Actual Play Time of Super Bowl XLIV

Monday, February 8, 2010 at 12:00pm By

In mid-January, the Wall Street Journal analyzed the actual amount of play time of the average football game. They added up the amount of time the ball was actually alive and in play in four different games, and it averaged out to about 11 minutes. They concluded that the average game broadcast on TV shows 17 minutes of replays and 67 minutes of players standing around. With the biggest game of the year coming up, I decided to do my own analysis of the actual play time. Here are the results:

ItemTotal TimeAverage TimeTotal Plays
Total time in play12 minutes 38 seconds5 seconds147 plays
During 1st quarter3 minutes 10 seconds5 seconds38 plays
During 2nd quarter3 minutes5 seconds36 plays
During 3rd quarter3 minutes 7 seconds5 seconds33 plays
During 4th quarter3 minutes 22 seconds5 seconds40 plays
Kickoffs1 minute 34 seconds10 seconds10 kickoffs
Punts32 seconds8 seconds4 punts
Run plays2 minutes 40 seconds4 seconds37 plays
Pass plays7 minutes 18 seconds5 seconds85 plays
Colts plays5 minutes 54 seconds5 seconds71 plays
Saints plays5 minutes 9 seconds5 seconds66 plays
Colts pass plays4 minutes 3 seconds5 seconds46 plays
Colts run plays1 minute 22 seconds4 seconds19 plays
Saints pass plays3 minutes 15 seconds5 seconds39 plays
Saints run plays1 minute 18 seconds4 seconds18 plays

The longest play of the game was an 11 second Saints kickoff, and subsequent Colts run back, after the Saints first field goal in the second quarter.

The longest play from scrimmage was a 10+ second Colts pass that was intercepted by the Saints and run back for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

Additionally, the National Anthem took 1 minute 48 seconds.


  1. The time in the picture above does not match the total result time because there were two Colts plays in the fourth quarter where the ball was hiked, but the play was whistled dead before the snap actually took place. The first was a false start by the Colts, and the second was a Saints time-out before the snap. They were removed from the after-game analysis.
  2. This was not scientific, it was simply me hitting the start/stop button on the stopwatch you see above. The most obvious timing issue was my reaction to the snap of the ball, especially on the three or four plays where CBS’s coverage did not show the snap of the ball, but rather was focused on a single player who was not the center or quarterback. Additionally, on some plays, most notably the onside kick, it was impossible for me to tell when the play ended visually, and CBS really didn’t pick up the sound of the whistles well, so I had to rely on the referee waving his arms to indicate the play was over. However, I tend to think that being fractions of a second late to start on some plays, and being a little long on others probably canceled each other out.
  3. I didn’t know exactly when to stop timing field goals and extra points. I went with whichever came first out of the following: 1) the ball hit the netting behind the goal posts; 2) the ball hit the ground; 3) the refs made a call.
  4. All times have been rounded to the nearest second because…well…is sub-second accuracy really necessary here?

14 comments on ‘Actual Play Time of Super Bowl XLIV’

  1. Isaac says:

    I watch a lot of football. But apparently not as much as I thought.  HA!
    I wondered why you tweeted the length of the National anthem.
    Maybe this 12-14 minute play time is what makes the game so popular.  Not only does it pack all the action into 5-8 second segments but it also I leaves oodles of time for diagnosis and opinion making… and everyone likes to give their opinion.
    Basketball and Ice Hockey (in particular) are such fast games it they leave less time for diagnosis.
    Thanks for the break down!

  2. Josh says:

    I think football is the perfect “American” sport for precisely those reasons.  You get 5 seconds of excitement followed by a breather period which is about four to five times longer.
    Basketball has a slow period as the offense brings the ball up the court since most teams play a half-court defense for most of the game.
    One reason I believe that soccer is not bigger in America is because there are no pauses in the game—no time for people to go to the bathroom, go get food/drink from the kitchen, and when watching in a bar, no time to converse with friends.  It takes entirely too much concentration, for too long, for most Americans to enjoy it.

    • Matt Olsen says:

      I can't speak for all Americans, but a lack of attention is not why I don't watch soccer. I watch hockey, and the game rhythm is very similar (continuous play, few breaks, VERY low scoring). The reason I cant watch soccer is because nothing seems to be accomplished. In the end, the players have run a collective 2000 miles, there's been 4 yellow cards (3 for bad acting), the game might be 0-0 or 1-0, and the game highlight is the violent riot in the stands.

