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Every Sunday afternoon in the fall, all across America, televisions, radios, and Internet broadcasts are tuned to the big football games. The sport of football has grown in popularity since the day it was invented, but not all of the views are good. The sport of football is viewed by many as a cruel and primitive sport, however every aspect within the sport of football is based in the field of physics. To begin to understand the complexity that is the game of football one can start by looking at how the punter needs to know the laws of physics to kick far.
A punter’s job is to execute a drop kick (holding the football out and dropping it, then kicking the ball in midair) so as to give the other team the worst field position possible. This goal is only achievable with a kick that propels the football very far both horizontally and vertically. The punter is in charge of three things at the time of the kick: the velocity, the angle of the kick, and the rotation on the ball.
Velocity is the speed at which the ball is propelled from the punter’s foot. The angle at which the ball is kicked combined with the velocity determines the distance the ball will travel.
A ball kicked at a steeper angle with high velocity will have more hang-time (amount of time the ball is in the air), but will not travel very far. However, a ball kicked at a shallow angle with a high velocity will travel far, but it will not have the hang-time that many players desire (a punt with a long hang-time allows the players to get to the punt returner easier).
Lastly, the rotation a punter puts on a football greatly affects how far the punt will go. If the ball is punted end over end, it will have more air resistance, slowing it down resulting in a shorter punt.
A spiraling punt breaks through the air decreasing air resistance allowing for a kick with more distance. These same aspects are the ones applied to a quarterback when throwing the football (except without the kicking). One of the more sought after positions, and my personal favorite to play, is the running back. The job of the running back is to receive the football from the quarterback, and then try to gain as many yards as possible before being brought down to the ground by a defensive player. The running back lines up usually about three to five yards behind the line of scrimmage.
This space allows the running back to accelerate to his top speed before he meets the defense. For a back to be able to change direction as he is running, he must plant his foot into the ground and apply force in the opposite direction. To stop going in one direction, a running back uses two different forces, the first of which is the force of friction (how hard it is to slide one object over another), and the second is the force with which the back applies. When a running meets a defensive player, his momentum must be greater than the momentum of the defensive player’s in order to break the tackle.
On the opposite side of the ball, the linebacker is the defensive equivalent to the running back. He also is stationed three to five yards from the line of scrimmage in order to have room to accelerate. For a tackle to be made, the momentum of a defensive player must be greater than or equal to that of the offensive ball carrier. Momentum is found by multiplying the weight of an athlete by the speed at which he is moving. If the momentums of the two athletes are the same, then both players will come to a stop and in the game of football if the ball stops moving forward, then the carrier has lost.
In my own experience, coaches have always told me to tackle low. The reasoning behind this is that a man’s center of gravity is usually located at just above the naval, and hitting below this point causes the runner to rotate, taking his legs off of the ground. If a player is hit above this point the tackler will just roll off, and if a player is hit on this point, he will be forced in to the direction he his hit, but it may not bring him down. The sport of football is a highly scientific game, and not the savage sport that many people see it as. Every aspect of the game can be figured through various physical formulas.
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