Today's Tidbit... Adding A Twelfth Man On Offense
The twelfth man on football teams has a long history and multiple variations. Canadian football has had a twelfth man since the Ontario Rugby Football Union adopted the Burnside Rules in 1902. A supportive home crowd is sometimes called a twelfth man, particularly at Texas A&M. In addition, there have been at least two proposals to add a twelfth man to the offense in American football.
The first came in the 1930s, which I covered two years ago in this article. That proposal came when coaching from the sideline was illegal, and players called the plays on the field, not coaches. So Andy Kerr, Colgate's coach, suggested adding a twelfth player on offense whose only role was to call plays and then step out of the way. The thinking was that it removed the playcalling responsibility from a tired quarterback's shoulders while leaving it in the hands of a fellow student.
A more recent proposal to add a twelfth player on offense came in the March 1967 issue of Sport magazine, whose editors argued that a twelfth offensive player would reduce the likelihood of injuries to NFL quarterbacks. The 1965 and 1966 seasons had seen numerous quarterbacks miss portions of the year due to injury, including St. Louis Cardinals' Charlie Johnson. The Cardinals led the Eastern Division with a 7 - 1 record until Johnson’s injury, after which the team went 1 - 4 and missed the playoffs.
The editors' idea was to add a fifth back on the offensive side of the ball whose sole responsibility would be to block for the quarterback. The twelfth man could block for the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage but could not:
Carry the football
Block for other backs
Catch a pass
Cross the line of scrimmage
Jokingly referred to as the "bodyguard," the idea was discussed by numerous newspaper columnists shortly after Sport released their March issue. Still, it does not appear that anyone else considered their idea, which was quickly forgotten until now.
The NFL has since implemented a host of other rules to protect quarterbacks, including dramatic easing of blocking rules to allow full arm extension, allowing quarterbacks to intentionally ground the ball in certain circumstances, and limiting how and when quarterbacks can be hit or tackled. Combined with greater emphasis on the short passing game, quarterbacks are better able to remain standing under football’s current rules.
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