Super Bowl 2023: American Football Vocabulary

Tori Tornreviewed byIryna Andrus / more about Editorial Process19 min
Created: Feb 6, 2023Last updated: Jan 21, 2024
American Football Vocabulary

After the blow-minding news that Rihanna will perform at the Super Bowl 2023 halftime show, some people still can't put themselves together. Don't get us wrong, we are jazzed that Riri will finally sing in front of a big audience after eight years. However, we are even more thrilled that her future performance and the 2023 Super Bowl again brought attention to American football. Feeling all the excitement of the upcoming major event in the sports industry, Promova decided to prepare you for the most crucial game of the year by teaching you American football terms. Let's kick off!

Super Bowl 2023: American Football Rules

But before going after the American football terminology, let's take a quick look at the definition and the history of this kind of sport. So, what is American football, and why is it so popular? 

American football is a two-team game played with an oval ball on a rectangular field with goalposts at each end. The sport originated from other team games – European football (soccer) and rugby back at the beginning of the 1800s when Britain university students decided to play with the soccer rules. However, the first official American football match was held in 1869 in New Bushwick, New Jersey. The opponents were two college teams, Rutgers and New Jersey (Princeton). The "Father of American Football" is Walter Camp because he outlined new game rules and thus distinguished it from soccer and rugby in 1880. 

Over the year, American football gained tremendous popularity in the US because people find it entertaining, exhilarating, and challenging. Today, it is the most popular sport in broadcast viewership audience. The top event in American football is The National Football League championship game called Super Bowl. It is held annually in one of the biggest US cities and broadcast internationally. A cherry on top of this event is the halftime show performed by the top artists. 

The Super Bowl 2023 date was announced months ago. The game will take place on Sunday, February 12. The kickoff time is 4:30 pm. So, where is the Super Bowl 2023 going to be held? This year's location for the championship game is State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The live translation will be available on Fox. And the final piece of information before pushing forward to American football terms and slang is a little reminder. So, who is performing at the Super Bowl 2023? Make some noise for Rihanna!

To understand the game, you need to know the main rules of American football. You will learn your first American football terms from there. Here they are:

  1. The match consists of four 15 mins quarters and 2 mins rest between them, and 15 min halftime break
  2. Two teams participate in a match. Each team has 45-50 players, but only 11 can be on the field simultaneously. There are two positions that American football players can take on a field – offense, defense, and special team. They all have different roles that we will define further. 
  3. They toss a coin to decide which team receives the ball at the beginning of the game. The game begins with a kickoff where one team punts the ball down the field for the other team to run back with the ball as far as possible.
  4. The main goal for each team is to make a touchdown which means bringing the ball to the opposition's end zone. Offenders of each team have four attempts to move the ball downfall to gain ten or more yards. Those are called downs. There are two ways to make the yard: throw or run with the ball. The game itself reminds chaos of different offensive and defensive moves. If the team's offense successfully moves the ball for 10 yards within four downs, they will get another four downs. Otherwise, the possession is given up, and the teams change places. 
  5. The final score at the end of the game defines the winner. A touchdown is worth 6 points, a field goal – 3, the defensive team can gain 2 points for safety, and other extra points to be earned. 

American Football Terms: Basic Glossary Of The Most Popular Sport In The USA

The American football terminology is precise and unique. There are a lot of terms that don't exist in any other kind of sports. Nonetheless, they are vital for understanding the course of the game when the commentator comments on what's going on on the field. Before diving right into the hardcore basics of American football terms, we strongly suggest you watch the video below on who is who in American football teams. 


It's an area with a line of football team players. The backfield can be either offensive or defensive. The team is lined behind the linemen if it's an offensive backfield. The team forms a line behind the linebackers if it's a defensive backfield. 


Down is the most fundamental piece of American football lingo. The simple definition of a down is an attempt to move the ball 10 yards further to the end zone by passing it or running with it. According to American football rules, each team's offense has four downs to score 10 yards within a play. Therefore, they would get another four attempts if they managed to gain 10 yards after four downs. If not, the other team will get possession of the ball. Downs do not have any specific name. Instead, people distinguish them by the number - first, second, third, and fourth.  

End zone

Reaching the end line is a goal for any team in American football during the game. That's the opposing team's zone, where a player must catch or carry the ball to score a touchdown. There are two end zones on opposite sides of the field, each belonging to one team during the play. However, they change them during the game when the teams switch sides of the field.

Extra point

After a team scores a touchdown, they get the chance to earn an extra point. The offense team lines up in the opponent's 15-yard line and tries to kick off the ball onto the goalpost. If the attempt is successful, the team will gain one additional point. 

