How to Play Paper Football

by Brett & Kate McKay on December 31, 2009 · 22 comments

in Fatherhood, Relationships & Family

paper-footballComic from Married to the Sea.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Jason Mills. If your boys are already bored with their Christmas toys and are getting restless on their holiday break, take some time to play a game of paper football with them. They’ll have so much fun you’ll wonder why you spent so much dough getting them an ipod last week.

So, you’d planned a great father/son day of doing manly things in the great outdoors. You’ve been talking about it for weeks, but the day dawns and Mother Nature’s had a mood swing. Yup, it’s raining, and your plans are ruined. While there are many things that you can do on your own at the house, don’t blow that chance to connect with your son even if you don’t have a back-up plan.

Here’s my suggestion: play some good old fashioned paper football. I can hear you now. Paper football, are you nuts? That’s not the point, but yes, I’m serious. Its easy to play whether you’re a first-timer or an old veteran who whiled away many a high school study hall (not that I’d know what that’s like). It’s simple, it’s fun, and it’s a great time of innocent competition (and it’s not a video game!). All you need is a flat surface like a tabletop and a piece of paper. Ready? Let’s play.

Make Your Football

First you need to fold a standard 8.5 X 11 inch sheet of paper like you’re folding Old Glory:

1. Fold it in half lengthwise.
2. Fold it in half lengthwise again.
3. With the closed side of the paper facing you, fold the closed corner to the upper edge of the open edge.
4. Repeat step 3 in alternating triangles.
5. Tuck the last bit of paper into the triangle.

Your football is now ready.

Object and Gameplay

The object of the game is to get more points than your opponent. Play is simple; you push the football (however you want) from your side of the table to your opponent’s side. If the football hangs over the edge of the table without falling off, you score a touchdown (1 point). If it doesn’t hang off, it’s your opponent’s turn to try.

If you get a touchdown, you get to “kick” a field goal. Your opponent points his index fingers together with his thumbs up to make the goal posts, and then you kick it through the posts. To attempt your field goal, stand the football on the table and hold it with one index finger. Then, flick it with the other hand. If you’re successful, you get another point.

Rules and Suggestions

There really are very few rules in most paper football games. Touchdowns are determined by the ball hanging off the edge of the table. Field goals are kicked after a successful touchdown. Both are worth a point each.

The really cool thing about this game is that there are endless variations to the basic format. There was the “first-to-X-points” variety I played in study hall. We usually did 15 points.

You can also develop penalties if you want. For example, it’s bad form to stop a football before it stops on its own. If you’re playing an opponent who continually does this, institute a penalty kick to get him to follow the rules. Every time he touches the football before it stops, you get a penalty field goal.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jamie Fellrath December 31, 2009 at 12:17 pm

We always played to 50, but with real football scoring (6 points per TD, 1 point per PAT). Field Goals weren’t allowed – you couldn’t just pick up the football and kick one. Good fun and a key game to learn for study hall. :)

2 Julian December 31, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Very good post. I work in the obscure sports industry since I’m the President of the World Finger Jousting Federation. There was a growing paper football organization that I helped the founder with for a while, but he was unable to keep it running. Paper football is a lot of fun. I used to play it a lot in grade school when I was younger. We played to usually around 50 with standard football rules but also two point conversions starting at your endzone and in one push to the other. No field goals. Good times back then.

3 Sal Curiel December 31, 2009 at 1:14 pm

I got in trouble playing paper football during a sexual education class in Jr. High.

4 Trevor December 31, 2009 at 1:30 pm

We had a rule that if you flicked the paper too hard and it fell of the edge of the opposite side of the table, you earned a strike. After three strikes, your opponent had the opportunity to kick a field goal for three points. We also played standard scoring (6 pts for touchdown, 1 pt for extra point).

