Why American Football Is Just So Damn American!

By Paul Thomas Zenki

Only the USA could have invented American football… much less enjoy it …

You know, there’s a reason why Americans love their brand of “football” so much and why, unlike basketball or baseball, it never caught on outside the USA. I say “a” reason because both of these truths can be traced to a single fact — American football is just so damn American!

“Is fourth quarter good for you?”

Your typical NFL football game lasts a little more than 3 hours, but only 11 minutes of that time is spent actually playing football. That’s right, 11 minutes.

Do you know what most of the remaining time is spent on?


I mean, think about it. Before every play, the squads have to have a meeting. They call it a huddle, but let’s face it, it’s a meeting. And the meeting lasts longer than the play.

American football players in a huddle
“John, you’re going to have to better leverage your resources to more effectively impact the bottom line.” (image by Keith Johnston)

But that’s not even the end of it. Once in formation, the offense calls a post-meeting follow-up in which they revise their strategy and redeploy resources.

Sometimes, the coach will call the quarterback over to the sidelines so they can have a meeting. At halftime, the teams retire to their locker rooms. What do they do there? You guessed it —  meetings.

The field officials do this as well. You can see them sneaking in these quick little meetings before the calls. If a coach has something to say about a call, he gets a meeting, too.

NFL field officials in a huddle
“I think we need to peel the onion here and circle the wagons until we’re singing from the same hymnbook.” (image by Keith Johnston)

Hell, the players can’t seem to resist holding micro-meetings whenever they get a chance. You’ll notice them right after the play, putting their heads together, giving each other status updates, shaking hands as they say, “Hey, I got another meeting right now, how bout we circle back after the next down?”

Basically, American football is bureaucracy turned into a sport. Punctuated by sporadic bouts of violence. Which brings us to….

The best defense is a ridiculous level of offense

Let’s take a look at how the rest of the world dresses when they take the field to play professional football:

The Belgian national football team posing for a photo before a 2018 World Cup game
These men seem surprisingly unafraid of having their bones crushed (image via Wikimedia Commons)

For American football players, what these gents have on is called underwear.

Back in the early days, American footballers sported similar outfits, as seen on these Yale college champions from 1876:

Yale University's men's champion football team of 1876, wearing uniforms consisting of jerseys, caps, kneepants, knee socks, and high-top laced shoes
You can take your pads and shove ’em (image via Wikimedia Commons)

But over the years, the game got rougher. And in typical American fashion, rather than put a check on the violence, US footballers chose instead to add “protection” in the form of padding, helmets, and other such equipment. This, of course, added bulk to the players, which meant they could inflict even more damage on one another. Which naturally required even greater protection, until we wind up with this:

NFL players in pads and helmets
Men wearing helmets to protect themselves from other men’s helmets (image via Wikimedia Commons)

These guys are so wrapped up in protective gear, you can’t even tell who they are. That’s why the numbers are so damn huge. At this rate, by mid-century American football games will be played by men fully encased in Kevlar over a three-inch layer of SHOCKtec.

Then again, what else would we expect from a country whose founders were so paranoid that the federal government might, for some reason, attack its own states that they wrote a right to carry firearms into the nation’s constitution? For all other countries not either embroiled in civil war or descended into downright anarchy, the solution to rising gun violence has been to enact sensible firearms regulation to ensure gun owners act responsibly. The US, on the other hand, has chosen to arm itself to the teeth so as to protect itself against itself.

Which is why it makes perfect sense to Americans that a sport should be played in uniforms which appear to have been designed by military field commanders. Because obviously, anything less would be an infringement of the players’ freedoms.

The name of the game

Which brings us to the final oh-so-American feature of this game — the name. Which, in true American style, makes no damn sense at all.

Here’s how the rest of the world plays football:

Sweden plays Paraguay in the 2006 World Cup
These guys are kicking an actual ball with their actual feet. (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Two things you might notice here…. First, the sport is played with the feet. Second, it employs a spherical object commonly known as a “ball.” Hence the name, “football.”

In the American version, the feet are only used in kickoffs, punts, and extra points. Otherwise, the game is played with the hands. And the object carried and thrown with the hands is not a sphere, but rather a prolate spheroid — or to put it in more common parlance, something shaped like an egg. By all reason, a game thus appointed should be called handegg.

But this is the USA, where gas is a liquid, a twin-size bed fits one person, our main course is the entrée, restrooms are not intended for rest, bathrooms don’t necessarily have baths in them, and English muffins are neither English nor muffins. Why? Because we could care less (which of course means we couldn’t care less) what words should reasonably mean as long as we understand what we’re talking about.

The anti-international sport

Essentially, American football has been designed to appeal to precisely nobody except Americans. Which suits us just fine.

Because hey, it is what it is, and if you know, you know.

I mean, I’m just sayin’, is all.

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Header image by jorono, original photo via Wikipedia

Paul Thomas Zenki is an essayist, ghostwriter, copywriter, marketer, songwriter, and consultant living in Athens, GA.