For Pete's Sake

By: Pete Fierle

Pete Fierle, Manager - Digital Media/Communications
Pete's familiarity with the game's history is a result of spending two decades surrounded by the world's largest collection of pro football information. His many duties include overseeing the Hall's website as well as the day-to-day operation of the Ralph Wilson, Jr. Pro Football Research and Preservation Center.

The game is doomed


Dec 01, 2011

A new "For Pete's Sake" blog appears each Thursday on Profootballhof.com.

Perhaps you’ve enjoyed your Sunday pre-game cup of coffee by visiting our website and reading our weekly edition of “Changing the Rules.” The series has been running throughout the 2011 NFL Season and examines how some rules of football have changed over the years. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the archived page of the stories.>>>

For the record, pro football followed the college rule book up until 1933 when the NFL devised its own rule book and implemented many variations in an attempt to open up the game. So when we study the rules, we have to reference our collection of Spalding Guides that date back to the late 1800s. Recently, some of us here at the Hall of Fame have been researching the specifics about the restrictions regarding the introduction of the forward pass to football in 1906.

I came across a number of articles that were describing the “radical” rule changes that were introduced in the spring of ‘06. Among them were changes in how lineman could line up as well as changes in blocking techniques. In addition, the allowing of a forward pass was approved. All of the changes received mixed reviews. One particular reaction really caught my attention.

Benjamin Ide Wheeler was the president of the University of California and a big proponent of college athletics. But, he had a scathing prediction about how the new rules for football would damage the game.

“I do not believe the present experiment in American college football can survive. In my opinion, the whole country will within five years be playing the Rugby game.”

The big concern was the forward pass would kill “mass plays” (i.e. – big scrums from running plays) by allowing long, open runs in the game.

Wow! Thank goodness for the evolution of the game. The forward pass was debated for several seasons and almost eliminated in 1910 but fortunately it survived. Considering much of the talk in 2011 is about the incredible seasons being recorded by Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, I’m fairly certain that the NFL would not be enjoying its record television ratings this year without the entertainment of the “long, open” plays that are resulting from the aerial attack in the NFL today.