Week 17

One play can cause a rule change

Jan. 1, 2012

Few moments in National Football League history are so significant that they earn a specific nickname. One such bizarre incident occurred in a 1978 game between the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders. Today it is simply referred to as the “Holy Roller.”

With ten seconds left in the September 10 matchup and trailing 20-14, Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler dropped back to pass from the 14-yard-line. Chargers defensive end Fred Dean broke through the line and hit Stabler. Realizing there was nothing else he could do, “The Snake” desperately hurled the ball forward. As the ball rolled loose on the ground, Raiders running back Pete Banaszak swatted it toward the end zone. Tight end Dave Casper continued the ball’s forward motion with a kick at the 5-yard line and then fell on in it in the end zone for a touchdown as the clock ran out.

Despite a protest from the Chargers sideline, referee Jerry Markbreit ruled it a legal play. Kicker Errol Mann added the extra point and the Raiders won the game, 21-20.

Markbreit’s decision was correct by the rules in place at the time. However, that would soon change. During the offseason, the league added a provision to the rule book about fumbles after the two-minute warning that allows only the player who fumbled the ball to advance it. As such, the rule change implemented will forever prevent the “Holy Roller” from happening again.

2011 NFL Rule Book Excerpt:

Article 5 Fourth Down Fumble. If a fourth-down fumble occurs during a play from scrimmage:

   (a) The ball may be advanced by any member of the defensive team.
   (b) The player who fumbled is the only Team A player permitted to recover and advance the ball.
   (c) If the recovery or catch is by a teammate of the player who fumbled, the ball is dead, and the spot of the next snap is the spot of the fumble, or the spot of the recovery if the spot of the recovery is behind the spot of the fumble.

Note 1: After a change of possession has occurred, the restrictions in (b) and (c) are no longer in effect for the remainder of the down.
Note 2: The restrictions in (b) and (c) are applicable during the Try throughout the game.


Week 16

Heads or Tails

Dec. 25, 2011

The pregame coin toss is a routine ritual that takes place minutes before the start of an NFL game. In recent years it has grown into a weekly opportunity for teams to honor their alumni or VIP guests. The timing of this important pregame procedure, however, has not always been the same.

Today the pregame coin toss occurs three minutes before the kickoff. When the NFL was founded in 1920, there was no assigned time for the coin toss. Up until 1946, the NFL's rule book stated that the pregame toss should occur sometime before the teams left the field following the pregame warm-ups. In 1947 the rules were altered to mandate the pregame toss to occur 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. Eventually the NFL owners began to feel that the toss lacked drama and should be a more exciting element for the fans. As such the league voted in 1976 to move the coin toss to three minutes before the kickoff.

        TOSS OF COIN
        Article 2 Not more than three minutes before the kickoff of the first half, the Referee, in the presence 
        of both team's captains (limit of six per team, all of whom must be uniformed members of the Active List)
        shall toss a coin at the center of the field. Prior to the Referee's toss, the call of "heads" or "tails" must be made by the captain of the visiting team, or by
        the captain designated by the Referee if there is no home team. Unless the winner of the toss defers his choice to the second half, he must choose one of
        two privileges, and the loser is given the other. The two privileges are:

           (a) The opportunity to receive the kickoff, or to kick off; or
           (b) The choice of goal his team will defend.

        Penalty: For failure to comply: Loss of coin-toss option for both halves and overtime, and loss of 15 yards from the spot of the kickoff for
        the first half only.

Week 15

Hashing out a new idea

Dec. 18, 2011

The hashmark is one of the most important lines on a National Football League field. The vital marking determines ball placement throughout an NFL game. Simply put, there are two sets of hashmarks (two feet long and four inches wide) placed at five-yard intervals exactly 70 feet and nine inches at a parallel position from each sideline. If a ball-carrier is downed anywhere between the hashmark and its corresponding sideline, the ball is placed at that respective hash distance. If a ball-carrier is downed in between the two hash marks, the ball is spotted exactly where the player was downed.

2011 NFL Rule Book Excerpt

        Section 2 - Markings

        At intervals of 5 yards, yard lines (3-41-2) parallel to the goal lines shall be marked in the field of play. These lines are to stop 8 inches short of the 6-foot
        solid border. The 4-inch wide yard lines are to be extended 4 inches beyond the white 6-foot border along the sidelines. Each of these lines shall be
        intersected at right angles by short lines 70 feet, 9 inches long (23 yards, 1 foot, 9 inches) in from each side to indicate inbound lines.

The birth of the hashmark goes all the way back to the 1932 playoff game between the Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans (today the Detroit Lions). Due to extremely frigid weather conditions the game was moved indoors to Chicago Stadium. The rules at the time called for the ball to be spotted 15 yards from the sideline on plays that went out of bounds. All other plays were put in placed at the dead ball spot.

Because a wooden wall that separated the field from the spectators was practically on the sideline, a special rule was created to bring the ball back in 15 yards if the offensive team desired. A quirk to this allowance was that the offensive team lost a down if the spot was moved. The concept of placing the ball on a hashmark, however, grew quick favor and it was written into the NFL's first rule book in 1933 at a distance of 10 yard from each sideline.

Over the years the distance of the hashmarks has increased. In 1935 the distance grew to 15 yards. Ten years later the hashes were moved again to 20 yards from the sideline. Finally in 1972 the hashmarks were moved to where they remain today at 70 feet, nine inches.

Week 14

Check the roster

Dec. 11, 2011

Professional football is a sport that has constantly changed and improved over the years. One of the rare constants in the game however has been the number of players (11) allowed on the field at one time for each team. That figure has been the same since the birth of professional football in 1892.

2011 NFL Rule Book Excerpt

        Section 1- Players

        Article 1 The game is played by two teams of 11 players each. If a snap, free kick, or fair-catch kick is
        made while a team has fewer than 11 players on the field of play or the end zone, the ball is in play,
        and there is no penalty. If a team has more than 11 players on the field of play or the end zone when a
        snap, free kick, or fair-catch kick is made, the ball is in play, and it is a foul.

        Penalty: For more than 11 players on the field of play or the end zone while the ball is in play: Loss of five yards from the previous spot.

One of the most important aspects of professional football however is something that is not detailed in the NFL's rule book, the roster size. Noted only in the league's bylaws the roster limits have changed drastically since the first player allowance was set in 1925.

NFL Year(s) Roster Limit
2011 46
1991-2010 45**
1985-90 45
1983-84 49
1982 45†-49
1978-81 45
1975-77 43
1974 47
1964-73 40
1963 37
1961-62 36
1960 38
1959 36
1957-58 35
1951-56 33
1949-50 32
1948 35
1947 35*-34
1945-46 33
1943-44 28
1940-42 33
1938-39 30
1936-37 25
1935 24
1930-34 20
1926-29 18
1925 16
** 45 plus a third QB
† 45 for first two games
* 35 for first three games

Week 13

Clock is running

December 4, 2011

It may seem like a simple process but the administration of game timing in a National Football League contest is not only one of the most important aspects of the game but one of the most complex. In fact, eight pages of the NFL's rule book are devoted to "Game Timing" in effort to lay out the multifaceted nature of the task. In the rule book a variety of issues as to when the game clock should or should not be stopped are explained in a thorough and detailed fashion. Here's a portion of the description.

2011 NFL Rule Book Excerpt

           Rule 4 - Game Timing

           LENGTH OF GAME - Article 1
           The length of the game is 60 minutes, divided into four periods of 15 minutes each. In the event the
           score is tied at the end of four periods, the game is extended by an overtime period(s) as prescribed
           in Rule 16.

           INTERMISSIONS - Article 2
           There will be intervals of at least two minutes between the first and second periods (first half) and  
           between the third and fourth periods (second half). During these intermissions all playing rules
           continue in force, and no representative of either team shall enter the field unless he is an incoming
           substitute, or a team attendant or trainer, entering to see to the welfare of a player.

           Penalty: For illegally entering the field: Loss of 15 yards from the succeeding spot (13-1-6-Pen.).

           The Back Judge times the two-minute intermissions and shall sound his whistle (and signal visibly) after one minute and 50 seconds. The Referee shall
           sound his whistle immediately thereafter for play to start and for the play clock operator to start the 25-second clock. See 4-6-2.

           HALFTIME - Article 3
           Between the second and third periods, there shall be an intermission of 12 minutes, plus any prescribed delay times established by the League office  
           for teams to return to their locker rooms. During this intermission, play is suspended, and teams may leave the field. The Back Judge will time halftime.
           See 13-1-1 for fouls by non-players between halves.

When pro football started in 1892 the length of a game was actually 90 minutes – two 45-minute halves with a 15-minute halftime. In 1894 the length was reduced to 70 minutes with two 35-minute halves. Finally, in 1906, it was reduced again to the now standard 60 minutes but still with only two 30-minute halves. It was not until 1910 that quarters were introduced into the game. The last major change to the timing of the game occurred in 1990 when the length of a halftime was reduced from 15 minutes to the current 12-minute stretch.


Archived "Changing the Rules"

Weeks 1-4

Weeks 5-8