Football Terminology - What Does it Mean When a Team has Possession?

What Does it Mean When a Team Has Possession?

Sidney Rice
Receiver Sidney Rice #18 of the Minnesota Vikings fields an on-side kick during the Monday Night Football game against the Green Bay Packers on October 5, 2009 at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

So, you've just taken a seat on your couch, you're surrounded by snacks and drinks, you've got your favorite team's jersey on and have just made the switch to the channel where the big football game is about to kickoff. 

For all intents and purposes, you look the part of an NFL or college football fan. Both teams' captains run out to midfield for the coin toss. One team wins and the announcer bellows that that team will start with "possession." 

And just like that, you're stumped. What does it mean when a team has possession? Here's the answer!

What Does Possession Mean?

Possession in football means just about the same as anything else in life. If you have possession of a plate, that plate is yours. If you have possession of a shirt, that shirt is yours. If you have possession in football, it means that you have control of the football. 

In football, each team goes back and forth with 'possessions.' All that means is that each team's offense gets a chance to control the football. When a team's offense has the ball, they are considered to have 'possession' because they are dictating the scoring. Now, if that team turns the ball over, scores, or punts it away and suddenly the other team's offense comes on the field, that team now has the 'possession.' 

There is also individual possession in football, which can be used to describe if an offensive or defensive player had control of the ball. In professional football, a player must  maintain control of the ball while touching both feet, or any other part of his body other than his hands, to the ground. For example, if a pass is thrown and a receiver jumps in the air, grabs the ball and touches both feet, an elbow or knee in the field of play before coming down out of bounds, he is considered to have 'possession' of the ball. 

Likewise, if he does not get one of the above in the field of play before coming down out of bounds, then he is considered to not have possession of the ball.