Today's Tidbit... Punting Early And Often
One of the challenges in researching football history -or any other form of history- is putting yourself back in their times since their knowledge and assumptions differed from ours. This morning, I was reminded of that issue while reading a George Brooke article from 1896.
Brooke was a player and coach during football's first half-century and may have been second only to Walter Camp for the number of syndicated newspaper articles he authored during those years.
In particular, Brooke was a punting and kicking authority. In an 1896 article on punting and kicking techniques, Brooke dropped these lines about punting on early downs:
It is a maxim with some teams fortunate enough to possess a good and sure punter to always punt when the ball is in their possession on dangerous ground. By dangerous ground is meant anywhere inside their forty-yard line. This is called dangerous ground because if the team should lose the ball for some foul or off-side play, fumble, or other common means of losing it, then their goal would be in some danger from lucky runs or steady plunges of the opposing team.
Nowadays, no one punts just because the ball is inside their forty-yard line and our typical explanation for the difference in philosophy is that offenses of the 1890s had difficulty moving the ball. Rather than risk making a mistake in their territory, teams often punted early, hoping the opponent would be the team to make a mistake.
Missing for us in 2022 is the assumption nested in the words "some foul or off-side play," which were not italicized in the original. We assume an offside or similar penalty results in a loss of five to fifteen yards since that is all we have ever known, but the penalty for most infractions in the 1890s was a loss of possession, not a loss of yardage. So, if you played football in a world where holding or offside resulted in losing possession, it made more sense to keep the ball in the other team’s territory and wait for them to screw up. Of course, if you had the better team and could move the ball on offense, then you retained possession and ran the ball. However, games involving evenly-matched teams often saw lots of punts.
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