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Today's Tidbit… 1876 IFA Rule #1: Drop Kick
This is #1 in a series covering football’s original 61 rules adopted by the Intercollegiate Football Association in 1876. One rule is reviewed each Friday.
The first several rules of 1876 defined basic football terms. We use a similar format today, and that is not by accident. The format is logical but also matches what Walter Camp liked. He was a stubborn old coot who edited the annual football guide and rule book until he died in 1925. He influenced the publication's format, language, and illustrations. The result was that dated terms like snapper-back remained in the text, and images such as the following remained in the publication long after the uniform style had gone away.
Why mention Walter Camp hanging onto old language and images like they were 8-track tapes? Because Camp was there at American football's beginning and was a vital force in its transformation from rugby. Yet, he was a revolutionary who sometimes longed for the old days he helped create. He moved forward in some aspects of the game while standing still in others, embodying football's tension between the old and new.
Camp represented Yale at the meeting at the Massasoit House in Springfield, Massachusetts, on November 23, 1876, when they formed the Intercollegiate Football Association. Yale did not join Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia as formal members until 1879, but the Elis influenced the game and its initial direction.
Until 1876, American colleges played football under local versions of Association (soccer) or rugby rules, so the rules used for a given game often determined the victor as much as the players. Harvard and Yale convinced the others to play rugby rather than soccer, so they adopted rugby's rules while making a few tweaks. A key point, however, is that the IFA boys did not intend to create a new game that day. Instead, they intended to play rugby with a few modifications that fit their preferences. However, by tweaking those rules year after year, the compounding effect was to create a new game that now has four primary versions: NFL, NCAA, NFHS, and Canadian.
Rule 1: A drop kick, or drop, is made by letting the ball fall from the hands and kicking it the very instant it rises.
Rule #1 is worded identically in the rugby and IFA rules. From 1876 until WWI, drop kicking was the primary means of kicking goals from field (field goals) and goals from touchdown (now, extra points).
Drop kicking became less popular and effective over the years for two reasons. First, players in the 1890s developed techniques to snap the ball to a holder who placed the ball on the ground for a teammate to kick it, and place kicks traveled farther than drop kicks. Second, the football changed in shape in 1912. Before then, football used the fatter rugby ball that was more rounded at the ends than modern footballs. The new ball's pointed ends made it rebound erratically on the uneven playing surfaces of the day, so drop kicking became less accurate.
The IFA adopted rugby's drop kicking rule without change. However, subsequent changes in kicking techniques and the shape of the ball made drop kicking less effective than it alternatives, so it has largely disappeared from the game.
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