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Today's Tidbit... 1876 IFA Rule #44: Free Kick Location
This is #44 in a series covering football's original 61 rules adopted by the Intercollegiate Football Association in 1876. We review one rule each Friday.
The location from which football's free kick follows a fair catch has changed only once in the game's history. Still, it had a significant effect back when punting was considered part of a team's offensive strategy rather than a tactic of last resort.
Rule 44: After a fair catch has been made, the opposite side may come up to the catcher's mark, and except in cases under Rule 30, the catcher's side retiring, the ball shall be kicked from such mark or from a spot any distance behind it.
The reference to Rule 30 concerns the punt-on, a free punt made from the field of play in which the punter's teammate stood in a protective wall behind the catcher's mark. The punt-on disappeared from football within a few years, but the rule allowing the opponent to line up at the spot of the catch remained in place until 1896, after which the opponent had to stand back at least 10 yards from the spot of the catch. The new rule provided consistency with the game's other free kick, the kickoff.
Because the new rule allowed kicks from the spot of the catch rather than 7 or 8 yards behind that spot, it encouraged more field goal attempts following fair catches. Pushing the defenders back also encouraged greater use of the lower trajectory but longer distance placekicks rather than dropkicks. Nevertheless, kickers still missed free kicks, as when Harvard's Burnett attempted a first-half free placement kick versus Yale in 1899. Burnett missed the 15-yard attempt following a fair catch and a 15-yard penalty on Yale. The attempt was from about the 15-yard line, but the kick’s acute angle kick contributed to the miss and to a tie in their last contest of the 19th century.
Click the appropriate link for previous stories in the series:
Intro | #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 | #18 Crying “Down” | #19 Maul In | #20 Maul in Pax | #21 Touch-in Goal | #22 Onside | #23 Offside | #24 Return to Onside | #25 Defensive Offside | #26 Throwing Back | #27 Knocking On | #28 Fair Catch | #29 Punt-out | #30 Punt-On | #31 Into Touch | #32 Inbounding | #33 Pushed Into Touch | #34 Right Angle Throw Out | #35 No Fair Catch | #36 Kickoff | #37 Kickoff Timing | #38 Change Goals | #39 Toss Up | #40 Loser Kicks | #41 Kickout | #42 Kickout Procedure | #43 Fair Catch Free Kick
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