The Football Dictionary


- A -

Back To Top

Audible: A play called by the quarterback at the line of scrimmage that changes the play called in the huddle. Also called an automatic.

Automatic: See audible.


- B -

Back To Top

Back: A member of the offensive backfield: the quarterback or either of the two running backs; also, a member of the defensive backfield: either of the two safeties or two cornerbacks.

Backfield: Offensive and defensive players who line up behind the linemen. (Exclusive of linebackers on defense.)

Balanced line: A formation in, which there is an equal number of linemen on either side of the center.

Birdcage: The facemask worn by linemen that feature extra horizontal and vertical bars.

Blind side: The side away from which a player is looking.

Blitz: The headlong charge into the offensive backfield by one or more linebackers and defensive backs. The object of a blitz is to deck the quarterback, or at least interfere with his attempt to pass. Also called red dog.

Block: To interfere with or otherwise prevent the movement of an opposing defensive player. Also, to clear opposing players out of the path of the ball carrier.

Buttonhook: A pass route in which the receiver heads straight downfield, then abruptly turns back toward the line of scrimmage.


- C -

Back To Top

Canadian Football: A game similar to American football, but with certain exceptions: The field is 110 yards in length vs. 100 yards in American football. There are 12 players on a team instead of 11, and a team is allowed only three downs to advance the ball 10 yards, not four downs.

Canadian Football League (CFL): An association of professional football clubs representing many of the principal cities of Canada.

Center: The member of the offensive team who plays in the middle of the line and snaps the ball back between his legs to the quarterback, kicker, or holder.

Chain Crew: The group of three assistants to the officials who handle the first down measuring chain and the down box.

Cheap Shot: An act of deliberate violence against an opponent, and one that is committed when the opponent is not expecting it and is not able to defend himself.

Check Off: To change a play at the line of scrimmage by calling an audible.

Clip: To block an opponent from behind, usually across the back of the legs. Clipping is illegal and results in a 15-yard penalty.

Clothesline: To strike an opponent, often a pass receiver breaking downfield, across the face or neck with an extended forearm. Clotheslining is illegal.

Coach: A person who trains athletes or athletic teams. In football the coach is more concerned with developing offensive and defensive tactics and strategy.

Coffin Corner: Any one of the four corners of the field. A punter, when he is close enough to the opposition goal to do so, attempts to kick the ball out of bounds near the coffin corner, preventing a return and forcing the receiving team to put the ball in play dangerously close to its own goal-line.

Coin Toss: The ceremony before a game in which a coin is flipped to decide which team will receive the kickoff. The team that loses the toss is permitted to designate which goal it wishes to defend.

Completion: A forward pass that is caught by a receiver. Also called a reception.

Contact Sport: A sport that involves physical contact between opposing players. Football, ice hockey, soccer, boxing, and wrestling are typical contact sports.

Cornerback: Either one of the two defensive backs who plays behind and to the outside of the linebackers, and whose duties include defending against passes and stopping running plays to the outside.

Cover: To defend an area or position.

Crackback: A block delivered by an offensive player who first heads downfield then turns back toward the middle of the field to cut down a linebacker or defensive back from the side. The crackback block is illegal.

Curl, Curl In: A pass route in which the receiver runs downfield, then turns back toward the line of scrimmage.

Cut: To make a quick change of direction in an effort to elude an opponent. Also, to drop a prospective player from a roster or team.


- D -

Back To Top

Dead: Out of play. Said of a ball.

Defend: To attempt to prevent the opposition from scoring.

Defensive Back: Any one of the four members of the defensive backfield—the two safeties and the two cornerbacks—who are positioned behind the linebackers. It's the job of the defensive backs to defend against passes and give support on running plays.

Down: Any of a series of four plays during which time a team must advance at least 10 yards in order to keep possession of the ball.

Down-And-In: A pass route in which the receiver runs straight downfield, then cuts sharply toward the middle of the field.

Down-And-Out: A pass route In which the receiver runs straight downfield, then cuts sharply toward the sideline.

Down Box, Down Indicator: A metal rod approximately seven feet long on which is mounted a set of four cards numbered from 1 to 4 which are used to keep track of the number of the down being played. The rod Is placed along the sideline to mark where the ball is spotted.

Draw Play: An offensive play in which the quarterback drops back as if to pass (drawing" in the defensive linemen), but then slips the ball to a running back who sifts his way downfield through the onrushing defenders to and down.

