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The Physics of Football

Lou Bloomfield

University of Virginia

September 24, 2005

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Five Vignettes

  • The Fullback Scrambles Just Out of Reach

  • The Offensive Lineman Blocks the Rusher

  • The Defensive Back Tackles the Ball Carrier

  • The Quarterback Passes to the Receiver

  • The Kicker Boots the Ball

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The Fullback ScramblesJust Out of Reach

  • Why is it easiest for the fullback to

    • stay motionless?

    • run steadily in a straight line?

  • Why does dodging take so much leg strength?

  • Why does the fullback lean as he dodges?

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The Offensive LinemanBlocks the Rusher

  • Why is a huge lineman so hard to move?

    • Is the lineman’s weight the issue?

    • If he wore roller skates, would he be easier to move?

  • Why does a running start help either player?

  • Why is padding so important to avoiding injury?

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The Defensive BackTackles the Ball Carrier

  • Why does the ball carrier

    • stay upright when hit at chest/stomach height?

    • flip backward when hit at shoulder height?

    • flip forward when hit around the legs?

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The Quarterback Passesto the Receiver

  • What distinguishes different types of passes?

    • Why does a screen pass stay low but travel fast?

    • Why does a long bomb arc high but travel slowly?

  • Why can’t a mere mortal be quarterback?

  • Why does a good receiver need soft hands?

  • Why is a smooth spiral so helpful?

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The Kicker Boots the Ball

  • Why do different plays require different kicks?

    • How does a field goal kicker maximize distance?

    • How does a punter maximize time in the air?