Super Bowl XLIX: our guide to the rules, teams and deflate-gate

The Seattle Seahawks take on the New England Patriots this Sunday: if you're an NFL beginner, here's your guide to the game, including the basics, quarterback Tom Brady...and balls galore

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American football is big business, on both sides of the Atlantic.

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Excitement about Super Bowl game day on Sunday will hit fever pitch in the United States, but thanks to a combination of grass roots enthusiasm and good ole American marketing, there will be plenty of attention in the UK too.

Wembley was sold out for three NFL games in 2014, and there will be plenty more staying up late into the night to follow Sunday’s action.

Even if you haven’t tuned into American football before, Super Bowl Sunday is not to be missed. The stops and starts might baffle first-timers, but no other league can spin quite as good a story as the NFL.

Here’s everything you need to know…

Super Bowl XLIX

Location: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

Kick-off: 11.30pm UK time

On TV: 10.30pm Channel 4, 10pm Sky Sports 1

NFL basics

Surprisingly straightforward. The attacking team scores points by getting the ball into the end zone for a touchdown, or by kicking the ball through the posts for a field goal. Six points are awarded for a touchdown, an extra point for a conversion after a touchdown, and three points for a field goal. 

The offence have four chances (downs) to move the ball 10 yards. If successful, they get another four downs and continue down the field. If they don’t make 10 yards in four downs, the other team wins possession.

Almost all plays involve the quarterback. He manages the move, either throwing the ball to one of his receivers, or handing it off to a running back to smash his way through. The play ends when the ball or its carrier hits the deck or goes out of bounds.

Only 11 players from each side can take the field – even though the coach has up to 45 players to choose from. Different sets of players come on depending on whether the team is attacking, defending or kicking.

Four 15 minute quarters make up the match. However, because of timeouts, breaks between plays and the 30-minute Super Bowl half time show – this year featuring Katy Perry – tonight will probably last over three hours. Face it: you will be very sleepy come Monday morning.

The teams

The Seattle Seahawks are the reigning Super Bowl champions, having smashed the Denver Broncos 43-8 in last year’s climax. If they win tonight, they will become the first team in a decade to win the Vince Lombardi trophy two years in a row.

The last team to do that? The New England Patriots, of course, the other team involved in Sunday’s game. Led by quarterback Tom Brady, they boast one of the best offenses in the NFL, and trounced the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 on their way to the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks however possess one of the best defensive cornerbacks in the league in Richard Sherman. He will do everything he can to smash and trash talk his way through to Brady.

Add to that the fact that current Seahawks coach Peter Carroll was fired by the Patriots in 1999, and you have more than enough personal match-ups to make this something special.

The arguments

Where to start? With deflate-gate of course. The Patriots were accused of cheating in their NFL Championship game (the semi-final, basically) when 11 out of the 12 footballs used in the game were found under-inflated. The Patriots have continually denied any wrongdoing.

So why the advantage? Well, in cold or wet conditions an under-inflated ball is said to give the quarterback more grip. Because of the way balls are supplied in the NFL, each team have their own set of 12 footballs. 

Deflate-gate has been the only story in the US sports pages for the past week, and it was announced on Friday that extra security would be given to the 108 (!) precious balls used during the Super Bowl. Each team will hand over the 54 balls they have prepared for the game, they will be kept under lock and key until the referee inspects them three hours before kick-off.

Enough balls? Yes, probably. But the Super Bowl arguments keep coming.

Seahawks player Marshawn Lynch, nicknamed Beast Mode, refused to answer media questions on Tuesday, instead repeating 29 times, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” A day after, he pulled the same trick, replying to every question with 11 variations of, “You know why I’m here.”

The player has already reportedly been fined $100,000 for refusing to answer media questions in the past, and violating the NFL’s media policy.

He finally broke his silence on Thursday… sort of. “I’ll come to your event,” he said. “You all shove cameras and microphones down my throat. But when I’m at home in my environment, I don’t see you all, but you’re all mad at me. And if you ain’t mad at me, then what are you all here for? I ain’t got nothing for you, though. I told you all that. You all should know that. But you will sit here like right now and continue to do the same thing.”

Finishing his statement, he added, “For this next three minutes I’ll just be looking at you all the way you’re looking at me.”

The NFL already aren’t too happy with Lynch, thanks to his, umm, idiosyncratic touchdown celebration. They fined him $20,000 after he celebrated his score by grabbing his crotch, and warned him that if he did it at the Super Bowl then his team would receive a 15-yard penalty.

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What is it about American Football and dodgy balls?