Guide to Football

May 26, 2021
Even if you only watch one game per year (the Super Bowl) and you mainly watch it for the commercials and the iconic halftime show, we promise there’s something for you in this guide.
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Guide to Football


To start, it’s important to know that football is really only played in North America where there are two main leagues: the National Football League (NFL) played in the U.S. and the Canadian Football League (CFL) played in Canada. Talk about a sport called “football” anywhere else in the world and they’ll for sure assume you’re talking about soccer (or "footy," as it’s affectionately nicknamed).


Let’s start by giving you #thegist of the NFL, the most popular football league in the world where the best players aspire to compete.

NFL football is played on a 100-yard field with goal posts (called uprights because the posts face into the sky rather than the ground like soccer) at each end. There are 11 players from each team on the field at once.

Through passing or running the football, the point of the game is to score touchdowns and field goals to ultimately have the most points at the end of four quarters.

Each team has four attempts (called downs) to advance the ball 10 yards before the ball is turned over to the other team. TBH, we know this can be confusing, but stay with us! It’s well worth all the hype.

How’s it organized?

There are 32 teams in the NFL, divided into two conferences: the National Football Conference, or NFC, and the American Football Conference, or AFC. Each conference is further split up into four divisions — North, South, East, and West.

Teams play 16 regular-season games between early September and early January. The top seven teams in each conference make the 14-squad NFL playoffs, which culminates with the Super Bowl. From the wildly overpriced tickets and commercials to the star-studded halftime show to eating until you explode, the Super Bowl is an event like no other.

The best of the best

Though the Green Bay Packers technically have the most NFL titles with 13, since the Super Bowl era began in 1967, the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers are tied at the top with six rings each. That said, the Kansas City Chiefs are the modern day dynasty: Between the 2019 and 2023 seasons, KC hoisted three of the five Lombardi Trophies up for grabs. Sheesh.

Leading KC to those titles? Quarterback (QB) Patrick Mahomes, one of the game's current best. Along with his three rings, Mahomes also took home a trio of Super Bowl MVP honors, putting him in elite company. Only two other players in NFL history have three or more MVP awards: QBs Joe Montana (San Francisco 49ers) and Tom Brady (New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers).

Female footballers

Think football is a man’s sport? Think again! There are actually three full-contact 11-on-11 leagues in the U.S., the biggest being the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA). Formed in 2009, the WFA has continued to expand and now includes 60 (!!!) teams across three divisions, each crowning its own champion at the end of every season.

And for those who dig the game but not the tackling, there’s always flag football — a similar game (and a 2028 Olympic sport!) where players have to stop running when their flag is pulled off their waist belt (vs. when they’re tackled to the ground). 10/10 would recommend.

Ramp up your NFL trivia game

  • Only six teams have won a playoff game without scoring a touchdown (aka field goals only).
  • The aforementioned Tom Brady and ex–Green Bay Packer Brett Favre are the only 40-year-olds to ever win a playoff game, and Brady is the only QB above 40 to win a Super Bowl.
  • Just 18 teams played in the NFL’s inaugural season back in 1922. We’ve come so far!


Okay, we know the CFL is seen as the NFL’s less exciting northern cousin, but if you really want to impress your friends with your football knowledge, let’s get into #thegist of it. Here’s what makes the CFL different from the NFL:

  • A CFL field is 110 yards long vs. the 100 yard NFL field. It’s also a little bit wider.
  • The CFL has 12 players on the field at one time vs. the NFL's 11 players, in part because the field is bigger.
  • In the CFL, teams only have three attempts (downs) to advance the ball 10 yards vs. four attempts in the NFL. This often results in more turnovers (when one team is forced to give up the ball to the other team) and keeps games moving at a brisk pace.

How’s it organized?

There are nine teams in the CFL, which is divided into two divisions: East (four teams) and West (five teams). There are 18 regular-season games which determine the top six teams who make the postseason, where they compete for the Grey Cup. The season runs from June until November, meaning the playoffs are generally played in sub-zero/snowy weather. Just check out the infamous 1996 Snow Bowl in Hamilton, Ontario!

The best of the best

The first Grey Cup was won in 1909 (!!!) by the University of Toronto Varsity Blues, because back then it was awarded only to amateur teams. Today, the Grey Cup is property of the professional CFL, while the Vanier Cup is award to top amateur University teams across the country.

With 18 titles, the Toronto Argonauts have hoisted more Grey Cups than any other team, with the Edmonton Elks doing the same a cool 14 times.

Did you know…

  • There used to be some American teams in the CFL. The first U.S. team, the Sacramento Gold Miners, was admitted to the league in 1993. American teams only played in the CFL for three seasons during the glory days of the 1990s.
  • In 1995, one of those American squads, the Baltimore Stallions, became the one non-Canadian team to ever win the Grey Cup.