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Today's Tidbit... 1876 IFA Rule #48: Touched Down Between Posts
This is #48 in a series covering football's original 61 rules adopted by the Intercollegiate Football Association in 1876. We review one rule each Friday.
Last week, we covered the spotting of a try at goal following a touchdown. Rule 47 told us they walked the ball out perpendicularly from where it crossed the goal line, and the kicking team could walk the ball out the distance they chose. Rule 48 modified Rule 47 when touching the ball down between the goal posts.
Rule 48: If the ball has been touched down between the goal-posts it may be brought out in a straight line from either of such posts; but if brought out from between them the opposite side may charge at once. (See Rule 54)
The rule tells us the kicking team had the option for a free and unopposed kick if they took the ball out in a straight line from a post or could kick it from a point between the posts. Choosing the latter option meant the opposing team could rush toward the kicker when he moved forward to dropkick the ball or when the holder placed the ball on the ground if they placekicked.
Rather than dig into the logic of Rule 48, we'll turn to a bigger question about American football's origins. Recall that in the 1870s, many still played traditional folk versions of football (Harvard playing the Boston game being an example). At the same time, soccer and rugby in the UK had already split into separate games with formal rules, but the games were splintering in other parts of the world. So, when the Intercollegiate Football Association met in 1876 and modified rugby rules to create the first set of American football rules, which rules did they change? Did the IFA tweak the UK's 1876 Rugby Union rules, an older version of the UK rules, or the Foot Ball Association of Canada rules, given their relationship with the boys from McGill?
These questions arise when discussing Rule 48 because it was one of two rules the UK Rugby Union changed in 1874. Starting in 1874, the UK version of Rule 48 dropped the option to bring the ball out between the posts and required aligning the ball with one of the posts. From 1874 through at least 1876, the rule read:
"If the ball has been touched down between the goal-posts it must be brought out in a straight line from either of such posts."
That tells us the IFA could not have used a version of the UK's rules more recent than the 1873 version. What about the Canadian rules? I have a PDF copy of the 1873 Foot Ball Association of Canada Rules, which, it turns out, are identical to the UK's 1873 rules. However, I do not have the Canadian regulations from 1874 to 1876, and I do not know whether or how they changed during that time.
Finally, since I had not yet included an image in this post, I’m including an image of the 1872 England Rugby Union team that played in the second-ever international rugby match against Scotland.
One of the English players in the match was Frederick J. Currey, then the Marlborough Nomads captain and later the Rugby Union president. Currey is relevant to the discussion because the record shows he suggested changing Rule 48 in 1874.
Of course, anyone with information about the Canadian rules from 1874 to 1876 or a reference indicating which rule book the IFA modified, please pass along any information you have.
Reminder: This Tidbit reviews the 48th of the IFA’s 61 rules, so the series is approaching its end. Thankfully, the home stretch overlaps the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Although rugby has changed substantially since 1876, watching a game or two will help you better understand early football.
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 | #44 Free Kick Location | #45 Own Goal Touch Down | #46 Try At Goal | #47 Try At Goal Spot
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