Huddle up, casual fans. Here's some terminology to know for the Super Bowl


PITTSFIELD — It's Super Bowl Sunday, the New England Patriots are in the big game once again, and you really don't get football.

You'd rather spend your Sunday at a museum, watching an old movie, or curled up by the fire reading a good book. Instead, your — pick one — significant other, family, boss, neighbor is holding a Super Bowl party. You feign ignorance, illness, indignation ... even intolerance, but nothing works. You have to go.

You consider yourself a fairly knowledgeable interpreter of cultures and linguistics because of that semester you studied abroad, but Sunday, you're going to hear a whole new lexicon, one peppered with militaristic terminology like "blitz" and "bomb" and "sweep." What passes for conversation is often punctuated with shouting, groaning, chest and/or fist bumps, and that repetitious hand-slapping ritual known as the "high-five."

So, you need a way to fit in.

Relax: We at The Eagle are here to help. We've compiled a list of football terminology that can be confusing to casual viewers of the game. Happy viewing.

First down

This doesn't refer to the first person to hit the deck at your Super Bowl party after having too much merriment.

It's the first in a series of four "downs," or attempts, that the team in possession of the ball is given to advance down the field. If 10 yards is gained within four downs, the offensive team retains possession of the ball and the process starts all over again.

Red zone

You'll see a lot of male-oriented TV commercials today. This is not a brand of after shave or antiperspirant.

It's the name given to the area of the football field from the 20 yard line to the goal line. The team with the ball is said to be "in the red zone" when it reaches that area of the field.

Hail Mary

This phrase contains religious overtones for some fans of the Catholic faith, but it's utterance while watching football is not a signal for the congregation assembled around the big screen to kneel and pray. In football, this term refers to a long pass heaved toward the end zone from midfield or farther by the losing team's quarterback, usually on the game's final play, in a last ditch, desperate attempt to win the game.

Long snapper

This is not a kind of large deep-sea fish that runs off Cape Cod late in the summer, a "long snappah" in regional parlance. It's the player who snaps or hikes the ball through his legs, several yards behind him, to either the punter or holder on punt and field goal attempts.

Free safety

It sounds like a move in a board game. Roll the dice, move five spaces, land on free safety, bypass "go," stay out of jail. But it's the name of the position for the defensive back who is allowed to roam freely behind his teammates, and he frequently serves as the last line of defense between the ball carrier and the goal line.

Hash mark

It should not be confused with hashtag, the symbol containing the pound sign that precedes a message on social media. It's the name given to the small lines that run parallel along each side of a football field approximately 18 1/2 feet apart. The hash marks are farther from the sideline in the NFL than they are in either high school or college football. But you already knew that.

Single wing

This should not be taken as a suggestion that the bowl full of chicken wings at your party will soon need a refill.

It refers to a bygone offensive formation that was popular back in the day but is seldom used in modern football, because the players are bigger and stronger than they originally were. The Williams College football team used the strategy successfully during the 1930s. For more information, ask your great-grandfather.

Twilight Zone:

This term has nothing to do with football. It's the name of a classic television show of the early 1960s in which the characters found themselves stuck in a strange situation they couldn't get out of. It sounds like the scenario the Atlanta Falcons found themselves in when they blew a 25-point lead to the Patriots in last year's Super Bowl.

Enjoy the game.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions