The stuff of real life science-fiction (at one point), the operational procedure which encompasses the term The ''Nuclear Football'' describes The United States protocols for initiating a Nuclear strike against a foreign opponent. It's origins were once spoken of in myth, with it's realities much more interesting (if not terrifying).
The origins developed as a result of The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when The United States and The Soviet Union were but hours away from World War III. Russia had placed short range Nuclear missile on the island of Cuba (a Communist supporter). The offensive rockets were a scant 90-miles away from America (The State of Florida). With proof provided to The World (The UN in session), US President John Kennedy initiated a naval blockade off Cuba to stop any further re-supply to the island. The tense situation gave Naval Fleet commanders the option of firing upon Soviet ships that tried to ''run'' the blockade. Both sides (although meeting in secret to end the crisis) – declared they would defend their situation with Nuclear weapons if fired upon.
While the crisis was eventually ended (within hours of both sides launching their weapons), the long range question was the need to remove Nuclear launch capabilities from battlefield commanders (lest ''accidents'' occur). Hence the need for Command Authority (The President of The US), to have overall control and final authority to give an order to use nuclear weapons.
During the competition with The soviet Union to amass a stockpile of such weapons, as early as 1952, US President Dwight Eisenhower saw the need for some king of overall command control. It was not until The Missile Crisis of 1962 that a program was created. The US Government denied the existence of such protocols until the 1990s. The term ''Football'' was applied as code. As in the American sport of Football, The Quarterback of a Team is the ultimate play caller on the field. Hence, as with The US President – he too would be The ''Quarterback'' in calling the ''ultimate shot''. The ''Football'' is simply a communication device which allows him to initiate a series of codes to Field Commanders of America's Nuclear Asset Forces.
The ''Football'' also contains highly classified documents as to what assets are available. These must be check and counter-checked prior to deployment between both The Field Commander and The President. The ''Football'' is often portrayed in books and films as a black briefcase, which is chained or similarly attached to the hand of a specially selected Agent. He accompanied The US President ''everywhere'' and is available at anytime (purportedly even remaining in a chair outside The President's private Quarters). Much of The ''Footballs'' true nature an operational procedures are still a matter of great conjecture.
The Soviet Union (now Russia), not to be undone – too, has it's own form of Nuclear Football. It is known as ''Cheget'' and is used in a similar fashion.