The 2008 NFL season kicks off tomorrow night with a game between the New York Giants and Washington Redskins – and haven’t you always wanted to know the science behind the pigskin? In honor of America's favorite (fall) pastime, the SciAm team has a new package of football-related stories, including, among other things, an explanation of that mysterious injury, turf toe.

While it may sound disgusting, turf toe actually isn’t nearly as stomach-turning as those animated commercials for athlete’s foot remedies. Giants’ team doc Russell Warren tells SciAm that the injury is due to the stretching of tissues inside the big toe. “You can get it by stubbing the toe against a surface, hyperflexing it (over-curling it toward the sole of your foot), or hyper-extending it (jamming it back towards your body),” Warren says.

OK, that’s a teeny bit gross. Some statistics might sober you up. JR Minkel explains why the numbers say the Baltimore Ravens should’ve gone for the fourth down last year in a game against the Miami Dolphins – and why coaches go for field goals instead. As improbable as the fourth-down TD may be, former Detroit Lions draft pick Leland Melvin’s journey to the International Space Station – the subject of another article in the series -- may be even more so.

Adam Hadhazy, who penned the Melvin piece, also takes a look at why footballers get depressed. Believe it or not, it’s not because they missed that field goal. But concussions may be responsible.

(Image courtesy of iStockphoto; Copyright: Daniel Padavona)