It’s that time of year again for “the big game,” and also time for me to post more fodder about the deliberate standards of USA football. Will Tom Brady win? I could care less. But I am interested in how sacred measures are snuck into our everyday lives.

For instance, did you ever wonder why a football team can field 11 players on the surface for every play? Why not 10, or 12?

And how come there is a 50 yard line at the center of 100 yards of neutral territory, but the width of the field is 53.333… yards?

The answers are intriguing. Perhaps.

First, the obvious. There are 100 yards from one goal line to the other, or 300 feet. Each end zone is 10 yards deep beyond the goal lines, giving us a total of 120 yards of length of the entire field of play, or 360 feet. 360 is also the number of degrees in a circle – the heavenly measure.

The width of the field is 160 feet, or 53.333… yards. The total area is, therefore, 360′ * 160′ = 57,600 square feet.

As 9 square feet fit in one square yard, the total area in square yards is 6,400. This value may seem familiar, as there are 640 acres in a square mile.

A square mile has 27,878,400 square feet, or 3,097,600 square yards. If we divide the area of a square mile with the area of a football field, we get this: 3,097,600 / 6,400 = 484.

An acre has 4,840 square yards. Are we seeing a pattern here? Yes.

We can fit an exact number of football fields in a square mile, however, one football field comes out to 1.322314049586777… acres. We seem to have stumbled onto an irrational number for the first time in all of this, but let’s look at the English measures that comprise our USAnian system for some help.

We are all taught as children that a mile is 5,280 feet long. But, we are never told why this seemingly arbitrary and obscure value would make up one mile. As it happens, the “5,280” is handily divisible by these prime numbers:

- 5280/2 = 2640
- 5280/3 = 1760
- 5280/5 = 1056
- 5280/11 = 480

Yes, the prime number “11” was a consideration in the standardization of English measurement, over a millennia ago. And, 11 just happens to be the number of players a team can field for a football play. As there are two teams on the field at a given time, there are a total of 22 players on the field for a play. The square of 22 is 484, or the number of football fields that fit into one square mile.

What is the point of all this? For one, this is a form of “squaring the circle,” the ancient geometrical mystery of how basic forms in our universe simply do not neatly add up. The value of pi – circumference versus diameter – is irrational, much like my ex wife.

The ancients approximated the value of pi as 22/7, which is partly why the “22” is associated with mysticism. For instance, there are 22 major arcana cards in the tarot, 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and 22° of arc between the astrological exaltations of Venus (27° Pisces) and the Sun (19° Aries). While the value of an acre in terms of square feet is a very untidy 208.710325571113…, it can also be 88 x 55 yards, or 220 x 198 feet, or better yet 66 x 660 feet. These values were much easier to measure in the old days, when surveyors went out into the field with things called “poles” that measured 16.5 feet. Two poles were 33 feet. It should be said here that the simple “base ten” or metric system does have its limitations of practicality when it comes to engineering math. The is a reason that the ancients developed a base-60 “sexagesimal” system of measuring circles rather than just counting on their fingers.

A simpler device called “Gunter’s Chain,” named after the man himself, was introduced in the 17th Century. It was a chain with 100 links that measured a total of 66 feet. And, what happens now when a team gets a first down? “Move the chains!”

In other words, the game of football, as silly and useless as it is, gets played on a field of sacred dimensions right under our noses. There is a bit of “magic” involved, at least in the sense of a deliberate “demonstration of the method” in public view without us even knowing about it.

As for the term “Bowl,” which we are told comes from the shape of football stadiums, it could also be a reference to the “bowl of heaven,” as the ancients thought that the heavens were finite and bowl-shaped. Of course, now they have taken that further and many games are played in “domes,” which is also a nod to the dome of the heavens that rotates around us eternally.

Are these football players reenacting some sort of mythical clash of titans, playing on the old themes of warring and quarreling gods tossing things around for us to see, on some stage that is meant to mirror the sacred numbers of heaven and earth? Yes, they are. The game did originate on college campuses in the late 1800’s, being a variation of rugby and soccer, and one could envision that some classically-trained smarties came up with these dimensions.

Or, this is all just coincidence. The football itself measures about 11 inches at its long axis, but I will spare you the cheap jokes about Tom Brady’s balls.

-Ed