We got three or four inches of snow in the Lehigh Valley today, which brought the kids out to frolic in the yard.
It also reminded me of one of my favorite snowy-Saturday pastimes growing up — one that, as far as I know, is unknown to my kids.
My friends and I would play football for hours in the yard, buoyed by kids’ remarkable ability to stay out in the cold and slush long after adults give up and go inside.
I figured I’d write down the basic rules of yard football as we played it, just in case somebody out there in Netland is writing a master’s thesis on childhood games of 1980s America:
– Yard football can be played with either a Nerf football or a real ball. Both have disadvantages in the winter: Nerf balls get soggy and heavy and don’t fly as far, whereas real footballs may not be covered in an all-weather material.
– Two completions equal a first down. It is generally not considered sporting to throw two tiny dink-passes just to get the first down. However, desperate quarterbacks are allowed to resort to this measure if they do not abuse it.
– The shotgun formation is allowed.
– There is essentially no such thing as a rush, since they don’t count toward first downs.
– If both sides have the same number of players, one defensive player will be assigned to guard the quarterback. He is allowed to cross the line of scrimmage and blitz the quarterback after counting aloud to five-mississippi.
– The quarterback-guarding position is ideal for a player who is younger or smaller than all the others; or one who has turned an ankle and lost a little mobility; or one who took a pass to the house on the previous possession and needs to catch his breath for a couple of plays.
– A quarterback under pressure will sometimes take off running down the field to avoid being sacked. This is the only “ground game” in yard football. (The threat of a long run is why the extra defender is assigned to guard the quarterback, rather than dropping back into pass protection as might be expected in a heavily pass-oriented game.)
– Despite what I wrote in the title of this post, the score in yard-football games is generally measured by the number of touchdowns (e.g. 14-12), not the number of points. This is because yard-football games go on so long — even in an upstate New York winter — that the winning team’s point total can get close to 100.
– A touchdown is seven points. There are no extra points or two-point conversions. There aren’t really safeties, either, since adding two points to the score complicates scorekeeping. A quarterback in trouble in his own end zone can be counted on to avoid the sack by throwing long and hoping for the best, anyway.
– Sideline boundaries are roughly settled on by gentlemen’s agreement. The boundaries of an end zone — at least at the front — are usually more formally defined, and are marked on either side by frisbees, traffic cones or any other object on hand.
– Punts and kickoffs are thrown, not kicked.
– It is legal for offensive players to block defenders by standing in front of them and sort of generically tangling them up. Blatant holds, however, are illegal.
– Yard football can be either tackle or two-hand touch, depending on the whim of the players.
– It is not uncommon for a yard-football game to incorporate both tackle *and* two-hand touch. For instance, a game can be tackle in the open grass but two-hand touch near the street. If a driveway is used as an end zone, action there is likely to be two-hand touch as well.
And finally … not a rule, just a helpful tip:
– A yard-football player’s performance, especially on offense, will be at least 40 percent better if he is fully convinced that he is the second coming of Billy “White Shoes” Johnson.