Field goal

A field goal is kicking the ball through the opponent's goalposts performed by the special team. Players can try to gain a field goal at any point within their four downs. There are three steps in a field goal – the snap, the hold, and the kick. Therefore, a field goal is worth 3 points. 


A fumble means losing control and possession of the ball by dropping it on the field. Fumbles usually happen before they are tackled or down by the opponent team. Three possible scenarios after the fumble are:

  • A defensive player recovers the ball.
  • An offensive player recovers the ball.
  • The ball goes out of bounds. 


An interception is a real misfortune for the team who possessed the ball. It's a move that occurs when the defensive team catches the ball from the opposing quarterback who intended to pass it to his team member. The interception leads to a change of possession on the field. 

Line of scrimmage

A line of scrimmage is a conventional line defined by the ball's landing by the end of the down. A team can't cross it until the beginning of the next play. A line of scrimmage constantly moves during the game, depending on whether the offensive team gains any yardage. It can move forward and backward if the opposing defense team tackles behind the previous line of scrimmage.  

Offensive line

When a group of five offense players positions themselves along the line of scrimmage before the start of each down, they form an offensive line. There are five positions in the offense line – center (C), left guard (LG), right guard (RG), left tackle (LT), and right tackle (RT). Other receivers, even if they lined up along the line of scrimmage, are not a part of the offensive line. The offensive line is responsible for blocking the opposing defensive line, protecting the quarterback, and opening running lanes for the ball carrier. 


Even though the main rules and the game of American football itself are somewhat different from European football, a penalty is a must in both. When the players act against the laws during the match, the referee shows a yellow flag, which signals a penalty. By penalty in football, people understand the punishment for the team who broke the rules. You can find the whole list of all penalty forms in American football here


People call a pocket in American football the area in the field which the offensive team creates around the quarterback. The goal of the pocket is to protect the quarterback from sacking on a passing play. Also, it gives the quarterback additional time to think about who to throw the ball to be caught by his team member. The pocket can be created on any part of the field. 

Red zone

The definition of the red zone is the area of a football field between the opponent's 20-yard line and the goal line. It got its name because red is a warning color for the defense. Therefore, if the offense makes it to the red zone, they have a high chance to score. 


Rushing is an offensive player running, performed once he receives the ball. It is called that because the player runs in a rush to carry the ball as far as possible while the opposing defense team hasn't focused on him yet. 


When the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage is ready to throw the ball, the defensive player of the opposing team can tackle him to prevent it. Such an act is called a sack. 


Safety is the way of scoring points by the defense or special teams. There are three ways to perform safety. The first is when the defensive team tackles the opposing offensive team in its zone. The other two refer to actions of the offensive team – running out of bounds from or committing a penalty in its own end zone. Safety always results in gaining 2 points. 


It's a backward pass from an offensive lineman to the quarterback, which begins play on a down. The snap is performed from the center. The player throws the ball through his legs so the standing behind the quarterback can catch it. 

Special teams

There are three groups of players in each American football team. Those are offense, defense, and special teams. The last one is a unique group of players who go on the field to perform specific acts, such as kicking or returning. Every special team includes kickers, holders, punters, punt protectors, returners, gunners, jammers, blockers, and snappers. 


A touchdown is a highest-scoring method in football that occurs when a player manages to carry the ball into the opponent's end zone. It is worth 6 points. 


A turnover is a switching possession of the ball within teams during the game. 

Two-point conversion

By two-point conversion, people understand adding two additional points after the touchdown. To gain them, the team must run a single play from the defense's two-yard line again, which means another touchdown. 

American Football Slang To Not Seat On The Bench During Discussion

Now that you know basic American football vocabulary and rules, it's time to make a real football fan. Folks in front of the TVs and at the stadium will discuss a match using a lot of American football slang. So, to become a part of the game for real, you need to know some American football jargon. Don't say that we didn't warn you. 


Gridiron is a playing field for American football. It looks rectangular, measured 100 yards long between the goal lines and 160 feet wide. Gridiron got its name because people covered the field with a white grid (framework) pattern in the late 1800s. It was supposed to help players adapt to the new rules about how many yards a team had to gain to keep possession of the ball. Later, a white grid pattern was removed from the playing field, but the name was maintained. 

A Hail Mary pass

It's a very long forward pass that player makes out of desperation with little chance of success. The name refers to the Catholic "Hail Mary" prayer. The football community made it a part of the American football glossary in the 1930s. But it made a real breakthrough in the 1975 football match when Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys quarterback, said, "I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary" after throwing a game-winning touchdown pass. 

Icing the kicker / freezing the kicker

When the team's kicker is going to kick a field goal, the opposing team can call a timeout to prevent it from happening. In this context, "icing" or "freezing" means stopping or delaying time. By implementing this tactic, football players aim to put more pressure on the kicker and make him fail. 

