Get Ready For Paper Football Season With Lessons From HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks’


People have been playing paper football ever since there has been paper, football, and work that could be avoided by playing paper football. My dad played it at school the 1950s with a matchbook (which is something kids brought to school in those days, apparently), I played it in the 1990s with paper ripped from my Garfield binder, and somewhere some kid is folding up a piece of paper to make her own football right now.

We have near constant access to the internet with a the time-sinkholes contained therein, but people still willingly choose to flick paper triangles for entertainment. That’s the magic of this incredible sport.

Avoiding work is a year-round pastime, but the peak time for paper football begins now — with school starting up and the NFL on TV. If you’re serious about the game, this guide will get you ready for the upcoming paper football season with lessons from season 10 of HBO’s training camp documentary series, Hard Knocks.

Prepare the Equipment

“I think the guy was hammered when he painted this line… this line isn’t even remotely close to straight.”

-Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt speaking about the conditions of the practice field

Dedicated crews of groundskeepers and equipment managers work long hours to prepare the fields for NFL games and practices. Preparing a paper football game field (table, desk, agreeable friend willing to pose as a human table, etc.) requires one person and however long it takes them to knock everything off the agreed-upon surface.

By comparison, folding a sheet of paper into the football will take much longer. But, if you want an impeccable paper football, this instructional video will explain the process in painful detail (trust me, nine minutes have never felt longer). Or, you can throw money at the problem by buying a complete starter kit for paper football (field, balls, and goalposts included) from Good Sport for only $19.95.

Study the Playbook

“Let ‘em play, and let’s see what the f*ck they know!”

– Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien speaking to his assistant coaches before a practice

An NFL playbook can balloon to more than 800 pages. To save on printing costs and lumbar pain, many teams are giving their players pre-loaded iPads instead.

Paper football has a much simpler playbook:

  • Push the folded up piece of binder paper across the table until it hangs off the edge of your opponent’s end zone for a touchdown.
  • “Kick” an extra point or field goal by flicking the paper through your opponent’s finger goal posts (forming the goal posts with the thumbs or pointer fingers touching remains a highly controversial subject).

Those are the only “plays” — but the rules of paper football are far less simple. There are many opinions on how to play the game, and the rules can vary from state to state, and even classroom to classroom. In an effort to clear up the confusion, the World Paper Football League released an official set of rules in 2012, but considering that the WPFL’s only other published video is 30 seconds of bootleg footage from a Jay Z concert, you might be better off following the game rules established by the Paper Football League.

Hit the Weights

“He actually trains harder than anyone I know.”

– Personal trainer Abdul Foster speaking about his brother and client, Houston Texans running back Arian Foster

NFL athletes are some of the most highly-conditioned athletes in the world. Every NFL player lift weights and legends like J.J. Watt lift all the weight. This summer, he flipped a thousand pound tire an insane 65 times in one workout.

If you want to be a paper football luminary, you’ll need to hit the weights, as well. There are many different options to strengthen your fingers — from squeezing a bucket of sand, tweaking this weird Frisbee made out of cargo netting, or my personal favorite, jabbing your fingers at a watermelon.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Houston Texans
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Practice your Skills

“The way that we practice is our edge.”

– Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien motivating his team before practice in episode three

NFL players are put through hours of grueling, hellish toil during training camp, but not all that time is spent on the field. Players also prepare themselves for the season with film sessions, meetings, and some teams even utilize futuristic technology.

So, for those few hours when you aren’t at work, school, or somehow find yourself without foldable paper or a flat surface, you can still practice your paper football skills with Paper Football for your iPhone or Android. The game may have the same graphics as The Lawnmower Man, but the app is still a great way to keep your mind and fingers sharp for the big game.

Join the Big Leagues

“Fact is, you don’t do your job, you out.”

– Houston Texans cornerback Charles James speaking about NFL job security

Of the 90 players invited to an NFL training camp, only 53 make the final roster. So, each team has to crush the dreams of 37 unlucky souls.

Luckily for you, there are no cuts in the paper football leagues [something, something PAPER cuts! -ed]. Yes, paper football leagues are real and, unlike the NFL, with their pesky lawyers and annoying obsession with intellectual property, nobody can stop you from creating your own paper football league. If you want any ideas on how to structure your league, jump in the Way-Back-Machine and check out The Paper Football League, a website created by high school kids in 1999 that is still somehow on the internet.

Your paper football league might not have the prestige of the NFL, and, in all likelihood, you won’t win any fame, money, or prestige, but at least you won’t get your dreams crushed on premium cable.

Become Legendary


Pictured: Not J.J. Watt or Arian Foster

“You’re a f*cking legend, man. Hey, I love you, man. Hey, you’re a great quarterback. Hall of Famer, man. I just wanted to say hello.”

– Houston Texans cornerback Charles James introducing himself to Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning before a preseason game in episode three.

It’s one thing to make it in “the league” — it’s another to become a legend. Football players like J.J. Watt and Arian Foster dedicate their entire lives to becoming masters of their sport, so that they might be eternally remembered for their past glories.

There are also paper football players who dedicate their entire lives to becoming masters of their sport, so they can be eternally remembered for their past glories. And while many people might think this is sad (many, many, very reasonable people might think this is sad), there is no arguing with the sheer majesty of an athletic achievement like this one:

Have a good season, friends.