Read CHAPTER II of The Forward Pass in Football, free online book, by Elmer Berry, on


The first suggestion of a recognition by the football rules committee of any need of a more open game came in 1903. Between the twenty-five yard lines seven players of the offense were required on the line of scrimmage and the first man receiving the ball from the snapper-back might run with it provided he crossed the scrimmage line five yards out from center. Between the twenty-five-yard line and the goal, however, only five men were required on the line of scrimmage. In that case, however, restrictions were adopted requiring the men to be back five yards or outside the end men. In 1904 came the “checker board” field.

With 1906 came the great revolution and the adoption of the new game; two lines of scrimmage, six men regularly on the line of scrimmage, center trio back five yards if not on the line of scrimmage, ten yards in three downs and the Forward Pass. It is with the last that we are concerned.

At first one forward pass could be made by any player anywhere behind his line of scrimmage to any player on the end of the line or one yard back of it provided the pass crossed the line five yards out from center. It was completed if touched by any eligible player before it touched the ground. Any illegal pass went to the opponents at the spot from which the pass was made. A forward pass over the goal line became a touch back.

Naturally a period of intensive experimentation followed. In 1907 the loss of the ball on first and second down was changed to a loss of fifteen yards. (Football Guide for 1907, pp. 137 and 168.) In 1908 the recovery of the touched ball was restricted to the eligible man who had first touched it on penalty of going to the opponents at the spot. Also the penalty for ineligible men touching the ball was increased to loss of the ball at spot where the pass was made.

Nineteen ten and twelve brought the legal changes that largely completed the new game. In 1910 the four periods were adopted, the longitudinal lines were omitted, and a pass and kick were both required to be made from five yards behind the line of scrimmage. A twenty-yard zone beyond which the pass could not go was instituted. This was dropped again in 1912, the end zone was added so that a team could score on a pass, the field shortened to three hundred yards and the fourth down added. By many this was regarded as a direct blow to the forward pass as it was supposed that it would mean an attempt at and a possibility of making the distance by the old line bucking methods. This was regarded as in line with the restrictive action of 1911, by which a pass touching the ground either before or after being legally touched was ruled as incompleted. Whatever the intention of the originators may have been the fourth down has worked quite as advantageously to the new game as the old, in that it has given quarterbacks an additional down with which to experiment and to take chances.

The changes relating to the forward pass since 1912 have been mostly of minor significance. The restriction requiring the kicker to be back five yards was removed in 1913, the forward passer was protected from being roughed up in 1914 and a ten-yard penalty for intentional grounding of a forward pass was imposed. The forward pass out of bounds was ruled incompleted in 1915. Relatively little change occurred during the war period and there has been a feeling since that experimentation has gone far enough; that the game is very good as it is, and that coaches, players and the public generally should have a chance to thoroughly acquaint themselves with the present possibilities. The open game has come to stay, and attempts to further restrict it have met with strong opposition.