5 Mike B December 31, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Our study hall must have been too long, because we added in a few more options. To start the game or after every score we had a kick off. To do a kick off you place the football over the side of the table (like a touchdown) and then flick it upwards. The goal is to keep it on the field of play. If it goes off the table, or misses entirely, that is a touchback and your opponent gets to start at the middle of the table (or the 20 yard line if you really want to get into it). If the kick off lands comes to rest on the edge of the table like a touchdown, it’s a safety. You get two points and your oppenent has to kick the ball back to you. When you have the ball you try to get a touchdown like above, but if the ball goes off the table you get penalized. For every three times you slide the ball off the table, your opponent gets to kick a field goal worth 3 points. Touchdowns and PAT’s were worth 6 and 1 points respectively. We would usually play to 50, but that was never set in stone. One thing you forgot to mention was the official. If a touchdown is ever in question, run a pencil (or finger) perpendicular to the field of play along edge of the table. If it hits the football causing it to move (or spin) it is a touchdown. Also, we would always go index fingers up, thumbs together for our goal posts. These were our official PFL rules and they got us through the bulk of our tenure at high school. If we got bored of the standard games we would have field goal kicking competitions for distance and this is where football construction really came into play as much as flicking skill. A lot of people kick with the football standing up, but I had the most luck with one of the short sides down (not the hypotenuse) against the table and I always flick with my middle finger to get that extra bit of force. If you don’t have a sheet of paper a dollar bill can make a pretty good football.


6 Anthony December 31, 2009 at 2:03 pm

I used to use paper footballs to show boy scouts how to fold the american flag. After we praticed making the “flags,” we would have paper football games and everyone was happy. This always proved to be a good meeting.

7 bryan December 31, 2009 at 5:04 pm

The game that got me all those hours of detention. Time to pass it on.

8 Mark December 31, 2009 at 11:37 pm

This sounds like fun. I’m definitely going to give it a go.

We played a similar game a lot during high school here in Australia using a 20c coin (a little bigger and heavier than an American quarter). You have three pushes to get your coin to overhang the far edge of the table. You opponent makes a soccer goal by pointing their thumbs down, intertwining their other fingers, but leaving one middle finger pointing down which is a goalie that they can move to block you scoring a goal with the coin. To score you must first flick the coin up from where it overhangs the table and catch it. Next you have to spin the coin on its edge and with your hands face down you bring your thumbs together quickly to trap the coin between them. If you catch the coin successfully you then have flick it through the goal formed by your opponent without them blocking it to score a goal.

9 Brohammas January 1, 2010 at 10:11 am

One of the early lessons of life is not to make the goal posts right in front of your face.
We brought this great sport back with a group of adults and had a Saturday tournament. Great get to know you, lighten people up, activity.

10 Richard | January 1, 2010 at 10:27 am

Ahh man the old school memories are flooding back. Love real life football, table football and ESPECIALLY paper football. Great and random article :)

11 Dan January 1, 2010 at 10:54 am

I got into paper football so much that when I was a kid I got a whole book on it. It came with a stitched leather “paper” football! I’m pretty sure it was a Klutz Co. product, makers of the also-amazing foxtail.

12 Bruce January 1, 2010 at 11:35 am

This is a great game to play at a restaurant. Just don’t kick the field goal too hard or you’ll hit some innocent little kid.

13 mike d January 1, 2010 at 8:13 pm

The rule we used was there was no kickoffs. You just start off at the 0, and have 4 downs to score. A touchdown was 7, no extra points, though you could kick a field goal on 4th. Going over the edge meant either start in the same spot and lose a down or an automatic turn over.

14 Jason January 4, 2010 at 1:22 pm


Glad you enjoyed the post and the memories came flooding back for some of you.

My study hall was 50 minutes, but we only played to 15 points to get in more games that way. We had anywhere from 5-10 guys all playing. We did have some guys who liked the more complicated rules, but I’m a K.I.S.S kinda guy. It was fun with or without the more complex rules (and it beat doing my math homework).


15 Henry A March 29, 2010 at 7:26 am

We never played up to any point total. We preferred using the clock instead, playing anywhere from 5-10 minute games. Our rules were basically the same as everyone else’s with a few exceptions. Touchdowns were 6 pts. and afterwards you were given an opportunity to kick an extra point. However, when in school, be it in class or during lunch, we had an alternative way of kicking extra points. We would hold our hands flat on the table at the edge, palms down, and thumbs facing each other. The person who scored would merely hit the ball down the table into the goal. This was to avoid disrupting other people nearby. You were also given an opportunity to go for 2 pts. after a touchdown as well. We would lay the footdown down flat at the end of the opponent’s table edge and fold it over 3 times (or however many both players agreed on), and then attempted to make a score from there. We also had the opportunity to score a safety when kicking off, if it landed as a touchdown. The only difference was that instead of the ball going over to your opponent, you were given the opportunity to kick off again and possibly score another safety. We would oftentimes score up to 2 or 3 safeties consecutively. Everything else (the 3 offs giving the fieldgoal opportunity), and the rulers for determining a score were also used. Paper football is a great way to pass the time away.

