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The Development of FootBall as Shown by Alterations in the Rules.


In the last number of The Week's Sport Mr. W. C. Camp has a very interesting article on the progress of American football as illustrated by the changes in the rules regarding the scoring and the scrimmage. What he says of the American conception of the scrimmage is of especial interest. When Harvard and Yale adopted the Rugby game the law in the Rugby Union code read:

"A scrimmage takes place when the holder of the ball, being in the field of play, puts it down on the ground in front of him, and all who have closed round on their respective sides endeavor to push their opponents back, and by kicking the ball, to drive it in the direction of the opposite goal line." It was further stated. "In a scrummage it is not lawful to touch the ball with the hand." The first alteration made was in the latter law, which was made to read, "It is not lawful for a man who has the ball or the man opposed to him to pick out the ball with the hand." This did away with many of the contentions and bickerings which had characterized the play, but the game now was still a very crude affair compared with the game we play. "The scrimmages were," Mr. Camp goes on to say, "simply writhing masses of vigorous kickers, and no man escaped. The rushers were not scientific enough to carry the ball along with their feet, English fashion, while pushing their way ahead through the opponents, but one and all, at the word, started forward violently kicking everything in the way. Upon the practice fields, which is in reality where the rules receive their best test, the 'varsity players were stronger and heavier than the 'scrub' teams which played against them. It thus happened that, with the force of their pushing and the violence of their kicking, they made it unpleasant for the scrubs to stop the onslaught in a scrimmage. It became necessary therefore for these lighter men to discover some way by which they might accomplish by brains what they could not achieve by brute strength. The plan they adopted was to have the men in the centre of the rushline, as soon as the scrimmage commenced, while endeavoring just as much to stop the pushing forward by their adversaries, to let the ball come through at the very first kick. The result of this maneuver was that the ball usually flew out to one of the scrub halfbacks, and while the 'varsity rushers were still kicking and plunging ahead in the scrimmage, this man would have a fine opportunity for a run around the end. This state of affairs could not, of course, continue long before the 'varsity essayed the same tactics. It therefore became regarded as a disadvantage to have possession of the ball in a scrimmage. To avoid this the scrubs again cudgeled their brains and evolved the trick of kicking the ball sideways instead of straight through. This protracted the scrimmage, but as soon as the centre men became started upon the idea of kicking the ball anywhere rather than through, they all developed too great a knack of getting ahead of the ball or 'off side.' Then two methods of play were started one being for the centre men to run claiming that no sooner was the ball in play than it could be picked up, and another to push the ball backward with the foot instead of kicking it through. Things had reached this point when the rule mentioned above was adopted in order to prevent the former practice. Here follows an excellent example of the effect of legislation upon the game. Had this rule been directed against the kicking back instead of against the picking up in the scrimmage our quarter back play would not have followed as it almost immediately did. Legislation favored snapping the ball back as the best and most scientific outlet for a scrimmage, and it is upon this line that our game developed. Once started in this direction the development was rapid, and in a few years the system of snapping back and quarter-back passing had put the game in advance of the English in point of opportunity for generalship. The first quarter-back was a running half who stood quite a distance back, compared to the quarter back of today, and as the ball was snapped or kicked out seized it and made for the end. Owing to the lack on accuracy in the snapping he was gradually drawn up nearer and nearer the rush-line until he stood just behind the centre-rusher. From this position he began to indulge in passing to the other halves, who then made the run or the kick. Strange to say, often this passing was well started the play seemed to revert once more to running by the quarter-back. Not that he did not also pass, but he did a deal of running through the centre on his own account. This led to unusual severity of play at that point, and a rule was passed forbidding running by the quarter. Unfortunately, yet showing how a rule is apt to open up unexpected avenues of play, the snap-back system brought in its progress the block game which came fatally near putting an end to American football The block game contained no element of science whatever, but was only an avoidance of defeat and an acknowledgement of weakness. It consisted in 'taking up time' by snapping the ball with as little loss of ground as possible and crying 'down' at once. Fortunately for football there were a few men, like Mr. Manning of Harvard, who, by the way, had practically the deciding of the question of the five yard rule, among the football legislators, who were determined, in spite of any college prejudice, to make rules that should insure the victory indisputably to the superior team. Through the unceasing efforts of these men a rule was at last formulated which made it necessary for a team to make a considerable advance or retreat in every three attempts, and this put an end at once and forever to the block method."

In this way scrimmage play had by 1882 developed into very nearly its present method. The rules adopted in that year, with slight alterations, have been in use for eight years, and have given thorough satisfaction.

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