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Super Bowl 55 will be played tonight and features the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa. For those tuning in to their first Super Bowl or NFL game, here are a few basic rules to help understand the game, including one of the most common questions — how long is a quarter in football? 

The NFL is over a century old

The origins of professional football go back to 1892. While it was called professional, it was far from it as the collection of teams was never truly organized with teams scattered throughout the Ohio area.

In September 1920, Ralph Hay, who owned the Canton Bulldogs, decided to change that. He invited the 10 other team owners to a series of meetings. Among those in attendance were football legend George Halas, owner of the Decatur Staleys (which became the Chicago Bears), and player Jim Thorpe, who played for Hay’s Canton squad.

According to legend, because there weren’t enough chairs to seat everyone present, some men sat on the running boards of a Hupmobile car to discuss the formation of the league. As they sat drinking prohibition beer, the owners decided any team wanting to join the new league would pay a franchise fee of $100.

Initially, they named the league the American Professional Football Association. Several years later, Halas changed the name to the National Football League, so it was more in line with Major League Baseball and sounded more official.

How long is a quarter in football and a few other rules to know

Since those very early days, there was a specific set of rules in place. Through the years, they have been modified and updated for the times, but the game’s basic tenets have remained the same.

The main objective in a game is for the offense to score points on the team’s opposing defense by reaching the end zone and scoring a touchdown or kicking a field goal. This all takes place on a 100-yard long field. The team that is ahead at the end of four quarters is declared the winner.

As for the quarters, they are broken up into two halves with two quarters in each half. Each quarter is 15 minutes long, which means the total length of time for an NFL game on the field is one hour in duration. 

How long a quarter in football is doesn’t translate to just an hour watching

While you now know how long a quarter in football is, it’s also important to note that the actual duration for a game from the opening kickoff to the final whistle is much longer. The average time it takes to play a complete NFL game is a little more than three hours. For the Super Bowl, that time is increased because of the extended halftime show.

Incredibly, according to a study in the Wall Street Journal, the average amount of time the ball is in play on the field during an entire NFL game is a mind-blowing 11 minutes. That’s an average of four seconds per play. So if an NFL game only has 11 minutes of action, why does it last more than three hours?

At the end of each play, the play clock is reset to 40 seconds. That allows the offensive team to get the play called in from the sidelines, get the team up to the line of scrimmage, and snap the ball.

With all of that happening on the field, television replays account for more than 56 percent of the average telecast. And as you might have guessed, television commercials take up a large portion of the broadcast, up to an hour on average. 

The NFL is undoubtedly the most-watched sport in the U.S. with its weekly national broadcast consistently the top show in television ratings. But as lifelong NFL fans have learned, it’s a time commitment.   


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