This is #25 in a series covering football's original 61 rules adopted by the Intercollegiate Football Association in 1876. We review one rule each Friday.
Culture can be described as the rules people follow in the absence of explicit rules. We learn in families, schools, and work organizations to behave in certain ways without anyone issuing a specific order. Likewise, we learn that almost everyone in some groups ignores certain explicit rules.
Following certain unwritten rules while ignoring other written rules occurs commonly in games, and Rule 25 has elements of both.
Rule 25: When a player has the ball none of his opponents who at the time are off side may commence or attempt to tackle or otherwise interrupt such player.
Although it went unwritten, those playing Rugby Union or football in 1876 knew the rule applied to a player's positioning relative to the scrummage, as noted by Rule 22's opening phrase: "Every player is on side, but is put off side if he enters a scrummage from his opponents' side…" So, a defender had to begin play on his side of the scrummage line and remain there until the ball left the scrummage, at which point he could pursue the ball carrier wherever he might go.
In addition, it appears that Rule 25 was often ignored, at least back in old England, as noted in commentary about the adherence to rugby's rules in 1879:
Though the rules are clear enough in themselves, they are sometimes willfully construed in order to serve present advantageous purposes. Rule 25 might oftentimes have no existence whatever, because its provisions are disregarded, we were about to say "times without number."
'Football,' Huddersfield Examiner and West Riding Reporter (West Yorkshire, England), May 10, 1879.
From these rules, gridiron football evolved such that players on the side that did not possess that ball had to remain on their side of the scrimmage line until the snap, after which they could pursue the ball carrier anywhere on the field.
For previous stories in the series, click the link for each rule: 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
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