Today’s Tidbit… 1876 IFA Rule #13 Dead Ball
This is #13 in a series covering football’s original 61 rules adopted by the Intercollegiate Football Association in 1876. We review one rule each Friday.
To understand Rule 13, readers need to consider Rules 8 and 12. Rule 8 says, "The ball is dead when it rests absolutely motionless on the ground," while Rule 12 indicates, "A player may take up the ball whenever it is rolling or bounding except in a scrimmage." So, the ball is dead when motionless, and players can pick up the ball when rolling or bounding,
Rule 13 provides two exceptions to the combination of Rules 8 and 12.
Rule 13: It is not lawful to take up the ball when dead (except in order to bring it out after it has been touched down in touch or in goal) for any purpose whatsoever. Whenever the ball shall have been so unlawfully taken up it shall at once be brought back to where it was taken up and there put down.
So, players earned a try by controlling the ball across the goal line (or "in goal") and holding the ball to the ground. Doing so made the ball dead, giving the team that made the try two options to bring the ball back onto the field to attempt to kick a goal. (We'll cover those options when discussing Rule 29.) To execute either option, a player on Team A had to pick up the ball, so Rule 13 allows them to do so.
The ball also became dead when a player held it to the ground after it went outside the touch line (or sideline), giving the team multiple options to bring it back onto the field to advance the ball.
In sum, this rule is boring legalese, so to reward you for reading this far, I offer the following mini-Tidbit.
Like American football, rugby in the 1880s had an "in goal" area of indeterminate depth that effectively went on forever. A ball kicked past the goal line could have bounded over a fence, rolled down the hill, and fallen into a river, and that ball would not have been dead. To remedy that problem, the Rugby Union added a dead-ball line in 1891 positioned 25 yards past the goal line. When the Canadian Rugby Union formed in 1892, they also adopted the 25-yard end zone. The deeper end zone has continued to make sense in the context of the Canadian game broadly, though they shortened it to twenty yards in the 1980s to fit in some stadiums.
For previous stories in the series, click Intro | Rules #1 Drop Kick | #2 Place Kick | #3 Punt | #4 Goal Posts | #5 Goal | #6 Goal ≠ Punt | #7: Scoring | #8: Dead Ball | #9: Touchdown | #10: Tackle | #11: Scrimmage | #12: Ball Handling
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