On the first Sunday in February, the NFL season concludes in a winner takes all match-up between the champions of the league’s two conferences, the AFC and the NFC.
Tonight sees the NFC’s Philadelphia Eagles play the reigning Super Bowl and AFC champions, the New England Patriots.
As ever, the game is sure to attract more than a few American football virgins on this side of the Atlantic, as it receives considerably more exposure worldwide than the rest of the season combined.
So whether you were drawn to tune in after the ‘Take A Knee’ movement went global, or you’re just looking for an excuse to stay up all night eating junk, this guide is for you.
1. 10 yards, four chances.
The key concept in American Football is how a team advances towards their opponents’ ‘end zone’ – the area in which touchdowns (six points) and field goals (three points) are scored. The team in possession attempts to move the ball in a series of plays called ‘downs’.
If the team fails to advance at least ten yards in four downs, possession is surrendered to the opposing team. If the ball is successfully moved ten yards, the team receives another four downs. Each play is halted when the ball carrier is tackled to the ground, goes out of bounds, or a forward pass touches the ground. On fourth down, the offense will usually punt the ball away to give the opposing team a less favourable starting position, or attempt a field goal.
2. It’s all about the quarterback.
The stars of the NFL, like New England’s Tom Brady, play in the quarterback position on the offence. The position is among the most glorified and scrutinised in team sports. The quarterback touches the ball on nearly every single offensive play, either throwing the football down field or handing it to a running back. They are also responsible for communicating how each play will run to the rest of the offense – seen in a ‘huddle’ before each play.
3. But – defence wins Super Bowls.
The Eagles’ underdog status, embraced by the NFC champions throughout the play-offs, is epitomised in the miss-match that is the legendary Brady and Philadelphia’s original back-up QB Nick Foles. However, the Eagles boast a formidable defensive unit, allowing the least rushing yards (facing plays where the football is carried) of any team in the 2017 regular season. If they are to win, they must find a way to stop Tom Brady’s devastating passes, too.
4. Last year was insane.
If one game exemplified the mighty Patriots dynasty of this century, spearheaded by Brady and coach Bill Belichick, it was Super Bowl LI – New England’s fifth Lombardi Trophy since 2002. Trailing the Atlanta Falcons by 25 points with 2:12 left in the third quarter, the Pats mounted a stunning comeback to finally win 34-28. The first Super Bowl ever to be decided in overtime, the game set or tied multiple records, including Tom Brady throwing for a staggering 466 yards.
5. It’s armchair sports perfection.
The stop-start nature of American football gives it its explosiveness, but also provides plenty opportunity to fuel up for the night ahead. Stock up on pizza, crisps and Coors Light for the friends you’ve invited over. It is estimated that Americans will consume 1.35 billion chicken wings during Super Bowl LII, while the action is punctuated by cinematic commercials that cost advertisers $5 million a pop. Then there’s the half-time show, almost as eagerly anticipated as the game itself – recent performers have included Lady GaGa, Katy Perry (left shark, anyone?) and The Who. This year’s entertainment comes from Justin Timberlake, while P!nk will sing the US national anthem.
All that’s left is to pick a team to support.
The Super Bowl is live on BBC One at 11.15pm tonight