Follow the Bouncing Ball

It's autumn in North America and that means several things.

The birds, tired of freezing their beaks off, have decided to head south for the winter. The leaves have fallen off the trees, and into eaves troughs, gutters and chimneys. Squirrels are busy burying nuts in strange places, so that, come spring, dozens of homeowners will ask their spouses, “Honey, why is there a walnut tree growing out of the car exhaust?”

Meanwhile, indoors, TVs have been tuned to football games. Now for those of you in the rest of the world, in North America, “football” does not involve much use of the foot, nor does it involve a genuine ball. No, just to be confusing, we in the new world decided to apply the term football to a game that involves throwing an oval that's had both ends put into a pencil sharpener. We then called your football, “soccer,” possibly because the players have to wear very high socks, and because most North Americans can't spell.

Anyway, there are two professional football leagues in North America. The American one is called the NFL, or National Football League. The Canadian one is called the CFL, or the Chilled and Frozen League. Most US games are played in outdoor stadiums. Most Canadian games are also played in outdoor stadiums, the difference being that in Canada, outdoors can get down to -18C. Indeed, this is where the myth that Canadians are quiet and polite came from. We clap, cheer, and shout rude things at the opposition just as much as our US counterparts. It's just you can't hear us through our snow suits, mittens, toques and scarves.

The object of football, on both sides of the border, is primarily for players to find reasons to pat each other on the bum. The game is played by having both teams facing each other on the field; one team will “snap” the ball (this is easier in Canada, of course, because the cold makes the ball easier to break), and then both teams rush at each other with all the force they can muster.

This is sort of like that game you played as a kid, called “British Bulldog” or “Red Rover” only with more padding. In fact, football players here wear so much body armour that is has been said that if we are ever in a nuclear war, the only survivors will be cockroaches and the football players who were suited up for a game. Rugby players scoff at all this padding of course; typically, rugby players do their thing wearing only shorts, a shirt, cleats, and other players' teeth.

At some point during a football game, a player will break through the opposing team and run the ball to the far end of the field. At this point he has made a “touchdown” and he will do a victory dance. This dance may involve throwing the ball hard at the ground, doing backflips, or waving the arms to imaginary music. Judges award up to seven points for this dance, based on creativity, originality and attitude.

The game is divided into four 15-minute quarters, each of which takes an hour to play. This is because the game is halted approximately every 7.2 seconds by referees blowing extremely shrill and piercing whistles; these whistles have been known to break glass and make small dogs pass out from the pain.

Referees area also constantly throwing flags down to mark penalties. It is not known why flags are used in this manner, but presumably its so referees can signal a penalty from a distance, which gives them a running start in case a 300 lb. linebacker disagrees with the call.

And that, dear readers, is football in a nutshell – although try not to say that too loudly or else a squirrel will bury this column in a strange place.

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