Hut! Hut! Hike!: Goal Line Stand
— The Hut! Hut! Hike! series examines the origins of football terminology and how the game's evolution drove changes in its vocabulary. The full article (#10 in the series) is available to paid subscribers only. —
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.
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