American Football is big business, both in terms of participation at all rungs and finance, viewing figures and international interest in the game’s highest level, the Nation Football League (NFL).
The game’s entire evolution has happened in the US, although its origins can be found in rugby. The first game of American football (or Gridiron) took place between two college teams - Rutgers and Princeton - in November 1869 and a set of rule changes drawn up by Walter Camp “the Father of American Football” established the game as we know it today in 1880. NFL’s inaugural season and the league’s showpiece event and Championship game, the Super Bowl, was first played in January 1967. The tradition has been carried out in spectacular form and Super Bowl XLIX will be played on February 1, 2015.
There are 32 teams in the NFL, divided equally into two conferences (American Football Conference and National Football Conference, which in turn are each geographically divided into four divisions). The regular season is 17 weeks long, normally starting the week after Labor Day (first Monday of September) and finishing a week after Christmas. Games generally take place on Sundays, but there are games on Thursdays and Monday evenings, too. At the end of a 16-game regular season, the top six from each conference are entered into a twelve-team single elimination tournament, the NFL Playoffs and the final two teams advance to the Super Bowl.
Even those unfamiliar with sport in the USA are likely to have heard of the Super Bowl – one of the world’s most watched annual sporting events. Super Bowl Sunday - the first Sunday in February - is a de facto national holiday with friends and families throwing football-themed parties to watch high-octane sport mixed with pageantry, razzamatazz, a half-time show featuring some of the biggest music stars of today, the inventive adverts appearing in the most expensive ad slots on American Television and culminating with the victorious team being presented with the famous Lombardi Trophy. In 2014’s Super Bowl, won for the first time by the Seattle Seahawks, attracted TV viewing figures of 111.5 million TV viewers, the fourth time in five years the game had set the record for viewership in the USA.
The most successful teams of the Super Bowl era are the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have appeared in the showpiece event eight times and won it on six occasions, followed by the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers (five wins a piece). No team has won the NFL more times than Green Bay Packers of Wisconsin.
There are brilliant venues to watch NFL all across America and many stadiums are simply dripping with history, personality, atmosphere and colour, boasting vocal and vociferous support and a truly American, family atmosphere. Soldier Field, home to Chicago Bears, is the oldest, having been built in 1924, while the most storied and sacred is Lambeau Field, the Packers’ home in Green Bay. Many venues have ‘tailgate parties’ outside the ground before the game starts, where folk meet for local food and drinks. One of the most famous stadiums for this is the undulating bowl Arrowhead Stadium, home to Kansas City Chiefs. There’s no louder stadium than Seattle Seahawks’ Centurylink Field in Washington State, while the views are second to none at Sports Authority Field, home to Denver Broncos.
Wherever you are in the USA, there’s an NFL game to be seen. Get amongst the action.