DATELINE 1906 — The Rules of Football are Re-Written

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Brian Meehl is the author of Blowback ’07 (MCP Books, November 1, 2016) and this article is the second in a new series discussing the radical changes in football from the 1905 to 1907. 

BB07 #2Last year, President Teddy Roosevelt threw the gauntlet: Football, reform your brutal ways or be abolished!

His decree triggered a battle between the good ol’ boys Rules Committee that has dictated the game for decades and college presidents who are sick and tired of seeing their student-athletes being killed and maimed on the football field. In the last days of ’05, the warring groups merged together (in what will become the NCAA).

By the spring of ’06, they rewrote the rules of football with a major mandate: Pry open the “mass attack” game of ground, pound and brawl in the middle of the field, and open the game to the entire field. Here are the major rule changes from the inside out:

  • Six men have to be on the line, eliminating mass formations charging the line with skull-cracking consequences.
  • The neutral zone is established, ending the practice of linemen physically abusing each other before the snap, and protecting the center from the same.
  • The first down requirement goes from 5 to 10 yards to be gained in 3 downs. Doubling the yardage encourages offenses to avoid scrums that are only good for small gains, and innovate plays for longer gains. (The 4th down won’t be added until 1912.)
  • Hurdling cleats-first into or over players is no longer allowed. (Kinda tough on a face and head without a helmet.)
  • And the biggest game-changer…the forward pass is legal!

Next: In the earliest version of “Deflate-gate,” how the good ol’ boys took air out of the forward pass by trying to kill it with penalties.

Brian's B signature copy





Brian Meehl HeadshotBlowback 07 BookcoverBrian Meehl has published four novels with Random House: Out of Patience, Suck It Up, Suck It Up and Die, and You Don’t Know About Me. His books have garnered a Junior Library Guild Selection, a Blue Ribbon from the Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books and starred reviews in Publishers Weekly. In a former incarnation, Meehl was a puppeteer on “Sesame Street” and in Jim Henson films, including “The Dark Crystal.” His transition from puppets to pen included writing for television shows such as “The Magic School Bus” and “Between the Lions,” for which he won three Emmys. Meehl lives in Connecticut and is writing Blowback ’63 and Blowback ’94. For more information about this author and his exciting books, please visit and/or

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