"Gridiron" is a term that is used to refer to the playing field in North American football. The word occasionally is used in the name of the game as well, because some people — mostly outside of North America — refer to the sport as gridiron football or simply "gridiron" to differentiate it from other types of football, such as soccer. This term has been in use since the late 1800s, although the word itself is much older. The lines on a football field resemble the parallel lines on the grate or griddle, which is the original meaning of the word "gridiron."
The playing field for North American football is marked with solid, parallel lines that form a grid. These lines appear every 5 yards (about 4.6 m) for the entire length of the field, which is 100 yards (91.44 m) in American football and 110 yards (about 100.6 m) in Canadian football. Sidelines mark the edges of the field, and at each end is an end zone. There also are hash marks that appear at 1-yard (about 0.9-m) intervals near the center of the field and near the sidelines. When seen from above, a lined, rectangular football field resembles a cooking gridiron, as shown in the diagram and photo below.
The solid lines and hash marks on the field are collectively called yard lines, and they are used to mark the location of the ball. The team that is in possession of the ball, the offense, must advance 10 yards (9.14 m) within a certain number of plays to maintain possession of the ball. This is why the exact location of the ball is important. In addition, the cost of committing a penalty usually includes having the ball moved a certain number of yards either forward or backward, depending on which team committed the penalty. The yard lines also aid in the keeping of various statistics, such as the number of yards that a player or team gains by running or passing the ball.
North American football is derived from the sport of rugby and originally had no lines on the field other than those that marked the boundaries. In 1882, a football coach named Walter Camp instituted a rule requiring the offense to gain at least 5 yards (4.57 m) within three plays; this was later changed to 10 yards (9.14 m) within four plays for American football and within three plays for Canadian football. To facilitate the enforcement of this rule, yard lines were added to the field at 5-yard (4.57-m) intervals. The lined field's resemblance to a cooking gridiron was quickly noted, and the use of the term to refer to the field became common.
Uses of the Term
Although most references to the sport or the field do not include the use of the term "gridiron," its use has remained popular for alliterative purposes. For example, football stars might be referred to as "gridiron greats," and players might be said to seek "gridiron glory." In addition, the term is used in many football-related contexts, including the names of special football games as well as football-themed sports bars, fan clubs and informational websites.