Terry Jeffrey

Camp again attended the 1880 IFA meeting. This time, he won two rule changes. Teams were restricted to 11 players. More fundamentally, one team at a time would now be given undisputed possession of the ball, which they could put in play be snapping it back -- by foot -- from a scrimmage line. American football left rugby behind.

"This is the device which introduced into our game the principle of an orderly retention of the ball by one side, thereby making possible the use of prearranged strategy, the most distinctive and fascinating characteristic of the American game," wrote Parke Davis.

Yet there was no limit to the number of downs a team could keep the ball, so long as it did not fumble or kick downfield.

In the second half of that year's Princeton-Yale game, with the score tied 0 to 0, Princeton held the ball to run out the clock. In the process, the Tigers took 11 unscored safeties. Princeton then claimed it had retained a national title it had not won on the field for two years. Yale claimed the title for itself.

The 1881 IFA meeting adopted a rule to give negative value to safeties in a game tied after two overtimes: "If the game still remains in a tie, the side which makes four or more safeties less than their opponents shall win the game."

At the 1881 Princeton-Yale game, the lawyerly Tigers unveiled a new stalling tactic: the touch-in-goal. This was achieved by throwing the ball to a player standing in the angle of space behind the goal line but beyond the sideline. As with an old safety, this allowed the offending team to retain possession on it own 25. Princeton held the ball for most of the first half; Yale, replicating Princeton's tactics, held it most of the second. They tied 0 to 0.

Princeton again claimed the title based on 1878. Yale counterclaimed, pointing out it had played a superior game against Harvard that very year -- when Harvard scored four safeties to Yale's none. The title went to Yale.

After the 1881 Princeton-Yale debacle, some argued that the American colleges should give up their unique rules and simply conform to the British rugby game.

American college players would have none of it. As Coach Nelson reported in "Anatomy of a Game," Camp again attended the rules meeting in Springfield, Mass., on Oct/ 12, 1882. This time he proposed the concept now known as a first down -- only as originally approved a team needed to get five yards in three downs to retain possession of the ball. The rule was accepted.

A new game was born -- wholly American and unmatched by any other in the world.


Terry Jeffrey

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSNews

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