Super Bowl Geeks: How Much Action Is There Really In An NFL Football Game?

Geek Culture

Image by Flickr user purplemattfis; used under Creative Commons Attribution license.hImage by Flickr user purplemattfis; used under Creative Commons Attribution license.h

Image by Flickr user purplemattfish; used under Creative Commons Attribution license.

(This post originally ran on December 8, 2008)

Sunday afternoon was cold and gray, the weekend was drawing to a close and all I wanted to do was veg out in front of the television and enjoy the roaring fire in the fireplace. I asked my son if he’d like to watch a football game with me — I thought it would be a good experience for him — he recently finished his third season of YMCA flag football.

His answer surprised me a little. “No, it’s too boring. All they do is stand around.” Was this the same kid who wouldn’t skip a practice or game even if he was sick?

I hadn’t thought about it in a while because I don’t watch much pro football and, when it is on, it’s usually just background noise while I’m working on something else.

But the kid had a point. And one that was easily quantifiable. So I grabbed a pad of paper, a stopwatch, the remote and sat down to watch the horrible & hapless hometown team, the Kansas City Chiefs, play the Denver Broncos in the Mile High City.

My methodology was simple: The stopwatch counted whenever the ball was in play — runs, passes, punts and kicks. As soon as a play was over, the stopwatch was halted. I settled in and soon discovered there’s far less than 60 regulation minutes of play during a typical three hour game.

The game began and the stopwatch ticked off time as Larry Johnson ran outside, Jay Cutler threw an interception and the Chiefs jumped to an early lead. By the end of the first quarter, at the conclusion of the first fifteen minutes of the match, the ball had been in play for a total of three minutes and ten seconds.

See the rest after the jump …

The rest of the game went by at a similar, jerky pace. By the end of the game, I was bored silly, my son had gone to the other room to play with army men and the Chiefs had, once again, lost ugly.

The final tally told an interesting story. The remaining quarters had followed the first:

  • The second quarter contained two minutes, 58 seconds when the ball was in play
  • The third quarter was the most scintillating with three minutes, 25 seconds of action
  • The fourth quarter, which included a lot of kneeling to run out the time in the final two minutes, had showcased two minutes and 35 seconds of play

So, during the two hours and 56 minutes the game took to complete, throughout the 60 minutes of regulation time, the ball was in only in play for 12 minutes and 8 seconds.The rest of the time, players were standing around, plays were being reviewed and I was being bombarded by a multitude of beer commercials and truck advertisements.

I recognize the strategy element of football and the importance of time between plays to try and develop plans that deceive the opposing team, but to think all of the important bits of a three hour game could be viewed in little more than 10 minutes, it only reinforces what I’ll be doing next Sunday. And it’s more likely to involve army men than it is the NFL.

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