Gridiron Vernacular Simplified for Patrons of the Game
Every football rooter knows a safety accounts for two points but many a spectator will break down and confess that he has difficulty in recognizing a safety when he sees it, or rather in distinguishing it from among the numerous touchbacks that occur in every game and do not figure in the scoring.
Touchbacks and safeties always occur in the end zone, that area bounded by the sidelines, the goal line and the end line. The question of "impetus," that is, the force which caused the ball to enter the end zone, determines.
A team defends its own goal line. Hence if the ball is put into play (the impetus) and is passed back across the goal line and the runner is downed behind his own goal line it is a safety. If a kick is blocked and crosses into the end zone, it is a safety if recovered by the punting side; a touchdown if recovered by the team which blocked the kick, or an automatic safety if the ball bounds out of the end zone without either team being in possession.
The team that kicked gave the ball the "impetus," not the blocker.
In the event a team attempts a forward pass from be hind its own goal line and the pass is incomplete behind the goal line, it is a safety. These are the more common methods of scoring safeties.
Touchbacks usually result from punts or kicks over the goal line by the team striving to reach that goal line. Regardless of which team recovers, it is a touchback. The receiving team, however, may run with the ball. The second incomplete forward pass in a series which lands in the end zone results in a touchback.
Unsuccessful drop kicks or place kicks are touchbacks automatically, if recovered by the kicking team or if the ball passes out of the end zone. If the defense recovers and does not run, it is a touchback. It still is unless the runner crosses the goal line and then returns to the end zone, thus giving the impetus which brought the ball back into the end zone.
If the attacking team completes a forward pass beyond the end zone, it is a touchback and not a touchdown.
On kickoffs and on place kicks, drop kicks and punts after fair catches, both teams are eligible to recover the ball. If the kicking team recovers in the end zone, it's a touchdown. If the receiving team recovers it's a touchback.
A field goal cannot be scored on the kickoff even if the ball does pass over the cross-bar.
The fair catch is a catch of the opponent's kick (kick off, free kick, or return kick) by a player who signals his intention by holding one arm full length above his head. He is not permitted to take more than two steps after the catch under penalty of the loss of five yards. If he is knocked down by his opponents they are penalized 15 yards.
The fair catch insures possession, unless a fumble results, of course, and is most valuable in obtaining possession of short punts near opponents' goal line. After a fair catch the ball can be put into play by a place kick and thus a team has an excellent chance to score three points while the opponents are restrained by an imaginary line ten yards distant.
Usually the ball is placed in play after a fair catch by scrimmage.
Off side means transgression over a restraining line. Most common is crossing the scrimmage line before the ball is passed back. The kicking team is offside on the kick off if any player crosses his own 40-yard line before the ball is kicked. The receiving team is offside if any player advances nearer than 10 yards to the ball before it is kicked.
A line is said to be unbalanced if four or more players are on one side of the center (ball passer) and two or less are on the other side. Seven men must be on the line of scrimmage for the offense.
The offense may have more than seven on the line. There are no regulations on positions for the defense except the players cannot cross the restraining line until the ball is snapped.
Safety man? Merely the player who is designated by the coach to be the final line of defense. He may be the back man to receive punts and to prevent long gains by unexpected kicks. Or he may be the player who stays behind on the kickoff to protect the goal, or the man who drops back to protect against intercepted passes.
Lateral passes (passes at any angle toward their own goal line, the line they defend) may be made at any time and at any place by either team. There is no limit to the number on one play.
The forward pass is reserved to the offense. Only one forward pass is permitted on each "down."
A team calls signals in a huddle so all may hear the signals. Other advantages are protection of formations as long as possible and opportunity to give the team general specific information concerning opponents.
A reverse play changes the direction of the attack. Double reverses bring the point of attack back to the original direction. Hence, a fake reverse is to decoy the opposition while the attack still continues at the original point. Reverse plays usually strike at the opposite side of the defensive line. The change of direction is drastic.
Reverse plays generally are accomplished by passing the ball to a teammate while the original ball carrier continues ahead to decoy the defense out of position.
A shovel pass is an underhand pass generally thrown forward. If fumbled, it is an incompleted forward pass. This type of pass as a rule is thrown to a receiver behind the line of scrimmage. The primary purpose is to get the defense to rush the man with the ball, thus opening a gap through which the receiver of the shovel pass can gain by running.
A flanker is a back field man who goes out several yards beyond the end of his scrimmage line. He expects to "flank" his opponents.
The phrases "weak side" and "strong side" refer to the attacking team, not the defense. If the center of attacking power, either by the number of linemen shifted over or the position of the backfield, is to the right, that is the strong side. The left side then is the weak side.
On side means a player is eligible to get the ball. All the players are "on side" at the kickoff. No one on the kicking team is "on side" on a kick from scrimmage.
A sweep is a very wide run around the end of the defensive scrimmage line.
In executing a spinner, the first ball carrier conceals the ball by his half spin or full spin. He may hand the ball to a team mate as he spins, or fake this pass and carry the ball himself. This type of play depends on deception. The so-called power plays do not deceive but overpower the defense at the first and intended point of attack.
A cut back is change of direction by a runner who, apparently going wide, suddenly turns short and inside of the tackler.
An off tackle play merely means that the attack is aimed to the outside of the defending tackle.
Reprinted from the Official Program Pittsburgh Pirates at Detroit Lions October 10th 1937.
THE 1937 PITTSBURGH STEELERS ROSTER