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American Football Stadiums and Fields

Although the dimensions of a football field are the same, from high school to the NFL, every stadium seems different. That’s because all across America, the atmosphere inside each stadium, or the architectural character of the stadium itself, tends to be unique to that region. But every field shares some common characteristics.

Football stadiums

As you probably know, a stadium is the whole structure or area in which football and other games are played: the field, the stands, and so on. Stadiums come in all shapes and sizes. The important thing is that they allow room for the 100-yard-long football field.

NFL and college stadiums come in two main varieties: domed stadiums and outdoor stadiums. Domed stadiums are designed so that the players and the fans don’t have to deal with the weather; they always have a roof over their heads, and the teams always play on artificial turf. When you’re talking about big-time football, both types of stadiums generally seat between 50,000 and 107,000 screaming fans.

The football field

There’s nothing like a football field. Here's what you see on a football field, whether you’re on the field or in the stands:

  • Field dimensions: The dimensions of a football field haven’t changed much through the years. The field has been 100 yards long and 53 1/3 yards wide since 1881. In 1912, the two end zones were established at 10 yards deep and have remained so ever since. Consequently, all football games are played on a rectangular field that’s 360 feet long x 160 feet wide.

  • The marks on the field: All over the field, you see a bunch of white lines. Every line has a special meaning:

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    • End lines: The lines at each end of the field.

    • Sidelines: The lines along each side of the field.

    • Goal lines: The goal lines are 10 yards inside and parallel to each end line.

    • Field of play: The area bounded by the goal lines and sidelines.

    • 50-yard line: The field is divided in half by the 50-yard line, which is located in the middle of the field.

    • End zones: The two areas bounded by the goal lines, end lines, and sidelines.

  • Yard lines: Run parallel to the goal lines at intervals of 5 yards and are marked across the field from sideline to sideline. These lines stop 8 inches short of the 6-foot solid border in the NFL.

    Yard lines give players and fans an idea of how far a team must advance the ball in order to record a first down. Consequently, the field is numbered every 10 yards, starting from the goal lines. All these lines and numbers are white.

  • Hash marks: Mark each yard line 70 feet, 9 inches from the sidelines in the NFL. On high school and college football fields, the hash marks are only 60 feet from the sidelines. Two sets of hash marks (each hash is 1 yard in length) run parallel to each other down the length of the field and are approximately 18 1/2 feet apart.

  • Player benches: Six feet outside the border of the field, or 6 feet from the sidelines, is an additional broken white line that defines an area in which only coaches and substitute players may stand. Six feet farther behind this broken white line is where the bench area begins. The team congregates in the bench area during a game, watching teammates play or resting on the benches. Within this area, team doctors and trainers also examine injured players.

  • The playing surface: Two types of surfaces are used in football — natural grass and artificial turf. Each has its pros and cons:

    • Natural grass: Generally, natural grass is similar to your backyard lawn or any baseball outfield: It’s green, soft, and beautiful, but it needs to be mowed, watered, and replaced.

    • Artificial turf: Some artificial surfaces are made from synthetic nylon fibers that resemble very short blades of grass; other artificial surfaces have tightly woven fibers that give the feel of a cushioned carpet. Artificial surfaces are cheaper to maintain than natural grass.

      Then again, in many stadiums, the artificial surface is also harder than natural grass because it’s often laid over cement, blacktop, or dirt. And on extremely hot days, artificial surfaces retain the heat, making a day that’s 95 degrees Fahrenheit feel like a 100-degree day.

  • Goalposts: The goalpost serves as the guideline for the kicker, whose goal is to sail the ball high between the goalpost’s two vertical bars, an act that’s sometimes called splitting the uprights. The goalpost rises from the back of the end zone.

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