16 St John May 2, 2010 at 12:38 am

In primary school, I played the same game as Mark described. The only exception is we play rugby in South Africa, not football. So we had tries (5 pnts) and conversion (2 pnts). Good times. Since I am in college, I think I am going to revive this past time.

17 Mark May 9, 2010 at 8:12 am

I teach students who are at risk of being expelled from school due to consistent inappropriate behavior. On Friday afternoons, in order to reward those who had good behavior for the week, I have an activity period with a movie and other things as a reward. On one of these Friday afternoons, two of the boys in my class were bored with the movie and I suggested playing paper football. After a game or two it caught on like wild fire and the boys were drawing up tournament brackets and perfecting their football making skills. It continues to be a favorite. It is great because it requires the students to use appropriate social skills and at times they have to resolve differences in an acceptable manner without resorting to violence and inappropriate language.

18 JDL July 30, 2010 at 10:39 am

Played this all the time in study hall, along with penny soccer.
The trick was getting the football a little dirty to make it slide right.
We also played 6 pt. TD’s, 1 pt FG’s, the 3 strike rule, and kick-offs from the edge. I thought those were universal, but clearly they aren’t.

Good memories!

19 Paul October 23, 2012 at 10:20 am

We used a pair of dice when we played. One white, one red.
Roll a 6 on red, fumble, opponent got the ball at that spot, roll a 1 on red, interception, opponent got the ball, 2 ball widths towards his goal. Roll 2 -5 not a turnover.
White die – roll a 1 or 4 had to flick towards left side of field, 2 or 5 center of field, 3 or 6 right side of field. Played 4 downs, started at edge of table. on 4th you could go for touchdown or field goal.

yeah we made the rules a little more interesting, but we got bored easily…

20 JPritch March 27, 2013 at 11:17 am

So our company is in this penpal partnership program with a local elementary school. We meet with our penpal monthly and eat lunch with them. Supposed to talk about books and stuff, but for our next meetup I’m gonna introduce the kid to paper football! Hey, there is an element of math to the game! The teachers and lunch room ladies are going to hate me.

21 Gareth May 18, 2013 at 8:23 am

Extremely late but thought I’d throw my hat into the ring with a relative of this game.

Paper Rugby is played with three of the same coin – we used 1p coins, but I would assume that the American penny or anything similar would work too.
Alternating possession, you arrange the three coins into a triangle with all touching one another at your end of a table – like in “Paper Football” – with the point of the triangle (so one coin rather than two) facing you.

You then flick the coin nearest to you to separate the three out. The aim from there is to flick the furthest coin back between the other two as if like a slalom course. If you missed, wherever the coins fell would be where your opponent would start from in the “triangle” formation. If you made it, you kept going until you could get one into the last inch of the table – which formed the conversion zone.

Knocking a coin off the table turned over possession from wherever it fell in the middle of the table’s width, or if off the opponent’s end from a similar starting position to the kickoff.

If you managed to score, you could attempt a conversion as in the rules of rugby. Not too dissimilar from the rules above – “thumbs together, pointers up” for the posts, wherever you scored plus a few inches back for where you took it from. However it was flicked off the thumb so that when you’d finished the “kick” it was as if you were giving a thumbs up. 5 points for a “try” – getting it into the “end zone”, 2 points for a successful follow-up conversion kick. Play until bored or caught by teach’.

There was some alternative rules I picked up from others: some played trys that were on the edge of the table only like in Paper Football, some added in penalties for various offences – touching the wrong coins, blocking a shot, because you could, etc. – that was just like taking a conversion kick, except you got 3 points for getting it in.

22 matt October 18, 2013 at 4:28 pm

I love this game and play it in the plf league today and won last year

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