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Football, outdoor game, played by two opposing teams with a ball of various types, usually an inflated bladder or rubber bag in a leather or rubber cover, spherical in shape. The object of the game is to score points by carrying the ball across the goal line of the opponents, or by kicking the ball through or over the goal of the opponents. The principal types of football played today are American football; association football, or soccer; Canadian football; Australian football; Gaelic football; and rugby football. Touch football is an informal variation of the game, with any number of players and using any kind of field. Instead of being tackled, the ball carrier is stopped by being touched. (Encarta 1996)

Football is a game of antiquity, known to many peoples. The ancient Greeks played a form of football known as harpaston, and the Romans played a similar game, harpastum. In medieval times a form of football known as calcio flourished in Italy. Natives of Polynesia are known to have played a variety of the game with a football made of bamboo fibers, and the Eskimo played a form of football with a leather ball filled with moss. (Encarta 1996)

Most modern versions of football, however, originated in England, where a form of the game was known in the 12th century. In subsequent centuries football became so popular that various English monarchs, including Edward II and Henry VI, forbade the game on the theory that it took interest away from the military sport of archery. Nevertheless, football grew steadily in popularity. At the beginning of the 19th century several types of the game-all permitting players to kick the ball but not carry it-were being played at various English schools, including Eton, Harrow, and Rugby. The modification of the game that permits carrying the ball was first introduced at Rugby in 1823 when one schoolboy disregarded the established rules, tucked the ball under his arm, and dashed across the goal of the opponents. Thereafter numerous football clubs sprang up in England, some playing the kicking game, others the ball-carrying game. In 1863 a number of clubs devoted to the kicking game met in London, organized the London Football Association, and adopted a code of uniform rules; this type of game was henceforth known as association football, and later soccer, a word derived from association. In 1871 a group devoted to the ball-carrying game organized the Rugby Football Union and adopted the rules then in vogue at Rugby School; that form of the game thereafter was known as rugby football. The two organizations still exist, and each exercises control over its respective game. (Gerhart 6)

Football was first played in Australia about the middle of the 19th century, based on rugby, soccer, and Gaelic football. Australian Rules football is a fast-paced game, played on an oval field with teams of 18 players. The ball cannot be thrown but can be caught; overhand catching, known as high marking, and long kicking are the two distinctive features of the game. (Encarta 1998)

In the U.S., a form of football using a blown-up bladder was played in the colony of Virginia in 1609. In 1820 students at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) participated in a soccer like game, called ballown, in which they advanced the ball by punching it with their fists. Intercollegiate competition began on November 6, 1869, with a game between Rutgers and Princeton. The game, however, resembled soccer more than modern-day American football. Columbia, Cornell, and other eastern U.S. colleges soon after sent representative teams into intercollegiate competition. (Dover 21)

Harvard, preferring to use its own rules, abstained from this competition. In 1874 Harvard met McGill University of Montreal, Canada, in a match played under the rugby like rules of the Canadians. The Harvard players, impressed, altered their own rules accordingly. Harvard and Yale played a football game for the first time on November 13, 1875, using Harvard’s rules. (Gerhart 35)

The following year, representatives of Harvard, Yale, and Columbia answered an invitation from Princeton football representatives to attend a parley at Springfield, Massachusetts. The result of the convention included a new set of football rules and the formation of the Intercollegiate Football Association. Although the rugby like rules of Harvard again prevailed, certain soccer rules were incorporated. The resulting combination of rugby and soccer became popular, and as time went on the rules were constantly changed until a new game evolved. The Intercollegiate Football Association was dissolved in 1894, and in the same year a rules committee, dominated by the Yale graduate and football pioneer Walter Chauncey Camp, was formed by the influential eastern schools. In 1905 an independent association of colleges also formed a rules committee; the two committees soon merged, and since that time American collegiate football has been governed by them. The first professional football game in the United States was played in 1895. (Encarta 1998)

American football, distinct type of football that developed in the United States in the 19th century from soccer and rugby football. Played by professionals and amateurs. (Encarta 1996) Football is one of the most popular American sports, attracting thousands of participants and millions of spectators annually. (Gerhart 49)

The football playing field is rectangular in shape, measuring 120 yd long and 53.3 yd wide. At both ends of the 100-yard dimension, white lines called goal lines mark off the entrances to the end zones. Each team defends one end zone. A team must carry, pass, or kick the ball into the 10-yd end zone on the opponents’ half of the field to score. Lines parallel to the end zones cross the field at 5-yd intervals. These lines give the field a resemblance to a large gridiron. Another set of lines, known as the sidelines, runs along both sides of the field. In addition, two rows of lines, called hash marks, run parallel to the sidelines. The hash marks are 53 ft 4 in from each sideline in college and high school football, and 70 ft 9 in from each sideline in the National Football League (NFL). Each play must begin on or between the hash marks. Before each play, the officials place the ball either between the hash marks or on the hash mark closest to the end of the previous play. (Encarta 1998)

