Today's Tidbit... The Match Game: Frank Birch and the 1906 Earlham Team Picture ($)
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Most people who collect old football items focus on collectibles associated with prominent players, coaches, teams, and games considered memorable at the time. Many Football Archaeology stories follow the same path, but a good portion covers the game's oddities and individuals or events whose impact was unrecognized in the moment.
One of those individuals was Frank Birch, who I mention every chance I get due to his inventing the officials' signaling system. Before Birch came along, the officials called penalties, teams scored or didn't, and only the players on the field were informed of what occurred. Coaches, fans, and the press watched penalty yards marched off without knowing why the referee was marching. At other times, it was unclear whether the officials had ruled that a touchback or safety had occurred because either way, the team defending the goal line kicked the ball from the 25-yard line. (Due to spectator confusion, the rules changed in 1921, so teams kicked from the 30-yard line following a safety and kicked or ran a play from scrimmage at the 20-yard line following a touchback.)
Along came Frank Birch, who thought the situation was silly, so he created a signaling system and provided cards describing his signals to the press corps before the games he handled. Frank started using his system in the 1910s, and it slowly gained acceptance before a modified version of his signals became the national standard in 1929.