Terminology... Goal Line Stand
This is article #10 in a series covering the origins of football’s terminology. All are available under the Terminology tab above. My book, Hut! Hut! Hike! describes the emergence of more than 400 football terms.
Football has borrowed or adapted many terms from the military, including teams making a “stand,” borrowed from the military’s last stand. From the military’s perspective, a last stand refers to a military unit defending a position against overwhelming odds. Often, the unit making a last stand potentially sacrifices itself for the greater good. The last stand known to most Americans was George Custer’s, which became known as Custer’s Last Stand within days of the event being reported.
The implications of football games are far less severe than those faced by the military, but writers began describing teams successfully defending their goal lines against opposing forces as making a goal line stand. Most early examples of defensive efforts described as goal line stands came in Boston Globe reports of Harvard games, so the term may have been used by one reporter.
Its first use described Harvard’s defensive effort late in the second half of its 1905 game with Dartmouth. After advancing to Harvard’s 16-yard line, Dartmouth ran two plays that netted only one yard, so they attempted and missed a field goal. Few today would consider a defense holding the offense at the 16-yard line as making a goal line stand, but I guess if you invent a new term you get to define its meaning.
The term appears next five years later in successive Harvard game reports in the Boston Globe. Unlike its 1905 use which came in the detailed game report, the 1910 versions appeared in brief “Football Notes” sections the Monday after the game. Following Harvard’s win over Williams, a writer noted that:
Harvard showed its metal (sic) when it made that goal line stand against Amherst. Every game shows more reasons why there should be a really great team in the stadium a little later.
‘Football Notes,’ Boston Globe, October 17, 1910.
This time Harvard’s goal line stand came at the 3-yard line with one of the plays captured in the image below.
The next week Harvard played Williams and the Football Notes section of the Monday paper following the game included the identical blurb as above except the writer substituted Williams in place of Amherst.
Goal line stand appeared less than thirty times before 1920, appeared several hundred times in the 1920s, and exploded in use in the 1930s with nearly six thousand appearances. So, either teams made many more goal line stands in the 1930s or the term simply caught on. I’m guessing it was the latter.
Subscribe for free and never miss a story. You can also support this site with a paid subscription to receive additional content or check out my books here.