This is #29 in a series covering football's original 61 rules adopted by the Intercollegiate Football Association in 1876. We review one rule each Friday.
The puntout was among the last of the original rugby rules that remained in football before disappearing in 1920. Puntouts appear odd to modern eyes but deserved a place when football was still a kicking game rather than a rushing and forward passing game.
The puntout was defined by Rule 29. Hopefully, the rule makes as little sense to you as it did to me when I first encountered it.
Rule 29: A punt-out is a punt made after a touchdown by a player from behind his opponent's goal, and from touch in goal if necessary, toward his own side, who must stand outside the goal-line and endeavor to make a fair catch or to get the ball and run in or drop a goal. (See Rule 49 and 51.)
This one will take a while to explain, so sit back and try to enjoy it.
Before 1920, teams scoring a touchdown had two methods to pursue their extra points. Like now, the scoring team had the option to kick a goal from touchdown. Unlike today, they did that by taking the ball from the spot it crossed the goal line during the touchdown play and walking out at a 90-degree angle until reaching a spot providing a favorable angle and distance combination. For example, if the team scored in the middle of the field, they could walk it straight out from under the goal posts until they found their spot to kick the goal. If the touchdown came close to the sidelines, the attempt would be made from afar.
Rather than attempt a long kick, teams scoring close to a sideline opted to puntout, the scoring team's second option. On the puntout, one of the scoring team’s players took the ball and positioned himself behind the goal line, at least as far from the goal posts as the spot where the ball crossed the goal line. (When a team scored very close to the sideline, the punter was forced to position himself out of bounds, in the "touch in goal" area.)
The scoring-team player punted the ball from behind the goal line onto the field and toward a few teammates standing 15 to 20 yards deep who tried to field the punt on the fly. The rest of the punter's teammates aligned near the 5- or 10-yard line to block the defensive players who had to align behind the goal line. When the ball was kicked, the defense charged forward, trying to disrupt the player attempting to catch it. (The defense could bat the punted ball if they did not interfere with or touch the player attempting to make the catch.)
If the offense failed to catch the punted ball, the play was dead, and they lost the conversion opportunity. However, if the offense caught the ball, they could immediately attempt to run it across the goal line, try a dropkick before being tackled, or signal for a fair catch. The fair catch allowed a free kick from the spot of the catch, so most teams fair caught the ball and attempted the free kick.
The other great aspect of the puntout came if the punter feigned the kick to draw the defense across the goal line, making them offside. Feigning the kick led to a five-yard penalty. However, since the punter was already behind the goal line, the penalty was applied horizontally, moving the punter farther from the goal post. It was the only horizontal penalty in the history of the game
So, that was the puntout. It was a standard part of football for over forty years, and while largely forgotten today, it took us back to football's rugby roots when kicking was the primary means of moving the ball.
As I have scoured college yearbooks and university archives, I’ve kept an eye out for pre-1920 game-action images of puntouts. So far, I have found two.
If you know of an image of a puntout hiding somewhere or have questions about the puntout, please comment below.
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
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