’s important to know that football is really only played in North America where there are two main leagues: the National Football League (NFL) played in the U.S. and the Canadian Football League (CFL) played in Canada. Talk about a sport called “football” anywhere else in the world and they’ll for sure assume you’re talking about (or ‘footy’, as it’s affectionately nicknamed).
Let’s start by giving you #thegist of the NFL, the most popular football league in the world where the best players aspire to compete.
NFL football is played on a 100-yard field with goalposts (called uprights because the posts face into the sky rather than the ground like soccer) at each end. There are 11 players from each team on the field at once. By passing or running the football, the point of the game is to score and to have the most points at the end of four quarters (this is the same in the CFL). Each team has four attempts (called downs) to advance the ball 10 yards before the ball is turned over to the other team. TBH, we know this can be confusing, but stay with us! The rules are similar in the NFL and CFL; however, there are some key differences. Keep reading to get #thegist on the CFL.
How’s it organized?
There are 32 teams in the NFL, which is divided into two conferences (NFC and AFC) which are further split up into four divisions (North, South, East and West). There are 16 regular season games leading to the playoffs which culminates with the Super Bowl. From the wildly overpriced commercials, to the star-studded halftime show, to eating until you explode – the Super Bowl is an event like no other.
The best of the best
The best team from the 2019-20 season was the Kansas City Chiefs, who beat the San Francisco 49ers 31–20 marking KC's first Super Bowl title in 50 years. Kansas City was led by their exceptional quarterback (QB), Patrick Mahomes (who recently signed a record-breaking $503 million dollar (!!!) contract).
Determining who’s the best player in the NFL is tough because there are so many different positions that require different skills. But it’s pretty undisputed that Tom Brady, who is now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer is, quite literally, the greatest QB of all time with six Super Bowl rings. Other players to know in the league right now are Ciara's husband and Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, and wide receiver Michael Thomas (New Orleans Saints). You can check out the 2020 top 100 list as voted on by the players here.
Think football is a man’s sport? Think again! There are actually three full-contact 11-on-11 leagues in the U.S., the biggest being the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA). Formed in 2009, the WFA has continued to expand and now includes 60 teams (!!!) across three divisions, each crowning its own champion at the end of every season.
And for those who dig the game but not the tackling, there’s always flag football — a similar game where players have to stop running when their flag is pulled off their belt rather than when they’re tackled to the ground.
Ramp up your trivia game
- Only six teams have won a playoff game without scoring a touchdown (aka only).
- Brett Favre (of Green Bay Packers fame) and Tom Brady are the only 40-year-olds to ever win a playoff game, and Brady is the only QB above 40 to win a Super Bowl.
- Just 18 teams played in the NFL’s inaugural season way back in 1922. We’ve come so far!
Now that you have #thegist of football, let us break down how the CFL is different from the NFL:
- A CFL field is 110 yards long vs. the 100 yard NFL field. It’s also a little bit wider.
- The CFL has 12 players on the field at one-time vs. 11 players in the NFL partially because the field is bigger.
- In the CFL, teams only have three attempts () to advance the ball 10 yards, vs. four attempts in the NFL. This often results in more turnovers (when one team is forced to give up the ball to the other team) and keeps things moving at a brisk pace.
How’s it organized?
There are nine teams in the CFL, which is divided into two divisions: East and West. There are 18 regular-season games and then six teams make the postseason for the chance to win the . The season runs from June until the end of November, meaning the playoffs are generally played in sub-zero/snowy weather. Just check out the infamous 1996 Snow Bowl in Hamilton, Ont.!
The best of the best
The reigning Grey Cup champions are the Winnipeg Blue Bombers who beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33–12, thus ending the longest Grey Cup drought in the league (29 years!).
The first Grey Cup was won in 1909 (!!!) by the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, because back then it was awarded only to amateur teams. Today, the Grey Cup is property of the professional CFL, while the Vanier Cup is awarded to top amateur University teams across the country.
Did you know…
- There used to be some American teams in the CFL? The first team from the U.S., the Sacramento Gold Miners, was admitted to the league in 1993. American teams only played in the CFL for three seasons during the glory days of the early 90s.
- The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have made the most Grey Cup appearances (25), while the Toronto Argonauts have won the most championships (17).
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