How Much American Football Slang Do You Know?


By: Ian Fortey

6 Min Quiz

Image: Wiki Commons by Keith Allison

About This Quiz

American football was partially born out of rugby, with a few changes to the game that made it its own thing. As a professional sport, it's about 100 years old at this point, making it relatively new compared to some of the other big games in the world which have a couple of centuries of history at their back. But in that time, this uniquely American game has become a phenomenon. Just look at Super Bowl XLIX back in 2015. Do you know how many people tuned in to watch that game on TV? Over 114 million. That's amazing! Football is like its own culture, and that means it also has a good deal of slang, jargon and lingo to get to know if you're serious about the game. While anyone on the street knows what a pass, or a kick is, only someone into the game is going to know what the Statue of Liberty play is, or what the heck a muffed punt might be.

If you have an eye for the game but also an ear for all of its extensive slang, then now's your chance to show your stuck. If you're an expert at American football slang, take the quiz and prove it!

This term can describe the crew on the sidelines managing the signal poles. What is it?

You can call the crew holding the signal poles on the sidelines the chain gang. There are three people in the chain gang; a rod man who holds the rear pole where the current set of downs is, the boxman at the line of scrimmage and the second rod man who is 10 yards from the first one at the first down line.


What's the term for when you have as little time between plays as possible?

You're running the hurry-up offense if you're not stopping between plays, you're just going as fast as you can. This can throw the defense off their game by not giving them time to get organized.


This is an old school name for the football itself. What is it?

People still call footballs pigskins even though they haven't been made of pigskin in just short of forever. But it's true, footballs were made of inflated pig bladders at one point. These days they're cowhide.


You could use this term when the punt returner messes up pretty badly. What is it?

If you somehow mess up returning the punt, maybe by letting it go through your hands, then that's a muffed punt right there. You've touched the ball, thus making it a live ball, but you haven't caught it, so it's bounding around the field and unspeakable carnage is occurring as players from both sides fight to possess it.


Which of these refers to a disappointing draft choice?

You go bust when you have a great prospect that gets drafted to the team and then, when they finally get to show their stuff, they absolutely disappoint in every way. Sometimes it happens, and sometimes they can turn it around, but not always.


The QB might do this to run out the clock. What is it?

The quarterback will take a knee in order to stop the play in a way that keeps the clock running. You see this all the time when a game is basically over and a team has already won so they're just waiting for the clock to stop and make it official.


You're going to want to do which of these as your last resort?

A Hail Mary pass is the kind of thing you do in a moment of desperation. Generally, it's about as far as a quarterback can throw and there should at least be a couple of receivers waiting on it. If it's done at the last second, even better.


This is what you call it when the receiver runs up the field then immediately turns and runs back a short distance. What is it?

A buttonhook route is meant to try to dupe a defender. The runner has to go full speed down the field to make it seem like they're going deep and then dig in and turn around as fast as possible to pull this off effectively.


You can get a 15-yard penalty for doing which of these?

A face mask is the protective gear you wear on your face, but also what you'd call the penalty-earning maneuver of grabbing someone by their facemask to pull them down for a tackle.


What do some people call the referees?

Since they're standing on the sidelines in black and white stripes, it's not hard to imagine where the nickname "zebras" came from for referees. Of course, when they make bad calls, some people have more offensive nicknames for them.


Someone tackles you by grabbing your shoulderpads. What's it called?

A horse collar tackle is when the defender grabs you around the collar area to drag you to the ground. In the NFL, this will give you a 15-yard personal foul. Roy Williams was so famous for tackling other players like this that the personal foul rule is sometimes called the Roy Williams Rule.


Which term describes taking out the quarterback?

Everyone likes a well-played quarterback sack except for maybe the quarterback. Deacon Jones is credited with coming up with this term not in relation to sacks of potatoes but to sacking cities like in old school warfare.


How might one of the Green Bay Packers celebrate a touchdown?

The Lambeau Leap only works at Lambeau Field, hence the clever name. When you jump into the stands at the end of the field at Lambeau, that's a Lambeau Leap. The first time it ever happened was back in 1993 by LeRoy Butler.


Which of these terms refers to a last moment change of play?

When you change the play at the last minute, you're calling an audible. Why call it an audible? Well, the word literally refers to something you can hear, and calling an audible is telling everyone to change plans because the quarterback has noticed something in the defense ... like a blitz.


Do you know which of these terms refers to the field itself?

A football field is often referred to as a gridiron because of how they looked in the past. These days the field is just marked by the yard lines, but way back when it was a grid pattern that reminded people of a grille and a somewhat nefarious torture device called a gridiron.


If the running back receives the snap instead of the quarterback, what's that called?

