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The Physics of Football. Lou Bloomfield University of Virginia September 24, 2005. 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 physics of football

The Physics of Football

Lou Bloomfield

University of Virginia

September 24, 2005


Five vignettes
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


The fullback scrambles just out of reach
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?


The offensive lineman blocks the rusher
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?


The defensive back tackles the ball carrier
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?


The quarterback passes to the receiver
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?


The kicker boots the ball
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?