Locker room guy

It's a part of American football slang that defines a player who provides moral support and keeps a positive atmosphere inside the team.


Pigskin is not a nickname for a bad player on the field. Actually, it's a ball for American football. And its name does relate to pigs. Initially, the balls for the game were made of the bladders of animals, often pigs, and later covered with leather. People used animals' organs because they had the right oval shape. Today's game balls are made of cowhide leather. 


It's a formation that the offensive team uses for passing plays. In this case, the quarterback stands farther behind the line of scrimmage instead of receiving the snap from the center at the line of it. 

Victory formation 

This American football slang is a synonym for the quarterback kneel. It means that the team leading the score closer to the end of the game lines up in front of the opponent while the quarterback literally kneels behind them. Players use this trick to run the clock down and preserve a win. 

American Football Phrases: Idioms Addition

You might think that all of those American football phrases have nothing to do with you if you are going to watch the Super Bowl just once a year because it's a part of a culture. But you couldn't be more wrong! Some American football terms have taken root in the English language that deeply, so they become idioms. Most likely, you've heard American football idioms in everyday speech or movies before but never managed to memorize them because you had no idea of their context. However, in a minute, you will get the gist of each American football saying. 

Monday morning quarterback

Football context: The quarterback, the leader of the offense team, determines which play the team will run in each game. So, his decisions greatly influence whether the team will win the game. In addition, the games in American football usually are played on Sunday. So, the next day, on Monday, people can judge the quarterback's wrong decisions heavily because it's easier to see what he should've done instead when the game is over. 

Meaning: a person who criticizes someone else's decisions after what is done.  

Example: I hate to be a Monday morning quarterback, but you should've not given him a chance last year. 


Football context: A quarterback is the leader of the offense team in American football. So, he is in charge of making decisions and taking leadership. 

Meaning: to control, to take care of

Example: Harry got sick, so I'm quarterbacking his project today. 

Pile on

Football context: Sometimes, in the middle of a game, opponents can tackle a player and jump on him, creating a pile of people. 

Meaning: to start criticizing someone or something other people have already been criticizing. 

Example: She just made one video on that topic, but everyone piled up immediately in the comments. 

Huddle up

Football context: Before each play, team members get together in a circle to strategize their moves on the field. The verb originated from the last name of the football player Paul D. Hubbard in the 1890s. He used to gather his team in the circle for discussions so the opposing team couldn't see his signs. 

Meaning: to curl up

Example: We huddled up here to celebrate Ann's birthday!

Hand something off

Football context: When the quarterback passes the ball to another player, which makes him responsible for the run. 

Meaning: to transfer something to someone

Example: Last night, he handed me a golden neckless, like it was nothing for him. 

Do an end run

Football context: An end run is an offense's attempt to go around the end of the defensive line. 

Meaning: to find an unclear or dishonest way to bypass the problem, some obstacles or rules. 

Example: Many companies try to do an end run around their taxes to save some money for themselves. 

Run interference

Football context: When players block an opponent to give their team member who carries the ball an advantage, they run interference. 

Meaning: to cover up for someone

Example: It was a rough morning because I slept in and was going to be late. Can you run interference when Maria asks where I am?

Drop the ball / Fumble

Football context: If a player drops the ball in American football, the referee stops and restarts the match. Dropping the ball makes the team lose their possession, which counts as a significant mistake. Therefore, it is called a fumble. 

Meaning: to make a mistake. 

Example: I knew you were lying to me this whole time, but I'm not going to drop the ball by believing in your tales again. I'm leaving you today, and we are done. 

Push over the goal line

Football context: One way of scoring the ball in American football is when a player pushes the ball over the goal line. 

Meaning:  to achieve a goal by working hard. 

Example: Come on, people, we have just a few hours before the final release. We must fix all the bugs to push the app over the goal line.


Football context: Sidelines mark the sports field's boundaries and the area where the coaching staff and players who are not actively participating in the game stay. 

Meaning: to be excluded from an event or process. 

Example: Sidney, if you don't come down, I will be forced to sideline you from the class. 


Football context: Blitz is an aggressive type of play that takes a lot of effort from a defensive player toward the quarterback.

Meaning: to make a sudden attempt to put a lot of effort into dealing with something. 

Example: Kim thought she would never become a lawyer because taking tests was her weak spot. However, after blitzing the test book for a week, she finally got her layer license. 

Move the goalposts

Football context: There is no way to move the goalposts on the football field. They have to stay in place. However, if such a thing were possible, it would complicate to kick a field goal. 

Meaning: to change the rules unfairly. 

