How to Explain Football to Your Girlfriend

man woman football
Wouldn't it be great if she became a fan of the game?
Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

There are any number of reasons men crowd around the TV set each weekend with a cold brew in hand to watch their favorite teams battle it out on the gridiron. For one, football is a highly physical game that appeals to baser instincts. Plus, it evokes a sense of team and camaraderie. Some experts even speculate it's a safe way for men to express emotion. But, for whatever reason, most men just seem to be born with the X's and O's gene.

Conversely, the majority of women (though there certainly are exceptions) are not. And for any of you who've been chided by girlfriends about the amount of football you watch, how much money you spend on game tickets and souvenirs or simply how obsessed you are with the game, you know it has the potential to cause tension in the relationship.


Fortunately, there's a solution -- get your gal interested in the game! The more she knows, the more involved she'll be. So, guys, take the time to explain the game to her. It may require some persistence, patience and even some creativity on your part, but the payoff can be huge.

She may not end up wanting to join your fantasy football league or make a pilgrimage with you to Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but how sweet will it be when she's not only fine with you watching the big game, but she plops down on the couch in the man cave to watch it with you? And how cool will you look to your buddies when your girlfriend knows the difference between a split end and a flanker or why the players put that black stuff under their eyes?

We only hope that she ends up rooting for the same team, or else it might be back to the doghouse for you.

Before you begin, ascertain your girlfriend's level of football knowledge. Does she possess a partial understanding of the game but doesn't know particular plays or positions? Then skip to page three on strategy. If you talk down to her your teaching experiment won't last long.

Read on for tips on how to break down the game and explain it to your girlfriend.


How to Explain the Basics of the Game

Football can look like a bunch of bulked-up guys running around in circles to anyone who doesn't have a basic understanding of the sport. And once you start throwing in terms like chop block, zone defense and play-action pass -- or trying to explain the differences between the pro and college games -- her eyes may start rolling back into her head. So start small, using the simplest of terms and giving your girlfriend just enough of an overview so that she can watch and learn and slowly catch on to the finer points of the game. Here are some of the basics:

  • The playing field -- Begin with a brief intro to the layout of the field, covering the end zones, yard marks, sidelines (out of bounds), and goalposts.
  • The objective -- Explain that the basic idea is to rack up as many points as possible by advancing the ball past the other team's goal line.
  • The scoring -- Spell out the points given for a touchdown, kick after, field goal and, on occasion, two-point conversion. Save the safety for a future discussion.
  • The rules -- Describe that each team has an offense and a defense. The offense gets four tries, called downs, to advance the ball a minimum of 10 yards, and continues until they either score or are forced to kick the ball to the other team. Mention that a game is divided up into four quarters of 15 minutes each and that there are seven referees responsible for enforcing the rules.
  • The players -- Explain that each team can only have 11 men on the field at a time (see next section for detailed player descriptions).
  • Advancing the ball -- Tell her there are two ways to move the ball -- passing it or running it. Explain the concept of a fumble and an interception.
  • Penalties -- This area of the game can be a little tricky, so start with the most common infractions, like offsides, holding and pass interference. Make sure to explain that penalties can result in a loss of down or moving back a predetermined number of yards (or both).

Want a concise description of what each player does and how he fits into the game? We've got it on the next page.


How to Explain Football Positions

disinterested girl football
It doesn't have to be this way.

Thanks to big-name pro players like Tom Brady and Tony Romo, who routinely pop up in commercials, PSAs, most beautiful people lists or on the cover of tabloids, most women know a little bit about quarterbacks. But ask them the difference between a halfback and a fullback, and you'll probably get a blank stare. If you give your girlfriend an overview of what each player does, it will go a long way toward helping her understand the ins and outs of the game. Let's start with the offense.

