Super Bowl Sunday Basics: Practical Preparation for the Non-Football Fan

Super Bowl Sunday is quickly approaching, causing a low-grade panic for those who prefer The Economist to ESPN but are planning to watch the game with their pigskin-loving peers. Amid the pre-game excitement, you may have wondered: Is Tim Tebow playing? What’s an onside kick? Why is it sometimes only one point when the ball goes through the goalpost, while other times it’s three? Whether you plan to participate in this distinctly American tradition on your living room couch or at a local watering hole surrounded by rabid fans and plates of potato skins, here's a must-read Super Bowl primer for the non-fan:  

1. The Teams. This year’s Big Game is a faceoff between long-time rivals, the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. Similar to non-New Yorkers groaning over another Yankees World Series appearance, expect to hear grumbling about the monopolization of these franchises making repeat Super Bowl appearances; not only is this matchup surprising to no one, but these teams had a Super Bowl square-off in the not-so-distant past (2007). While both teams share the same color palate, the Patriots will be sporting their home blue uniforms and the Giants will be clad in white. Arguably the most critical component of following along is being able to readily identify which team is which.

Extra Point: Being able to point out head coaches Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin on the sidelines.

 2. The Quarterbacks. The quarterback is the main man on the field, the guy who’s determined to get the ball into the end zone no matter how many hits (both sacks and scathing critiques) he has to endure to get it there. It is pivotal to know these players; the winning QB will inevitably ascended to demigod status with his own float in the victory parade, while the losing QB will be villainized in newspaper sports sections across America.

In the case of Super Bowl XLVI, there is not one but two high profile starting QBs, Tom Brady and Eli Manning. Tom Brady is known not only as Gisele Bundchen’s husband, but as perhaps the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Brady can boast his multiple MVP awards, multiple Super Bowl rings, and unparalleled passing statistics. Yet, Manning’s stellar performance this season proves he is ready and able to give Brady a run for his money.

Extra Point: The Peyton vs. Eli conundrum. Being able to discuss the relative merits of the Manning brothers.

3. The Scoring Basics. You look up from your buffalo wings to find the room exploding in cheers. Someone just scored, but you’re not sure who it was, or how many points they got. Enter the scoring cheat sheet outlined below, your trustworthy sidekick and key to understanding how many points each play is worth:

Touchdown: Six points, followed by either an extra point kick or more rarely, a two-point conversion. A big deal.

Field Goal: Three points for kicking the ball through the goalposts; often attempted on fourth down when in range and in times of desperation.

Safety: Tackling the player with the ball in his own end zone. This is ugly. Also a tell tale sign of horrific offensive play.

Extra Point: Being able to accurately predict what play a team will attempt (i.e: “It’s fourth down on the thirty yard line and they’re down by two. They should go for the field goal.”)

Congratulations, you are now equipped to enter a sports bar on Sunday. While you may not be mistaken for Chris Berman, at least some of the football vernacular will sound familiar, allowing you to fully partake in the revelry.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons