The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league that constitutes one of the four major professional sports leagues in North America. It is composed of 32 teams divided equally between the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The highest professional level of the sport in the world, the NFL runs a 17-week regular season from the week after Labor Day to the week after Christmas, with each team playing sixteen games and having one bye week each season.
Out of the league’s 32 teams, six (four division winners and two wild-card teams) from each conference compete in the NFL playoffs, a single-elimination tournament culminating in the Super Bowl, played between the champions of the NFC and AFC. The champions of the Super Bowl are awarded the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Most games are played on Sunday afternoons; some games are also played on Mondays and Thursdays during the regular season.
While baseball is known as “America’s national pastime,” football is the most popular sport in the United States. According to the Harris Poll, professional football moved ahead of baseball as the fans’ favourite in 1965, during the emergence of the NFL’s challenger, the American Football League, as a major professional football league. Football has remained America’s favourite sport ever since. In a Harris Poll conducted in 2008, the NFL was the favourite sport of as many people (30%) as the combined total of the next three professional sports – baseball (15%), auto racing (10%), and hockey (5%). Additionally, football’s American television viewership ratings now surpass those of other sports, although football season comprises far fewer games than the seasons of other sports.
The football helmet is a piece of protective equipment used mainly in American football and Canadian football. It consists of a hard plastic shell with thick padding on the inside, a face mask made of one or more plastic-coated metal bars, and a chinstrap. Each position has a different type of face mask to balance protection and visibility, and some players add polycarbonate visors to their helmets, which are used to protect their eyes from glare and impacts. Helmets are a requirement at all levels of organized football, except for non-tackle variations such as flag football. Although they are protective, players can and do still suffer head injuries such as a concussion.
The shoulder pads consist of a hard plastic outer shell with shock-absorbing foam padding underneath. The pads fit over the shoulders and the chest and rib area, and are secured with various snaps and buckles. Shoulder pads give football players their typical “broad-shouldered” look, and are fitted to an adult player by measuring across the player’s back from shoulder blade to shoulder blade with a soft cloth measuring tape and then adding 1/2 inch. Shoulder pads accomplish two things for a football player: (1) they absorb some of the shock of impact through deformation. The pads at the shoulders are strung on tight webbing and deform on impact, and (2) they distribute the shock through a larger pad that is designed to regulate players’ body temperatures during games and practices and protects against injury.
Jerseys. The front and back of the jersey are usually nylon, with spandex side panels to keep it taut. The goal is to make it difficult for an opposing player to grab hold of the jersey and use it for leverage. To help this process: Jerseys have an extension at the bottom that wraps around from front to back to keep the jersey tucked in. Jerseys have a wide strip of Velcro at the rear that mates with Velcro inside the waistband of the pants. Many players apply two-sided carpet tape to their shoulder pads so that the jersey sticks to the pads.