Draft: A selection system in which new players are chosen from a pool of available talented, usually ready-to-graduate, college players. Teams with poor records are permitted to make their selections before teams with better records.

Drop Kick: A kick made by dropping the ball and kicking it just as it rebound.


- E -

Back To Top

Eligible Receiver: An offensive player who is permitted by the rules to catch a forward pass.

Encroach: To make illegal contact with an opposing player before the snap. Encroaching is illegal and results in a five-yard penalty.

End: Either of two players who line up on opposite sides of the offensive or defensive line.

End Line: The boundary line at the end of a field.


- F -

Back To Top

Face Guard, Facemask: A protective covering for the face worn by players in football.

Field Goal: A score of three points made by place-kicking or drop-kicking the ball over the crossbar between goalposts.

Flag Football: A type of football played with six to nine players to a team in which tackling is not permitted; instead, defensive players must pluck a flag from the ballcarrier's belt to stop him.

Flanker: An offensive player who lines up to the right or left of a formation and usually acts as a pass receiver.

Flat: The area of the field to the right or left of a formation.

Flood: To send more than one player into the same area of the field or court with the idea of overwhelming the defensive coverage in that area.

Football: A game played with a ball on a rectangular field, 100 yards in length, with goal lines and goal posts at either end. Opposing teams of 11 players each attempt to gain possession of the ball and advance it by means of running and passing plays across the opponent's goal line. A team doing so scores a touchdown, worth six points, and then has the opportunity to kick the ball over the goalpost crossbar for one extra point. A field goal -- a kick over the crossbar other than when after a touchdown - counts three points. See line of scrimmage, down, forward pass kickoff field goal, safety, touchback, touchdown, point after touchdown.

Formation: In football, the arrangement of players on either team at the start of play.

Forward Pass: A pass thrown in the direction of the opponent's goal.

Free Agent: A professional athlete who has-the right to deal with any club of his choosing.

Free Safety: One of the two deepest defensive backs and the one who is free to follow the play wherever it happens to develop. He is not assigned to cover a specific member of the offensive team.

Freeze: To attempt to retain possession of the ball or puck for an extended period of time without making an effort to score.

Front Four: The players who make up the four-man defensive front line, that is, the two ends and two tackles.

Fumble: To drop a ball that is in play.


- G -

Back To Top

Game Ball: A ball that members of a winning team award to a player or coach in recognition of his contribution to the team's success.

Goal Line: The line at each end of and running the width of the playing field 10 yards from the end line and over which the ball must be carried or passed to score a touchdown.

Goal-line Stand: A strong defensive effort in which the opposition's repeated attempts to score from very close to the goal line are turned back.

Gridiron: A football field.

Guard: Either of two offensive players who are positioned on either side of the center. Guards create holes for the ballcarrier on plunges into the line, pull from the line to lead the ballcarrier on sweeps, and protect the quarterback on pass plays.


- H -

Back To Top

Halfback: A player who, along with the fullback, lines up behind the quarterback. He is frequently assigned to carry the ball or hand off: To hand the ball to a teammate. Most plays begin with the quarterback handing off to a running back.

Hang Time: The amount of time a punted ball remains in the air.

Hitch-and-Go: A pass route in which the runner breaks straight downfield, fakes to the right or left as if he is about to catch a short pass, then races farther downfield.

Holder: The player assigned to hold the ball upright for the kicker on field-goal and extra-point attempts.

Hold, Holding: In football and some other team sports, using one's hands to restrict the movement of an opposing player. In most cases it is illegal.

Hole: The opening between two linemen through which the ballcarrier plunges.

Hotdog: A player who performs in a flashy manner.

Huddle: A brief gathering among members of the offensive or defensive teams in order to receive instructions for the upcoming play.


- I -

Back To Top

Illegal Motion: Movement by a member of he offensive team (other than the man in motion) after the team is set and before the ball is snapped. Illegal motion is an infraction that results in a five-yard penalty.

Illegal Procedure: An instance in which the offensive team is guilty of one of several rule violations, including an illegal shift, illegal formation, or the failure to pause one second after the huddle. The result is a five-yard penalty.

Incompletion: A forward pass not caught, not caught in-bounds, or intercepted.

Inside: Toward the center of the field.

