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1895: The Rules of Football Were Different in the Early Days

July 25, 2009 --- Click to print

No forward pass? 4 points for a touchdown? The rules of 18th-century "foot ball" were different from 21st-century football.

How is the new game of "foot ball" played? The rules were different in those early years, as shown in this November 27, 1895, article:

The coming game of foot ball between Valdosta and Thomasville, which takes place at Athletic Park Thursday afternoon, is atrracting a wide-spread interest and a large crowd will doubtless witness the game. It would therefore be well to give a partial description of the game, so that every one will understand it.

The game is commenced by the tossing a coin to see which has the ball and which the choice of direction. The ball is then placed in tne center of the field, which is 330 feet long and 160 feet wide marked every 5 yards by traverse lines. At each end goal posts are erected, with a cross bar 10 feet from the ground.

The ball being in position, the team who has possession of it form even with or behind the ball, while the other side are compelled to stand back at least ten yards. The ball is then kicked as far into the opponent's territory as possible, one of the opponents obtains possession of the ball, and either returns it by a kick or runs with it, usually the latter. The team which first had the ball attempts to stop the runner, while his side attempts to provent them. It would be well to state the following rule here:

"No player shall lay his hands upon, or, by the use of his hands or arms interfere with an opponent, unless he himself or that oppoent has the ball. That is, the players of the side which has possession of the ball can obstruct the opponents with the body only. But the players of the side which has not the ball can use their hands and arms to push their opponents out of the way in getting through when the ball is put in play. No man except the one who has the ball can be held. No man shall hit or kick an opponent under penalty of being put out of the game."

As soon as the runner has been stopped or "downed," as it is termed, the ball is put in play by the Center Rush, or the man who is in the center of the line, passing it back to the Quarter Back, who is directly behind him. The Quarter Back passes it still further back to another man who runs with it.

In no case can the ball be batted or passed forward, that is in the direction in which a team is going.

If in three downs the ball is not advanced more than 5 or carried back more than 20 yards, it goes to the opponents on the spot of the third down.

If the ball goes out of the boundary lines it must be brought back at the point where it went out, and either put in play by being kicked, or at the start of the game or else put down from a scrimmage, as after all downs.

In case of any kick, the side making the kick cannot touch the ball until it has touched an opponent.

The game then progresses by a series of downs, followed by runs or kicks for 24, 30, or 35 minutes, then ten minutes rest and the same time again. A game normally lasts about 1 hour and 45 minutes.

The points of the game are as follows: A "touch-down" which counts 4 is made by carrying the ball across the goal line of the opponent and then touching it to the ground. A "Goal" from a touch-down which counts 2 is made by carrying the ball straight out from where it is touched down and kicking it over the cross bar between the two upright posts. A "Saftey" which counts 2 is made by a player touching the ball down behind his own goal, the impetus which sent the ball over having been received from one of his own side.