A beginner’s guide to Super Bowl XLVII

Everything you need to know about Sunday's NFL climax between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens

It’s the biggest sporting event in the United States, and even this side of the Atlantic thousands of people will be staying up into the small hours tonight to follow Super Bowl XLVII between Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. If you’re new to American Football, our handy guide will help turn you into an expert – or at least help you bluff your way through the night.


When it’s on

BBC2 and BBC Radio 5 Live from 11pm (k/o 11.30pm), Sunday 3rd February

Sky Sports 1 from 10.30pm

The basics

The aim of the game is simple: the attacking team, or offence, aims to score points either by getting player and ball into the end zone for a touchdown, or by kicking the ball through the posts for a field goal, just like rugby. Six points are awarded for a touchdown, an extra point for a conversion after a touchdown, and three points for a field goal. The job of the defence is to prevent the offence getting down the field and into the end zone.

Only 11 players from each side can take the field, even though the coach has up to 45 players to choose from come match day. 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 famous 30 minute Super Bowl half time show – this year featuring Beyonce – tonight will probably last over three hours.

For NFL newcomers, the first question usually runs along the line of, “Why do they spend so much time standing around?”The reason for this is that play is split into a series of downs.

The offence has four downs (meaning chances) to move the ball forward at least 10 yards. If you hear the commentator say ‘third and 8’ tonight, it means the offence is on its third down and has 8 yards still to go before they get another set of downs.

If the offence doesn’t manage to make 10 yards within four downs, possession is given over to the other team, usually by kicking the ball down field.

Confused by all those complicated calls at the start of a play? Don’t panic. The quarterback (the one who throws the ball) is simply letting his team know what type of move the team is going to perform. Usually, the quarterback will either hand the ball to a player who will try gain yards by running the ball, or he will try pass the ball through the air to one of his runners fanning out down field.

Sound like an expert

Now you know the basics, here are a few tips for tonight’s match. Super Bowl XLVII has already been nicknamed the HarBowl because of the fraternal rivalry which will play out on the sidelines. Coach Jim Harbaugh sends out his San Francisco 49ers team with his elder brother John just feet away as the Baltimore Ravens’ coach. This is the first time in Super Bowl history that two brothers have gone up against each other as head coaches.

On the field, quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick for the 49ers and Joe Flacco for the Ravens will obviously be key to their side’s fortunes. Flacco is a classic ‘pocket passer’, with a strong arm and an eye for the big throws, who will look for his offensive line to give him enough time to pick out a pass.

Kaepernick, with tattoos stretching all over his arms, is a very different prospect, a new young star who’s just as happy to run the ball himself as pass it to a teammate. It’s a clash of styles that should make for a great offensive battle.

Tonight will also be the farewell game of legendary Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. The 37-year-old has been playing for Baltimore since 1996, but he’s due to retire whatever happens tonight. Ravens fans will bid a fond farewell to their defensive giant… and his celebratory chicken dance.

Super Bowl XLVII in numbers

$3.8 million The average cost of a 30-second advertising spot during this year’s Super Bowl. Last year broadcaster CBS made $245 million in total ad revenue.

111.3 million The viewing figures for last year’s final in the US, the highest in Super Bowl history.

73,000 The seating capacity of the Super Dome in New Orleans.

12,233 The number of tweets per second during last year’s Super Bowl.

1.23 billion The number of chicken wings Americans will consume during Super Bowl Sunday according to the American National Chicken Council.


5 The number of times the San Francisco 49ers have won the Super Bowl. Baltimore Ravens have only won once, but neither side has ever lost a Super Bowl match before.