If researching old newspapers for information like this of interest to you, I highly recommend newspapers.com. It is my primary research tool. Books by coaches and others, and college yearbooks being the other main sources.

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Funny that you should ask. I will begin appearing once per week on the Pigskin Dispatch podcast (link below) and your questions will be covered in the first podcast which will appear next week. The host, Darin, asked about these question in relation to this Tidbit:


To answer the questions..

- Early football had the tackler call “held” and runner call “down” to stop play

- After the pea whistle's invention in the late 1880s, ref blew the play dead after the ball carrier stopped advancing and was truly held in place by the tackler. Crawling was common and so was - piling on

- For safety reasons, the dead ball rule changed in 1910 so the ball was dead when any part of the ball carrier's body other than the hands and feet contacted ground AND he was in the grasp of an opponent

- The NCAA dropped the in-the-grasp portion in 1932. That was the last year the NFL used the college yearbook, but they ignored that rule change and retained the in-the-grasp rule when they created their own rule book in 1933.

- NFL changed its rule in 1956 by dropping the in-the-grasp portion and replacing it with “down by contact”

I do not know the details of the Canadian rules on this issue.


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When did college football (NCAA) adopt the current rule that a player is down anytime part of his body touches the ground, regardless of contact? My understanding is this has been a rule at the high school and college level since 1906?

However, pro football (CFL and NFL) kept the old Rugby rule all the way until 1955, that a player was not down until they were held on the ground by the defender for the play to be considered over. Meaning if they were just knocked over by a defender, they could still get back up and advance the ball. The rule was changed in '55 to the current down-by-contact rule. Was there always this discrepancy between college and the pros?

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