Today's Tidbit… 1876 IFA Rule #10: Tackle
This is #10 in a series covering football’s original 61 rules adopted by the Intercollegiate Football Association in 1876. We review one rule each Friday.
Rule 10 of the IFA’s 1876 rules defined a tackle as a process rather than an outcome.
Rule 10: A tackle is made when the holder of the ball is held by one or more players of the opposite side.
Although Rule 10 and other 1876 rules did not go further than to say a tackle occurs when the ball holder is held, the rules of the time, as practiced, allowed the ball carrier to be grabbed only by the torso – below the shoulders and above the waist. Grabbing any other part of the ball carrier was a foul. If that sounds too gentlemanly for you, it was not always so. Yale’s Baker ’82 was known for tackling opponents by jumping feet first into their chests, per Amos Alonzo Stagg.
Over the next sixty years, the parts of the ball carrier’s body subject to the being held during the tackle expanded, though there were several rule reversals along the way. Among the rule changes were:
1887: Tackling allowed only above the waist. Deliberately tackling below the knees is a 25-yard penalty
1888: Tackling above the knee becomes legal
1906: Tackling below the knee remains illegal, except at the line of scrimmage by players other than the outermost defenders. Also, tacklers cannot strike the ball carrier in the face
1910: Flying tackle is made illegal. Tacklers must have one foot on the ground at all times.
1925: The flying tackle is eliminated since it was seldom enforced and considered archaic
1932: Army quarterback John Sheridan dies during a 1931 game after breaking his neck while making a flying tackle. The flying tackle (and block) are made illegal again
1950: Prohibition on flying tackle removed once again since it is seldom enforced
Since 1950, most tackling-related rule changes have prohibited elements of tackling that are particularly dangerous to the runner or tackler. These included prohibitions against:
1957: Face masking
2008: Horse collar tackle
Beyond the specific prohibitions, the broader rule against tackling above the shoulders became a point of emphasis, leading to clotheslining and other tactics being largely eliminated from the game.
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