What Do the Lines Mean on a Football Field?

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To the uninitiated, a football field might look like an indecipherable stretch of green with white lines running everywhere. This is because football is a game of yards. Each team’s forward progress toward the goal line for a score is measured in increments of yards, and the lines tell everyone how many they’ve gained and how many they have to go.

The Hashmarks

  • An American football field measures 100 yards long -- 120 including the end zones -- by 53.3 yards wide. A team has four chances, called downs, to move the ball 10 yards down the field or turn the ball over to the other side. If they succeed, they have four more downs to move the ball 10 more yards. Two columns of little white lines spaced one yard apart -- called hash marks -- appear in the middle of the football field, each not quite 71 feet from the sideline, and along each side of the field. Every five yards instead of a hash mark is a line extending all the way across the field.

Other Lines

  • White lines run down the length of the field on each side, marking where the playing field ends -- "out of bounds" territory. The goal lines -- at the theoretical zero-yard mark -- identifies the beginning of each end zone, an additional area 10 yards deep at each end of the field. Players crossing this line with the ball score a touchdown. When a team gets within 20 yards of the goal line, it is said to be in the "red zone." The ball is placed on the 20-yard line in the event of a touchback (if the ball becomes dead behind or on the goal line) and teams also make safety kicks from the 20. Kickoffs are made from the kicking team's 35-yard line.

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