Example: I'm not going to fall for this trap! You have to find another nanny in a week. Stop moving the goalposts!

Game plan

Football context: Every team builds a particular strategy for every match to get the most goals and win. It is called a game plan.

Meaning: a plan to achieve success.

Example: There are only 20 tickets left for the Super Bowl 2023, but they came up with a game plan to skip the online queue and book them for sure. 


Football context: The games in American football start with a kickoff, when one team punts the ball downfield for the other team to then run back with the ball as far as possible

Meaning: to start, to begin. 

Example: The kickoff time of the Super Bowl 2023 is 4:30 pm. 

Throw a Hail Mary

Football context: As you already know, a Hail Mary is an American football slang word that means a last-second pass into the end zone. 

Meaning: to make the last attempt to do something successfully. 

Example: Halloween was over a month ago, so they had any other ideas except to throw the fake blood on sale. 


Learn American Football Vocabulary With Promova

As an English learner with some experience, you must know that the amount of words, phrases, idioms, and collocations on one topic is gigantic. And in general, there are too many words in English, so figuring out by yourself what lexicon will be vital for your English proficiency to grow is a challenge. That is why we recommend learning English with Promova. This one-stop language learning platform includes a mobile application, tutoring programs, a free Conversation Club, a blog, and social media. 

The Promova app offers you to learn English through English on dozens of various topics by dedicating just 5-10 mins of your time every day. We have bite-sized lessons for every level of English proficiency – from Beginner to Advanced. Also, we provide guided experience for self-learning, so you always work only on necessary up-to-date vocabulary. Are you interested in sports? Great, we definitely have content for you to expand your vocabulary. 

On top of the excellent self-learning tool, Promova offers tutoring programs with professional certified English tutors that use educational materials from the best publishing house. Sign up for individual classes with a tutor, and feel free to pitch the topic of your next lesson. American football? Sure thing! Let's discuss the cultural context and move on to American football jargon. We aim to prepare for real-life interaction in English by growing your English proficiency. 

Can't get enough of sports topics in English? Then read our articles on 20 sports phrases and gym vocabulary. Then, come to one of the meetings of our free Conversation English Club and use your knowledge. Then, it's time for you to shine like diamonds in the sky!


Whether you are the biggest American football fan or you've heard of it only because of the Rihanna Super Bowl show, you need to be aware of American football terminology. Football is a significant part of American culture, so you can't leave it behind as an English learner. Plus, learning this topic can open your mind to absorbing new knowledge that has nothing to do with the English language itself. Perhaps, after reading this article, you will add American football words and phrases and be sincerely interested in this kind of sport. Good thing that you will already know all necessary American football words by the time of the next big game you would love to discuss with someone who gets it too. 


How do Americans call association football?

Even though most of the world calls gridiron an American football, it's just football for Americans. So, association football, or traditional football, the favorite game of many European countries, is known among Americans by another name. In the USA, people call it soccer. Nonetheless, the term isn't an American invention. Actually, it comes from Great Britain. At the beginning of the 19th century, British universities changed football rules and started playing their own version of the game. Thus, the need for two separate names arose. The word "soccer" originated from "Assoccer" (association football), its short version. 

Why do Americans call it football?

The fact that Americans call the association football soccer and leave the actual word "football" for their version of the game provokes much controversy. People outside of the US can't wrap their heads around the idea that the game where players use hands to interact with the ball includes the "foot" element in its naming. But, according to historians, when the term "football" was brought into use in the late Middle Ages, it referred to any sport played on foot. Moreover, the component 'foot' in American football refers not only to the lower part of the human leg but also to is called football also to the USA measurement rule. So, Americans have never felt a real necessity to change the name of their favorite game. Instead, to distinguish two kinds of sports, it was easier for them to come up with a new name for European football. 

Why is American football not popular in the rest of the world?

Actually, Europeans did try to love the game. However, after 16 unsuccessful seasons, NFL Europe eventually folded in 1997. There are several reasons that Europeans didn't feel the game. Among them are:

- complicated rules and the game field;

- violence and many injuries;

- expensive equipment;

- accessibility of more popular sports games.

Is the Super Bowl a national holiday in the US?

It may seem so because of all the fuss Americans create around the Super Bowl yearly, but it is not a national holiday in the US. However, people do make some kind of celebration out of the NFL's championship game. Usually, people gather in someone's home in front of the tv (if they are not at the stadium) and watch the game in the company of family and friends with snacks. Super Bowl became a big deal not only because it's the final game of the season but also because of the halftime show of the top artists and creative commercials. 


GlenJan 23rd, 2024
Truly valuable content!
Ashton Jul 27th, 2023
I love how this article breaks down the complex terminology of American football. THANKS!