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Today’s Tidbit… 1876 IFA Rule #18: Crying “Down”
This is #18 in a series covering football’s original 61 rules adopted by the Intercollegiate Football Association in 1876. We review one rule each Friday.
Regular readers will recall the earlier discussion of Rule 10, which states: “A tackle is made when the holder of the ball is held by one or more players of the opposite side.” The discussion of that rule centered around tackling as a process rather than an outcome and discussed how the portions of the runner’s body or equipment legally grasped while tackling changed over time.
Rule 18 defines how plays ended after being tackled:
Rule 18: In the event of any player holding or running with the ball being tackled, and the ball fairly held, he must at once cry down, and there put it down.
Under this rule, a runner knocked to the ground but not held in place could crawl forward or get up and continue running. However, that rule allowed a lot of piling on, eventually leading to a 1906 rule that defined runners as down when any part of their body besides the hands and feet touched the ground while also in the opponent’s grasp.
Runners who were not in the grasp or unsure of their status still tried to get up and run, so piling on continued, leading the college rule-makers to drop the “in the grasp” portion of the rule in 1932. That meant a runner was down when any body part besides the hands and feet touched the ground, even if the runner hit the ground without a defender contacting them.
The NFL continued with the old rule and had problems with piling on. They finally revised their rule in 1956 to make runners down when a body part other than the feet or hands touched the ground, AND the runner was down by contact. Runners who slipped and fell without contact could rise and continue running.
The 1932 college and 1956 NFL rules defining a downed runner remain in effect today.
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 | #13 Dead Ball | #14: Scrimmage Ball Handling | #15 Run In | #16: Goal Line | #17: Boundary Lines
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