Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Tuesday, September 05, 2021

The first move toward taking some of the “foot” out of football happened one hundred years ago today. The game’s first forward pass (then called a “projectile pass”) was thrown by Saint Louis University in a game against Carroll College, adding a new wrinkle in gridiron action.

Typically, that first pass ended up as an incompletion — and thus, as per the rules of the day, a turnover. But the second attempt by Saint Louis turned into a 20-yard completion for a touchdown, much to the amazement of Carroll.

Similarly, the concept didn’t catch on right away:

But it took awhile for the technique to take hold. For one thing, nobody knew how to pass, of course. And there were disincentives. A completion within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage was ruled a turnover. Oddly, a catch in the end zone was ruled a touchback.

And even though the rules changed to accomodate (and even encourage) passing, coaching orthodoxy took a long while to fully embrace the riskier-than-run play. Games bereft of a pigskin toss by both teams continued; in the NFL, the last such game took place in the 1950s. In college, some teams persisted with the ultra-conservative approach to offense, as Georgia Tech did in its famous 1976 upset of Notre Dame. It’s hard to envision today, but as with most sports innovations, it can take a long while for everyone to get on the same page.

Care to imagine what the college and pro games would look like today without the pass? I’m guessing something like rugby.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 09/05/2021 08:17am
Category: Football, History
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