Situated in the middle of the rear line of each end zone are goalposts, consisting of a 10-ft vertical pole topped by a horizontal crossbar from which two vertical upright posts extend. In college and professional football, the posts are 18 ft 6 in apart. (Encarta 1996)

The football consists of an inflated rubber bladder encased in a leather or rubber cover. The ball is an extended spheroid, having a circumference of 28.5 in around the long axis and 21.25 in around the short axis. It weighs between 14 and 15 oz. (Dover 56)

A game of football is divided into four periods, known as quarters, each consisting of 15 minutes of playing time. The first two periods constitute the first half; the second two comprise the second half. Between the halves, a rest period, usually lasting about 15 minutes, is permitted the players, who may leave the field. The teams change halves of the field at the end of each quarter. The clocks stop at the end of each quarter and at certain other times, when particular events occur or when designated by the officials. (Encarta 1996)

Football is played by two opposing teams, each fielding 11 players. Each team tries to move the ball down the field to score in the end zone defended by its opponents. During a football game the teams are designated as the offensive team (the team in possession of the ball) and the defensive team (the team defending a goal line against the offensive team). (Gerhart 69) Players involved in kicking situations are known as the special teams. The 11 players of the offensive team are divided into two groups: 7 linemen, who play on the line of scrimmage (an imaginary line designating the position of the ball) and a backfield of 4 players, called backs, who stand in various positions behind the linemen. The lineman whose position is in the middle of the line is called the center. On his left is the left guard and on his right is the right guard. On the left of the left guard is the left tackle, and on the right of the right guard is the right tackle; similarly, on the ends of the line are the tight end and the split end. The back who usually stands directly behind the center and directs the play of the offensive team is known as the quarterback. In a balanced backfield formation, or “T-formation,” the fullback stands behind the quarterback, and the left and right halfbacks stand to either side of the fullback. Teams often use wide receivers in the place of tight ends, split ends, halfbacks, or fullbacks. Wide receivers line up on the line of scrimmage but wide of the rest of the formation. (Dover 56)

The defensive team consists of a row of linemen, who comprise the defensive line; a row of linebackers; and a collection of defensive backs, known as the secondary. The defensive line can use any number of players, though most teams use three or four linemen. Defensive linemen principally are responsible for stopping the opposition’s rushing attack and, in passing situations, putting pressure on the quarterback. The linebackers line up behind the defensive line and, depending on the situation, are used to stop runners, pressure the quarterback, or cover the opposition’s receivers. Teams usually employ three or four linebackers. The secondary is comprised of cornerbacks, which cover wide receivers, and safeties, which cover receivers, offer support in stopping the rushing attack, and pressure the quarterback. The secondary commonly consists of two cornerbacks and two safeties. (Gerhart 75)

To protect themselves from the often violent bodily contact that characterizes football, players wear elaborate equipment, including lightweight plasticized padding covering the thighs, hips, shoulders, knees, and often the forearms and hands. Players also wear plastic helmets with guards that cover most of the face. (Encarta 1996)

Play is supervised by impartial officials. Professional and major college football programs use seven officials: a referee, an umpire, a linesman, a field judge, a back judge, a line judge, and a side judge. The officials carry whistles and yellow penalty flags. They blow the whistles or throw the flags to indicate that an infraction of the rules has been committed. (Encarta 1998)

The referee is in charge of the game at all levels of play. The referee supervises the other officials, decides on all matters not under other officials’ specific jurisdiction, and enforces penalties. The referee indicates when the ball is dead (out of play) and when it may again be put into play, and uses hand signals to indicate specific decisions and penalties. The umpire makes decisions on questions concerning the players’ equipment, their conduct, and their positioning. The principal duty of the linesman is to mark the position of the ball at the end of each play. The linesman has assistants who measure distances gained or lost, using a device consisting of two vertical markers connected by a chain or cord 10 yd long. The linesman must particularly watch for violations of the rule requiring players to remain in certain positions before the ball is put into play. The field judge times the game, using a stopwatch for this purpose. In some cases, the stadium scoreboard has a clock that is considered official. (Dover 68)

At the beginning of each game, the referee tosses a coin in the presence of the two-team captains to determine which team kicks off or receives the kickoff. At the start of the second half, these conditions are reversed-that is; the team that kicks off in the first half receives the kickoff to start the second half. (Encarta 1998)

During the kickoff, the ball is put in play by a place kick from the kicking team’s 35-yd line or the 30-yd line in the NFL. The NFL kickoff was moved from the 35-yard line in 1994 to increase the importance of the kickoff return. The kicking team lines up at or behind the ball, while the opponents spread out over their territory in a formation calculated to help them to catch the ball and run it back effectively. If the kick stays within the boundaries of the field, any player on the receiving team may catch the ball, or pick it up on a bounce, and run with it. As the player runs, the player may be tackled by any opponent and stopped, known as being downed. The player carrying the ball is considered downed when one knee touches the ground. Tacklers use their hands and arms to stop opponents and throw them to the ground. After the ball carrier is stopped, the referee blows a whistle to stop play and places the ball on the spot where the runner was downed. Play also stops when the ball carrier runs out of bounds. A scrimmage (action while the ball is in play) then takes place. (Encarta 1996)

Before scrimmage begins, the team on offense usually gathers in a circle, called a huddle, and discusses the next play it will use to try to advance the ball. A coach either signals the play choice to the team from the sidelines, or the team’s quarterback chooses from among the dozens of rehearsed plays in the team’s repertoire. The defensive team also forms a huddle and discusses its next attempt to slow the offense. Code numbers or words, called signals, designate each play. After the teams come out of their respective huddles, they line up opposite each other on the line of scrimmage. If the quarterback analyzes the defensive alignment and decides that the chosen play should be changed, the quarterback can call an audible and shout the coded directions for a new play. (Encarta 1998)

Play begins when the center crouches over the ball and, on a spoken signal, snaps it-generally to the quarterback-by handing it between his legs. Based upon the chosen play, the quarterback can pass the ball, hand it off to a teammate, or run with it. During the scrimmage, the players on the offensive team may check the defenders using their bodies, but they are constrained by specific rules regarding the use of their hands or arms. The player running with the ball, however, is allowed to use an arm to ward off potential tacklers. The offensive players check defenders, or try to force them out of the way, by performing a maneuver known as blocking. Good blocking is considered a fundamental technique in football. (Dover 79)

Perhaps the most spectacular offensive play is the forward pass, in which the ball is thrown, in a forward direction to an eligible player. The quarterback nearly always throws the ball, and those who may catch it include the other three backs and the two ends. A forward pass may be made only during scrimmage, and then only from behind the line of scrimmage. A lateral pass (throwing the ball backwards or on a line parallel to the line of scrimmage) may be made anywhere on the field anytime the ball is in play. (Gerhart 84)

The defending team tries to prevent the attacking team from advancing the ball. The defending players may use their arms and hands in their attempt to break through the opponents’ line to reach the player with the ball. The defending team tries to keep the offense from gaining any distance, or to stop the offense for a loss by tackling the ball carrier before the ball carrier reaches the line of scrimmage. The offense must advance the ball at least 10 yards in four tries, called downs. After each play, the teams line up again and a new scrimmage takes place. If the team on offense fails to travel 10 yards in four downs, it must surrender the ball to its opponent after the fourth down. (Dover 86)

A team will often punt on fourth down if it hasn’t gained at least 10 yards in its previous three tries. In punting, the kicker drops the ball and kicks it before it touches the ground. By punting, a team can send the ball farther away from its own end zone before surrendering it, thus weakening the opponent’s field position. (Encarta 1998)

The object of the game is to score more points than the opposing team within the regulation playing time. In college football, a game can end in a tie if both teams have scored the same number of points at the end of regulation time. In case of a tie in an exhibition or regular-season professional game, the teams play an overtime period, known as sudden death, in which the first team to score is declared the winner. If neither team has scored at the end of this 15-minute overtime period, then the tie is allowed to stand. In professional playoff games no ties are allowed, and the teams play until one scores. (Encarta 1998)

A team scores a touchdown when one of its players carries the ball into the opposing team’s end zone or catches a pass in the end zone. A touchdown is worth 6 points. After a team has scored a touchdown, it tries for an extra-point conversion. This is an opportunity to score an additional 1 or 2 points with no time elapsing off the game clock. In college football, the offensive team lines up 3 yd from the goal line of the opponents and passes, kicks, or runs with the ball. A running or passing conversion in which the ball crosses the goal line counts for 2 points. A conversion by place kick that propels the ball between the goalposts and over the crossbar counts for 1 point. In professional football, the offensive team lines up 2 yd from the goal line. A conversion attempted by placekicking the ball is worth 1 point. In 1994 the NFL introduced the running or passing 2-point conversion. (Gerhart 93)

On offense, teams may also attempt to score by kicking a field goal, which counts for 3 points. A field goal is scored by means of a place kick, in which one player holds the ball upright on the ground for a teammate to kick. For a successful field goal, the ball must be kicked between the goalposts and over the crossbar. After each field goal and extra-point conversion, the scoring team must kick off to its opponents. (Encarta 1996)

Finally, a defensive team earns 2 points for a safety when it causes the team on offense to end a play in possession of the ball behind its own goal line. If the offensive team downs the ball behind its line intentionally, in certain situations, such as after receiving a kickoff, the play is known as a touchback and does not count in the scoring. When the offensive team suffers a safety, it must punt the ball to the opponents to restart play. (Encarta 1998)

Football historians generally regard the birth date of football in the United States as November 6, 1869, when teams from Rutgers and Princeton universities met in New Brunswick, New Jersey, for the first intercollegiate football game. In the early games, each team used 25 players at a time. 1873 reduced the number to 20 players, in 1876 to 15 players, and in 1880 to 11 players, where it has remained. (Encarta 1996)

Works Cited

Dover, John Bailey History of Football New York: Baker Publishing Company, 1986

Encarta “American Football” Funk and Wagnall’s Microsoft 1996

Encarta “American Football” Funk and Wagnall’s Microsoft 1998

Gerhart, Douglas Facts About Football West Nyack: Parker Publishing Company, 1969

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