  • Quarterback -- He's the leader of the offense and either throws the ball to a receiver, hands it off to a running back or runs it himself. He may even call the plays the offense will run.
  • Receivers -- Receivers run a route, or pattern, downfield in order to catch a pass thrown by the quarterback and advance it up the field. On non-passing plays, they may block a defensive player.
  • Running backs -- Their primary job is to take the ball from the quarterback and sprint down the field without being tackled, but they can also catch the ball. On non-running plays, they may also block the defense in order to protect the quarterback.
  • Offensive linemen -- The burliest of the bunch, these are the players who line up closest to the quarterback and are responsible for blocking the other team's defense, either to make a path for the running back or to give the quarterback enough time to pass the ball. One of the linemen, the center, is also responsible for hiking the ball to the quarterback.

Now let's take a look at the defense:


  • Defensive linemen -- The defensive line is made up of defensive tackles and defensive ends, who line up directly across from the offensive line. Their goal, simply put, is to put pressure on and tackle whoever has the ball.
  • Linebackers -- The linebackers' job is to go wherever they're needed depending on the action on the field. So they might rush the quarterback, cover a wide receiver or running back or try to intercept the ball.
  • Defensive backs -- Consisting of cornerbacks and safeties, the defensive backs are tasked with defending the receivers, either keeping them from catching the ball or tackling them after they've caught it.

You also have your special teams players, like the kicker and punter, who only come into the game in certain situations.

Now that you've given her a rundown of the players, help enlighten her about the fundamental strategies of the sport, which you can read about in the next section.


How to Explain Football Strategy

two couples football
Happy, football-loving couples do exist.
Jupiterimages/Getty Images/liquidlibrary/Thinkstock

Understanding the various tactics involved in the sport might be the toughest part for a football newbie to grasp. A team's game plan will depend not only on the strengths and weaknesses of its own players but on the opposing team's shortcomings as well. Confine your preliminary discussions to the most basic offensive and defensive strategies.

On offense:

By now you've explained that the goal of the offense is to rack up as many points as possible by running or passing the ball down the field.


Let's examine passing plays first. Basically, you have a forward pass (which is thrown to a player upfield) or a lateral (which is pitched to a player parallel to or slightly behind the quarterback.) The receivers are given a specific route, or pattern, to run on the field. Some of the most popular routes are the slant (the receiver takes a few quick steps then cuts diagonally across the field), go (the player runs as fast and deep as possible), and post (the receiver sprints 10 to 15 yards and then turns and runs back toward the center of the field).

A game plan heavy on passing uses up less time on the clock because the clock is stopped every time there's an incomplete pass or the player with the ball runs out of bounds. That's why you'll see the passing game used more toward the end of the game when a team is behind and time is running out. It's also a riskier approach because it lends itself to more turnovers.

On defense:

The defense also has different strategies and formations that are primarily based on what they think the offense will do on any single possession. For instance, when they think the other team is going to throw the ball, they might call a blitz, in which extra players rush the quarterback in order to disrupt the pass or, better yet, tackle the QB behind the line of scrimmage (called a "sack") for a loss of yards. When they expect their opponents to run the ball, they may employ a 4-3 defense, so named because it involves positioning four defensive linemen on the line and three linebackers behind them.

Turn to the next page for lots more information about the game of football and how to explain it to your wife or girlfriend.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Andelman, Bob. "Why Men Watch Football." Acadian House Publishing. Nov. 1993.
  • Damico, Kendahl. "A Chicago Force to Be Reckoned With: Inside the IWFL." Jan. 6, 2009. (Oct. 2, 2001)
  • "Football Strategy." (Sept. 29, 2010)
  • Eide, Andrew. "How to Explain Football to a Girl." Jan. 13, 2010. (Sept. 16, 2010)
  • "Intro to Football Strategy." (Sept. 17, 2010)
  • "About the IWFL." (Sept. 15, 2010)
  • Kunert, K. "Make Her a Football Fan." (Sept. 16, 2010)
  • Lawrence, Mark. "Football 101: Players and Positions." (Oct. 7, 2010)
  • "Beginner's Guide to Football." (Sept. 17, 2010)
  • Ominsky, Dave. "Football Made Simple." First Base Sports. Sept. 2002.
  • Pette, Holly Robinson. "Get Your Own Damn Beer, I'm Watching the Game!: A Woman's Guide to Loving Pro Football." Rodale Books. Aug. 11, 2005