Intentional Grounding: A deliberate attempt by a quarterback to throw the bail out of bounds or so that it hits the ground; the result is an incomplete forward pass. A quarterback grounds the ball to avoid being thrown for a loss. Intentional grounding can result in the loss of the down and a 15-yard penalty.

Interception: A forward pass that is caught by the opposition.


- K -

Back To Top

Key: To observe an opposing player closely in an attempt to determine the direction in which he is going to be moving. A running back, for example, who draws his left foot back slightly as he lines up, may be going to carry the ball to the right. Keying on the back can reveal this.

Kick: To score or attempt to score a field goal or point after touchdown by kicking the ball. Track: To put on a burst of speed during a race. usually toward the finish.

Kicking Game: That part of a team's offensive planning that involves punting and place-kicking.

Kicking Tee: See tee.

Kickoff: To put the ball in play by place-kicking it toward the opposing team.


- L -

Back To Top

Lateral, Lateral Pass: A pass thrown to the side or backward, that is, other than in the direction in which the team is attempting to advance.

Line: See line of scrimmage.

Linebacker: Any of the usually three defensive players forming a second line-of defense behind the ends and tackles.

Line Judge: An official posted near one of the sidelines to assist the referee, and who is chiefly responsible for watching for offside violations and the position of the quarterback on pass plays. (The quarterback is not permitted to cross the line of scrimmage on passes.) The line judge is also the game's timekeeper.

Lineman: Any of the offensive or defensive players positioned on the forward line.

Line of Scrimmage: An imaginary line across the field through the forward point of the ball at which the opposing teams line up for a new play.


- M -

Back To Top

Man in Motion: A player, normally a receiver, who turns and runs parallel to and just behind the line of scrimmage as the signals are being called, then breaks downfield just as the ball is snapped.

Man-to-Man defense: A defensive system in which each member of a team on defense guards a particular member of the offensive team. Also called player-to-player defense. See zone defense.

Middle Guard: The defensive lineman who is positioned between the tackles and opposite the offensive center. Also called nose guard.

Mousetrap: See trap block.

Multiple Offense: A type of attack based on the use of an assortment of formations.


- N -

Back To Top

National Football League (NFL): An association of teams in professional football, divided into the American Football Conference and National Football Conference. The champions of each conference face one another in the Super Bowl during January each year.

Nose Guard: See middle guard.

Numbering System: A system in the National Football League in which uniform numbers are assigned according to a player's position, as follows:

1-19: quarterbacks and kickers
20-49: running backs and defensive backs
50-59: centers and linebackers
60-79: defensive linemen and offensive linemen
80-89: wide receivers and tight ends


- O -

Back To Top

Odds: In betting, a ratio that expresses the probable outcome of an event. For example, the odds on a particular team may be two to one to win a specific game. This means that the bettor must risk one dollar for a chance to win two.

Oddsmaker: A professional who sets odds for various sports events.

Offense: A team or member of a team whose chief responsibility it is to attack and score points. Also, the technique or method of attack.

Offensive Backfield: The players who line up behind the linemen and include the quarterback and the running backs.

Offensive Holding: Illegal use of the hands when blocking a defensive player. The penalty is 15 yards.

Official: A person who supervises the play of a game or contest and administers the rules; a referee, an umpire.

Off Season: The period of the year from February to middle august when football teams are not playing.

Offside, Offsides: For a player to be over the line of scrimmage before the ball is put in play.

Onside: Being on or behind the line of scrimmage.

Onside Kick: A short kickoff by which the offensive team hopes to get possession of the ball. If the ball travels the legal minimum of 10 yards, it can be legally recovered by the kicking team.

Option Play: An offensive play in which the ballcarrier has the choice of running, with the ball or passing it.

Outside: Toward the sideline.

Overtime: An extension of playing time beyond the established limit to decide the winner of a contest when the score is tied. In professional football, an overtime period is 15 minutes long, but the winner can be declared if a of the teams scores before the 15 minutes is over.


- P -

Back To Top

Passing Game: That part of a team's offensive planning that involves throwing and receiving forward passes.

Pass Pattern: The specific route run by a pass receiver in moving downfield to catch a pass.

Pass Rush: The effort on the part of the defensive linemen to deck the quarterback or otherwise interfere with his effort to pass the ball.

Penalize: To punish an individual or team-by means of a penalty.