It seems pretty wild if the running back takes the snap, right? Maybe that's why they call it the wildcat formation. Once the running back takes the snap, the QB takes a receiver position and, ideally, the defense is all kinds of confused.


What do you call the vertical goal posts?

Some people refer to a field goal as "splitting the uprights," which is to say you're putting the ball between the goal posts. And yeah, since they're both upright it's a pretty basic but descriptive name for what they are.


Which of these describes a pass that goes about as far as the QB can throw it?

A bomb or a long bomb is a pass that stretches the limits of the quarterback's arm. It makes for a dramatic play, but the longer a ball is in the air the more time defenders have to intercept or otherwise botch the play for you.


What do you call it when the quarterback tosses the ball down after the snap?

A spike in football is just a way to stop the clock in a pinch. It's going to cost the offensive team a down, but it's also saving some time and when it's down to the wire, it means there may be enough time to pull off one last play and score.


What do you call it when you make a short field goal attempt?

If you make a short field goal, let's say 25 yards or less, that's what you call a chip shot. Under normal circumstances, this is pretty much a guaranteed field goal because if your kicker messed up from 25 yards, that's a problem.


What do you call it when you have a 5th defensive back?

It's not just a popular Canadian rock band, nickel back is what you call it when you have a fifth defensive back on the field. Makes sense when you think about it since a nickel is 5 cents, right?


This term describes when the quarterback is a distance behind the center when they hike the ball. What is it?

A proper shotgun formation has the quarterback positioned a good 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. It's a way to protect against a blitz and give the QB a few more seconds to decide where to throw.


A nice, short kick that travels at least 10 yards is called what?

An onside kick is easier said than done sometimes but the idea is to make it short, but still far enough that it counts so that your team can snag it and stay on offense. If it works, it's a huge advantage. If it fails, you just gave the other team great field position.


Do you know which of these terms is used to describe a fake out?

A player trying to fake out an opposing player is going to do a little juking. If you have the ball, you can juke right to trick the defender, then head left as quick as you can. A good juker is nearly untouchable.


What do you call it when certain players on the defense rush the quarterback instead of going to their positions?

This play is pretty commonplace these days, but the blitz was likely quite a surprise when it first showed up. There are a few kinds of blitzes like the zone blitz and the safety blitz, but they seem to have evolved from a play in the '40s known as the Red Dog.


Which of these describes when you're within 20 yards of the end zone?

The red zone is where you want to be in a game. It's 20 yards or less from the end zone and some prime scoring position. If a touchdown isn't an option, you're almost guaranteed a field goal from in the red zone.


A fiendishly timed time-out call from the sidelines is known as what?

Icing the kicker is a bit of an underhanded move. When one team is bringing out the kicker for a field goal, the other team calls a late time out. The point is to mess up the kicker's flow and hopefully cause them to mess up when play starts again. It rarely works.


Coaches are afraid of losing their jobs on which of these days?

The Monday after the last regular-season day of play is called Black Monday. This is the day a coach is going to lose their job if the season didn't go well, so it's a pretty intimidating thing to deal with.


Which of these can happen if the QB runs into his own lineman?

Any fumble is embarrassing, but a butt fumble is pretty much the worst kind. It was named in honor of a 2012 game between the Jets and the Patriots when QB Mark Sanchez ran right into teammate Brandon Moore's butt and fumbled the ball.


When you're using your head to hit someone else, at great risk of injury, what are you doing?

Spearing is a risky maneuver for both parties involved. You can risk a personal foul for using your helmet as a weapon, not to mention serious neck damage. If you're getting hit by a spear, well, you're going to feel it and it's going to hurt.


For this play to work, you need to trick the defense into thinking you're running and not passing. What is it?

The flea-flicker is a trick play in which someone like the running back takes a handoff, runs along the line of scrimmage, then tosses it back to the QB so they can pass it. It's super risky and also super rare.


You can go for which of these after you score a touchdown?

You get to try for an extra point after a touchdown, which you can abbreviate as XP if you like. That can just be a kick for one point or, if you're feeling lucky, maybe run or pass for a two-point conversion.


Which play involves a fake pass and then a handoff?

The Statue of Liberty play is a trick play that can be fun to watch when it works out. The QB fakes the pass as a running back goes behind them and takes a handoff. It gets the name because when one arm is raised and one is passing, the QB looks a bit like Lady Liberty.


When your offense involves a lot of short passes to gain yards, what's it called?

The dink and dunk isn't always a fun offense to watch, but it can work out. It involves very conservative plays, short passes for short yards to move you down the field. It's boring football, but it can be effective football.


Which of these terms describes an incredibly intense hit?

When two players collide like freight trains, what you have is a slobberknocker. The terms literally means you hit so hard it knocked the spit from your mouth. It can also be used to describe a game that's brutal from start to finish.


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