      If you want me to watch soccer, cut the field size by 3/4, and make it full contact. At least then, the fans wont have to take out all that pent-up rage on each other.

      • Alex says:

        Well other than the reduced field size, you kinda described rugby there… It's a great game, like football but without all the breaks. You should watch a game or two and see if you like it!

    • The reason that no one watches soccer(football) in the US is the fact that it is NOT a cinematic sport.

      There all long periods of the players merely walking from one side of the field the other, only to have their goal blocked and for the OTHER team to start hiking back.

      Compared to Baseball, Football, Basketball, and even Hockey, the camera is extremely static. This makes it a extremely "wooden" thing to watch. You can't get better angle on the players for replays, and the angle that they use is extremely utilitarian and separates you from the action.

      Soccer is fun to actually play, but it's boring as watching paint dry to watch.

    • Yorropean says:

      I conclude that americans are slow thinkers. Too slow to be able to follow soccer.

  3. gar says:

    i too have commented on the simmilar circumstances in the cfl some years ago when discussing the merits/demerits of soccer vs football with several collegues;since i was mainly a fan of the round ballsport. it appears that north americans have engendered in their psyche an all encompassing attention span as dictated by the various commercial media over the past half century; which appears to me to becomming proportionally ever shorter and more verbose per second as time goes on.
    the other observation i would like to make is the need for radio announcer descriptions of the play by play speakers which seem to drivel on without end despite being displayed on a visual medium ie. tv. a good look at the english broadcasters of the eighties (i stress this time frame because even their more recent efforts boggle the mind with more and more obvious verbose descriptions of the goings on that none but a blind person could miss if watching the game)
    i have on occasion contemplated wheather the network announcers do this in order to help the martha stewarts of the world to continue in the kitchen or the craftsroom not miss any of the occasional sporatic disjointed action occurring on the screen; but have come to the conclusion that the networks figue they have dumbed us down so far that we no longer recognise whats on the screen so we need the aural aid so profusely provided.
    i hope i’m not too cynical in my old age but is there any hope of stopping this dumbing down? are newspapers doomed as well?
    thank-you for your excellent arbitrage of the facts on ball-in-motion statisics. they
    tend to make you wonder why its not called a broadcast of commercials interspersed with football.
    kind regards
    i remain
    gert rutters

  4. Joe says:

    Can you imagine if a farm worker only worked 11 minutes in 3 hours for $5.00 an hour! They would be canned in the first hour. These football players are making 6-figure moey per hour, because the average American has a 5 second attention span, will pay $3.00 for 20 cents of beer, and lives vicariously through watching steroid-infused behemoths playing a kids game they were no good at. Our values in this country are totally out of whack. Football players should make no more than the rest of us. I personally boycott all professional sports because I am not willing to support this ridiculousness. I wondered why I found football so boring, now I know. My mind needs more than 4 seconds of stimulation per minute, unlike most Americans. Turn off the boob tube and go participate in your own sports or recreation, and you will feel much better and live longer, and stop supporting prima donna athletes and their astronomical salaries!

  5. coemgen says:

    Think about the professional boxer. There are as many as 15 three minute rounds or 45 minutes of "play' in 58 minutes. Even if you don't get hit, it takes tremendous endurance just to keep your arms moving for that length of time. Also, unlike football, there is no chance to "sub" out for a couple of plays to catch your breath. Boxers tend to be in the best shape for taking a hit and lasting the distance. Even marathoners don't take 20 or 30 blows to the stomach during the race. I don't box, but I've sparred a little with some amatures years ago. Even if you somehow avoid gettng hit. swinging away for just 3 minutes is enough to make you want to take the rest of the day off.

  6. Guest says:

    A server is only at tables "performing" for about 5% of their shift, tops. Yet you pay them 15% of the bill! 20% if they were really good! This is insanity!

    • john says:

      idk about you but i sure as hell dont want a server sitting at the table with me for no reason…a server stays at a table as long as they are needed, not for your entertainment.

  7. Hawk says:

    Counting only snap to whistle is just silly. There is certainly football going on after the officials place the ball, but before it is snapped.

If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to send them to me directly.