This is #9 in a series covering football’s original 61 rules adopted by the Intercollegiate Football Association in 1876. We review one rule each Friday.
The American college boys making the rules in 1876 thought they had a few better ideas than their English counterparts, and one of those ideas involved the try versus the touchdown.
Rule 9: A touchdown is when a player, putting his hand upon the ball on the ground in touch or in goal stops it so it remains dead or fairly so.
Rugby Rule 6: A try is gained when a player touches the ball down in his opponent’s goal.
Rugby players who carried the ball across the goal line and touched it down scored a try, giving their team a free kick at goal. Football players largely accomplished that same thing, but since the player had to touch the ball down in goal, the IFA chose to call this a touchdown or touchdown.
The IFA rule included two elements that expanded the rule beyond that of rugby. Carrying the ball over the goal line was not enough to earn a touchdown. It had to be held to the ground, and the importance of this rule will become apparent when we cover maul-ins several weeks from now.
The IFA rule also clarified that a touchdown could be scored by touching the ball down in touch or in goal. Football did not designate an end zone until 1912. The area behind the goal line was “in goal,” and the area outside the sidelines or touch lines was called “in touch.” The areas outside the touchlines and beyond the goal line were known as “touch in goal.” Since runners sometimes carried the ball across the goal line near the sideline and were tackled in the “touch-in-goal” area, touching the ball to the ground in that area counted as a touchdown.
The touch-in-goal area remained a part of football until the early 1920s when the rule makers eliminated the puntout, the last part of football requiring the “touch-in-goal” area to be designated separately from the other out-of-bounds areas.
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
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