Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Football Fields

In a review article written by an affirmed intellectual in a sophisticated source such as The Atlantic dealing with an austere and symbolic piece of European architecture, one does not expect the following parentheses:

Built for Philip II between 1563 and 1582 of blue-gray granite quarried from the surrounding mountains, [the Escorial] measures 675 feet (nearly two football fields) by 530 feet (one and a half football fields), and contains 100 miles of corridors, 4,000 rooms, 16 courtyards.

Reading that, it occurred to me that the English system of measurements were no longer defined by mere inches, feet, yards and miles. One commonly used but not officially acknowledged unit appears to be ‘the football field’.

In the long tradition of creating measures out of visible things (unlike the metric system: “a meter is the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1⁄299,792,458 of a second”) the football field has become a standard for conveying a sense of size that is immediately accessible to most. Just like the cubit or foot, the football field gives us an immediate frame of reference by which to picture a matter of scale.

So far so good. But what is a football field?

Fans of American football know, of course, that the field of play is 100 yards. But does the football field measurement include the end zones? That is, is one football field really equal to 120 yards? Thus, is the Escorial “nearly” 200 yards or 240 yards?

Perhaps the international football field is in view (the ‘soccer’ field to us Americans). Surprising to this soccer non-initiate is the fact that the length of the soccer field is not precisely defined. FIFA rules (pardon me, ‘laws‘) state that the field must be between 90 meters and 120 meters (helpfully adding that this is roughly equivalent to 100-130 yards).

One wonders just what unit of measure the author of the article which started my musings really had in mind. Two football fields, using the wide range of standards available to us, would be anywhere from 600-780 feet. He states that the Escorial measures in one direction 675 feet, nearly two football fields. Given that range, an argument could be made that it measures EXACTLY 2.0 football fields, give or take 75 – 100 feet in either direction.

Certainly we are in need of some standardization for ‘the football field’ to become an adequate unit of measurement. We need to start a movement. Once that is settled, then we can address ‘car length’.

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2 Comments

  1. A similar, unofficial unit of measurement is the story. One often reads such statements as “The monument is 20 stories tall.” But how high is a story? A general rule of thumb is 10 feet, but this is by no means a standard measure. Lots of buildings have stories much higher than that.

    • Great point! I was trying to give my son some perspective last night on how far the 10 meter platform was. A three story building was my unit of choice!

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