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What I Learned from… American Football

Full disclosure – I was not a sporty person. My tiny primary / elementary school had a big “have a go” attitude, so I played basically everything until I was eleven. But in adulthood I developed a “I don’t do sport” stance (which is alas statistically not uncommon for women.) This remained unchallenged, that is until I watched American Football.

Each fortnight (that’s every 2 weeks, for the Americans!) Micharne will share what she’s learned about some aspect of the US, from an Aussie perspective.

The rules of Football

First things first, America Josh has covered the most important rules about the game for you here. So I get to introduce you to what to love about the game, like…

Introducing Patrick Mahomes

I was introduced to the sport via a Kansas City Chiefs fan, and therefore via their incredibly talented quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He’s taken the team to win a Superbowl, appear in another, broken all kinds of records, and he’s only 27. I know every fan has a favorite player, but, have you seen this man throw a ball? Mahomes ability to aim at a player super far away (or to where a player can run to!), send the ball spinning at a super fast speed, all while being chased by a team of enormous men, well it’s nothing short of stunning.

But it was really his leadership skills that won me over. “Leadership skills” is possibly the least exciting phrase used in football (or maybe not, I’m still pretty new to it all!), but Mahomes is unfailingly calm and encouraging. He also has excellent manners, like he asked a reporter to excuse his language for saying ass / arse one time. Aww. Mahomes is ma’homie.

Every Second Counts in Football

When was the last time you did something worthwhile in 13 seconds? Or completed any task in 13 seconds? In the Playoff game of the Chiefs vs the Buffalo Bills, at the end of the 2021/2022 season, the Chiefs managed to score a field goal and tie the game in just 13 seconds. This is another of Mahomie’s strengths. He has turned around a game many times in a matter of mere seconds. 

To be fair, there are little breaks between seconds of play, so it’s not an achievement completed in 13 consecutive seconds. This is actually a common criticism of American football, that there are too many breaks (and too many commercials!) I can’t say this bothers me, as I figure they need a moment to figure out their next play, and there are plenty of opportunities to get another refreshment! 

So football is perhaps a surprising little reminder that seconds of life can change everything. I know, next I’ll be saying CLEAR EYES, FULL HEARTS, CAN’T LOSE (from the drama / soap “Friday Night Lights”, and my sole source of football knowledge before actually watching a game!)

Football Slang – How to sound like you know football

Football has some fun phrases that have ended up in mainstream American conversations. These are of course separate to the fun secret language that gets yelled by the quarterback before a play (check back on me in a decade and I may have decoded… something from this!)

“Flag on the play”

A flag is dropped by a referee if they think a penalty has occurred. A flag can be dropped after something very good or very bad has happened for a team. So a flag on the play in regular language means “don’t get excited yet / don’t despair, something might be wrong and we might need to redo this”. 

It also can be used in much more mundane situations. For example, when your family all says they’re ready to leave the house, then suddenly someone remembers something and they’re not ready and you can’t leave yet. This is a flag on the play.


Usually, the quarterback calls a play in their secret language, when they huddle up before the action begins. However once they all line up, and he sees the defense’s formation, he might yell out a new play, thus changing the play at the last minute. I have to point out this is the moment where you get to hear the secret language of a team the loudest, which I find pretty exciting for my long term decoding goal. But this is an audible; changing pre-arranged plans at the last minute. 

To use the word in the context of a regular conversation, you might hear “so-and-so’s pulling an audible”. I feel like this is the most likely football term to get used in a workplace, as it becomes a somewhat elegant explanation for a potentially less-than-elegant last minute change.

“Flying V”

In all this discussion of “plays”, if you’re thinking “wait, what is a (non-theatrical) play?”, a play is the plan for how the team is going to pass or run the ball. It’s the thing that the new quarterback has to memorize in “Friday Night Lights”, and I imagine is what is written on the big laminated piece of paper that Andy Reid (coach to the Chiefs) stares at every game. As a side note, I’m glad that Andy is keeping laminated pieces of paper in fashion. Technology can always fail. Your laminated piece of paper does not.

For the most unsporty of us, who view sports through the lens of pop culture only, the peak concept of a play will never be more clear than the Flying V of “The Mighty Ducks” movies. As much as I now follow football, when it’s very clear the other team see a play happening and immediately stop it, I still say “oh no, they figured out their flying V”.

“Tight end”

How anyone says this term without giggling, never ceases to amaze me. With football pants made of the fabric they are made of, seriously, you call a position a Tight End? Anyway, a Tight End is an offensive position, and a team usually has at least two Tight Ends officially playing the position. 

Football Players Are Not Footballers

And the game is never Footy. Americans don’t share Australian’s love of contractions. Apparently even “footballers” is a bridge too far.

How To Watch A Game of Football

If you can see a live game while you are in the states, it’s a pretty awesome experience, and definitely the loudest I’ve ever heard a collective group of people! Unfortunately ticket prices are multiples of what an NRL game costs in Australia. A close second experience to watching a live game is to find a home bar for a team. Dress in the colors of the team if you can, to blend on in with the diehards! Hopefully you catch a good game, and the bar will also be VERY loud! 

I have but scratched the surface of football culture. Turns out, there’s a lot to learn! Feel free to add what you’ve learned from American football below!

Micharne Cloughley

Micharne Cloughley

Micharne is a writer for TV and theatre. She hails from the Blue Mountains NSW, and currently lives in Jersey City NJ. Her favourite Aussie words are daggy and mate. Her favorite American words are y’all and Kansas City BBQ.View Author posts

2 thoughts on “What I Learned from… American Football”

  1. Welcome to the wonderful world of football! Your slang is way off though. The flying V (better known as the flying wedge) has been banned in football since 1905. It doesn’t have anything to do with hockey.

    Keep watching! Modern football is fast & dynamic, as in your example of the Chief’s thirteen-second “Grim Reaper” drive. That’s one of those plays that is so famous (or infamous) that it is known by its nickname. Look up these: The Catch; The Immaculate Reception; Wide Right; The Holy Roller. There’s lots of weird & interesting history of the game to be explored.

    Looking forward to your next column!

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