Penalty: The punishment imposed upon an individual or team for breaking a rule. In football, a team is penalized by losing yardage.

Pigskin: A football.

Piling on: The action of one or more defensive players who jump on the ballcarrier after he has been tackled. Piling on is illegal; the penalty is 15 yards.

Play-Action Pass: A pass play In which the quarterback first fakes a handoff to a running back.

Playbook: A usually spiral bound, three-hole notebook which contains a team's formations, plays, and a vocabulary of the technical terms it uses. A playbook is issued to each member of the team at the beginning of the training season.

Player-to-Player defense: See man-to-man defense.

Playmaker: A member of a team skilled in creating scoring opportunities for the team.

Pocket: A protected area formed by members of the offensive line several yards behind the line of scrimmage within which the quarterback sets up to pass.

Point After Touchdown: The single point added to a team's score by making a successful place kick over the crossbar. A team must first score a touchdown to be given the opportunity to try for the point. Also called conversion, extra point.

Point Spread: The number of points by which a stronger team can be expected to defeat a weaker team.

Post-Season: Also known as the Playoffs. During the time teams play an elimination tournament which leads to the Super Bowl.(see Super Bowl)

Post pattern, Post route: A receiver runs 10-15 yards down field then breaks toward the middle at a 45% degree angle. Post refers to the general direction of the goal post.

Power Sweep: See sweep.

Pre-season: A period of time during which teams play exhibition games and test out the talent of new players. This is done during august until Labor Day when the regular season starts (see regular season).

Primary Receiver: The player who is designated to receive the ball by the quarterback in the huddle.

Punt: A kick in which the ball is dropped from the hands and kicked with the instep before it reaches the ground. Punts usually occur when it is fourth down for a team that does not want to risk losing possession by trying for a first down, but is too far away from the opponent's goal line to attempt a field goal.

Punter: A player who specializes in punting.

Punt Return: The runback of a punted ball.


- Q -

Back To Top

Quarter: One of four equal periods of playing time in which some games are divided.

Quarterback: The backfield player who receives the ball from the center on most offensive plays. The quarterback calls signals, throws forward passes, may run with the ball occasionally, and in general, directs the team's attack.

Quarterback sneak: An offensive play in which the quarterback upon receiving the ball from the center plunges into the line, with the center and guards blocking for him.

Quick Count: The instance of a quarterback calling the signals at the line of scrimmage at a faster than normal pace in an effort to take the defensive team by surprise.

Quick Kick: A surprise punt.


- R -

Back To Top

Ready List: A selection of 20 to 30 plays a team plans to use against a particular opponent.

Receiver: An offensive player who is eligible to receive a forward pass. Running backs and wide receivers are the normal receivers.

Reception: A forward pass that is caught by a receiver; also called a completion.

Red Dog: See blitz.

Regular Season: This is a 16 game period of 17 weeks when the teams play the games that will determine their ranking or acceptance to the post-season tournament(see Post Season).

Returner: A player who is assigned to run back punts and kickoffs.

Reverse: An offensive. play in which a ballcarrier who is running toward one side of the field hands the ball to a teammate who is running in the opposite direction.

Roll, Roll Out: To move to the right or left with the ball before throwing a pass or tossing a lateral. Usually it's the quarterback who rolls out.

Roster: A list of members of a team.

Roughing the Kicker: A personal foul that is called when a defensive player runs into or knocks down the punter without touching the ball. The penalty is 15 yards from where the ball was spotted on the previous play.

Roughing the Passer: A personal foul that is called when a defensive player runs Into or tackles the quarterback after a forward pass has been thrown. The penalty is 15 yards from where the ball was spotted on the previous play.

Runback: The act of returning a punt, kickoff, or intercepted forward pass.

Running Back: A member of the offensive backfield who is used to carry the ball on running plays or is assigned to block.

Rush: To move the ball by running instead of passing.


- S -

Back To Top

Sack: To tackle the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage before a forward pass can be thrown.

Safety: A play in which the ballcarrier is tackled in his own end zone; two points are credited to the defensive team; also, either one of the two defensive players who line up farthest from the line of scrimmage.

Safety Blitz: An all-out charge by one or both of the safeties in an effort to spill the quarterback.

Safety Valve: A short pass thrown to a running back when the wide receivers are covered.

Scramble: The effort of a quarterback who runs around behind the line of scrimmage in an effort to elude would-be tacklers.

