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Today's Tidbit... 1876 IFA Rule #54: Charging
This is #54 in a series covering football's original 61 rules adopted by the Intercollegiate Football Association in 1876. We review one rule each Friday.
Until at least the 1960s, most technical football books -those written for fellow coaches- concerned offensive football, and coaching books that covered both devoted the lion's share of thought and space to the offensive side of the ball. From a coaching standpoint, defensive football focused on individual techniques and alignments. You coached up your players, literally put them in a position to succeed, and let them react to whatever the offense did. Times have changed. Defenses today are more strategic, and players have specific rules and assignments not dreamed of 50 years ago.
The football rules of 1876 are similar to the old coaching books in that the overwhelming majority of the 61 rules address the team possessing the ball. (To verify, scan through the 53 rules covered to date listed at the bottom of the page.)
With that perspective, Rule 54 is interesting because it primarily addresses players on the team that does not possess the ball. However, it also tosses in a few comments about the offensive side. The rule covers charging or rushing toward the ball by the defensive team.
Amazingly, the rule has only two sentences, though the first one runs longer than Wyllys Terry's 115-yard touchdown run of 1884.
Rule 54: Charging, i.e. rushing forward to kick the ball or tackle a player, is lawful for the opposite side of the ball in all cases of a place kick after a fair catch, or upon a try at goal immediately the ball touches the ground or is placed on the ground; and in cases of drop kick or punt after a fair catch, as soon as the player having the ball commences to run or offers to kick, or the ball has touched the ground; but he may always draw back, and unless he has dropped the ball or actually touched it with his foot, they must retire again to his mark (see Rule 56). The opposite side in case of a punt-out or punt-in, and the kicker's side in all cases, may not charge until the ball has been kicked.
The initial part of the first sentence tells us that the defense, which stood behind the restraining line, could charge on a free placement kick as soon as the holder placed the ball on the ground. That rule led kicking teams to employ the over-under holding technique, seen in the image below. The holder kept one set of fingertips under the ball to keep it off the ground until the kicker was ready to approach and kick the ball. He then pulled the lower hand out and placed the ball on the ground, balancing it with the upper hand.
Free kicks that were dropkicked or punted had different restrictions since the opposing team could charge on as soon as the kicker began moving forward. However, the kicker "may always draw back," meaning he could stop and return to his spot to restart his kicking motion provided the ball had not touched the ground or his foot. Likewise, the opposing side had to return to the restraining line to try it again.
The second sentence tells us the opposing team could not charge until the ball was kicked during a puntout or punt-on, and the kicking team could not charge until the kick occurred.
The limited number of rules covering defensive play demonstrates another aspect of football and sports generally. New players learn a lot about a sport by watching others play. Rugby and football in 1876 did not have rules covering how aggressively players could charge or tackle, how rapidly teams transitioned from the downed runner to the next scrum, or how many timeouts were called. They picked up those cues by watching others. Camp, Deland, Stagg, Williams, and others would take another fifteen or more years to begin publishing books for coaches and players, and the bulk of their contents concerned offensive play.
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 | #48 Touched Down Between Posts | #49 Puntout Spot | #50 Heel-In Mark | #51 No Fair Catch OOB | #52 TD Interference | #53 Missed Kicks
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