Scrambler: A quarterback with a reputation for scrambling.

Screen Pass: A short forward pass either to the right or left to a running back in front of whom a wall of blockers has formed.

Scrimmage: The contest between two opposing teams that begins at the time the ball is snapped until it is out of play; also, a practice game, often between teams formed from the same squad of players.

Secondary: The four players — the two safeties and two cornerbacks — who make up a team's defensive backfield.

Shift: A change of position by one or more offensive players as they await the snap of the ball. Ice Hockey: The amount of time a particular player or line is on the ice.

Signal caller: The quarterback.

Signals: The words used by the quarterback in the huddle to inform the other players as to the formation and play to be used on the upcoming down. The quarterback also uses signals at the line of scrimmage to instruct the center when to snap the ball.

Slant: A running play in which the ballcarrier moves into the line at an angle.

Slot: On the offensive line, a wide gap between a pass receiver and a tackle.

Snap: The action of the center in putting the ball in play by handing or passing it between his legs to the quarterback, punter, or holder.

Spear: To lunge helmet-first at an opponent.

Special Teams: One of several squads of players used by a team on punts, field-goal attempts, kickoffs, and In returning punts and kickoffs. Because most players are running at full speed on these plays, the special-team in Jury rate is higher than normal. Also called bomb squad, suicide squad.

Spiral: The rotation of the ball on its long axis after it has been passed or punted. Skating: A body position in which the skater bends forward, one leg extended backward with a straight knee, the arms extended out to the side.

Split End: A pass receiver that lines up several yards away from the player closest to him.

Square-in: A pass route in which the receiver runs downfield for several yards, then cuts at a right angle toward the center of the field.

Square-out: A pass route in which the receiver runs downfield for several yards, then cuts at a right angle toward the nearest sideline.

Straight arm: To ward off a tackler by using one's hand and arm.

Strong side: The side of an unbalanced line with the larger number of players.

Stunt: When a defensive lineman moves into a position that would normally be filled by another defensive lineman. It is done to the confuse the offense.

Super Bowl: The championship game of the National Football League that matches the AFC champion against the NFC champion.

Sweep: A play in which the ballcarrier dashes for the outside behind blocking linemen before turning upfield.

Swing pass: A short pass to a back running to the outside.


- T -

Back To Top

Tackle: The act of seizing the ballcarrier and throwing him to the ground or otherwise stopping his forward progress. Also, one of the two offensive linemen positioned on either side of the center between the guard and the end.

T-Formation: An offensive formation in which the quarterback lines up directly behind the center, and two or three running backs are positioned four or five yards behind the quarterback.

Three-point stance: A ready position assumed just before the play begins by linemen and running backs in which a player crouches with his feet spread, leaning forward.

Touchback: The act of touching the ball to the ground behind one's own goal line, the ball having been propelled over the goal by the opposition team. The ball is then put in play at the team's 20-yard line.

Touchdown: A play worth six points and accomplished by carrying the ball across the opponent's goal, by completing a forward pass to a teammate across the goal line, or by recovering a fumble in the end zone. Scoring a touchdown also earns a team the opportunity to try for a point after touchdown.

Trap block: A block in which a defensive lineman is allowed to penetrate through the offensive line to be suddenly blocked from an unexpected direction by an offensive player. Also called a mousetrap.

Turn in: A pass route in which the receiver runs, downfield for a short distance, then turns toward the middle of the field.

Turn out: A pass route in which the receiver runs downfield for a short distance, then turns toward one of the sidelines.

Turn over: In football and basketball and other team sports, to lose possession of the ball through a mistake (as a fumble or intercepted pass) or an infraction of the rules (such as stepping out of bounds or traveling!.


- U -

Back To Top

Unbalanced line: A formation in which there are more players on one side of the center than the other.

Uprights: The vertical posts that support the crossbar in a goalpost.


- V -

Back To Top

Vince Lombardi Trophy: The championship trophy awarded to the winning Super Bowl team.


- W -

Back To Top

Weak side: The side of an unbalanced line with the fewest number of players.

Wide Receiver: Either of two pass receivers, each of whom is positioned on an end of the line. Wide receivers are usually the fastest, most elusive members of the offensive team.


- Z -

Back To Top

Zone defense: A defensive system in which each member of the team on defense is assigned to cover a certain area of the or field. See man-to-man defense.


Return to Index