The job of an NFL official is not easy. Not only are they forced to endure yelling and ridicule by coaches and fans, but they are also required to completely memorize the NFL Rulebook. This does not sound too hard. That, of course, is until you learn that the book is over 120 pages long. Officials are required to know the rules and be able to specifically reference where in the rulebook a call can be found.
We are familiar with a lot of the rules. Most football fans know when they see holding or pass interference. They know how many points teams get for touchdowns or field goals. However, there are some rules that even NFL coaches do not know. They are so deep and old that they have almost no bearing on a modern NFL game. That is, until they finally do get called in a game. For instance, the Tuck Rule. Prior to that famous 2001 AFC Championship Game, nobody knew about it. Afterwards, it was all anyone could talk about. Thankfully, the Tuck Rule was taken off the books last season.
This list compiles some of the strangest rules in the book. Some have come up recently. Others have not been called in years. They are rare and relatively unknown. In some cases, they are actually quite comical. No matter what, after reading this you will impress your buddies during the next game you watch with your newfound knowledge of the NFL Rulebook.
10 Illegal Leverage
Before last season, this rule would have ended up higher on this list. The NFL’s rules against “illegal leverage” came up in relation to the Patriots and their head coach, Bill Belichick. During field goal attempts or extra point conversions, the defense is not allowed to push or pull a teammate. This is so they cannot gain extra momentum or height in order to block a field goal. When this rule is violated, it results in a fifteen yard penalty. Belichick’s Patriots were called for this play during a matchup against the New York Jets. After the game, Belichick pointed out that the Jets were also committing this same penalty, but the officials were not calling it.
9 The Drop Kick
The drop kick is an alternative way to kick a field goal or punt the ball in football. A player attempts the drop kick by bouncing the ball off the ground and kicking it after it has hit the ground. This type of kick is rooted in rugby and was more commonly used during the early days of the NFL. During the NFL’s early days, the ball was much rounder than it is today and could be bounced off the ground in a much more predictable fashion. This type of kick is still legal in today’s NFL. Since the NFL-AFL Merger, it has only been successfully done once. Patriots’ backup quarterback Doug Flutie successfully kicked a drop kick field goal against the Miami Dolphins. It was Flutie’s last play of his professional football career. The last time the drop kick was attempted was by Drew Brees during the 2012 Pro Bowl. His attempt was not successful.
8 Fielding Kicks Out of Bounds
All football fans know that if a kickoff sends the ball out of bounds without being touched by the receiving team, the receiving team will get the ball at their forty yard line. However, most fans do not understand where out of bounds begins. If a player goes out of bounds and receives a kickoff, he is considered out of bounds. This is ruled the same way a fumble is. If any part of the player’s body is out of bounds when he makes contact with the ball, the ball is ruled out of bounds. This was wisely used to the Packers’ advantage by Randall Cobb. In a matchup against the Tennessee Titans, Cobb was set back to return a ball that was headed for the end zone. The ball stopped at the four yard line. Instead of trying the return the kickoff, Cobb stepped out of bounds and reached to grab the ball. When he touched it with his foot out of the field of play, the Packers were given the ball at their forty yard line.
7 Consecutive Timeouts
There are many instances when a coach tries to call time out in order to throw off a kicker’s timing before a field goal. This is known as “icing” or “freezing” the kicker. However, opposing coaches can only try this once. According the NFL Rulebook, a team cannot call two timeouts during the same dead-ball period. If they do, this is considered unsportsmanlike conduct and results in a fifteen-yard penalty. Joe Gibbs found this out the hard way during his second tenure with the Washington Redskins. He called two time outs in order to ice Rian Lindell and the kick was shortened from 51 yards to 36 yards. The Redskins lost the game 18-17.
6 Automatic Coin Toss Loss
NFL games run on a strict time limit. Because of television coverage, they must start on time. Three minutes before the start of the game, teams must send their captains out to the center of the field for the coin toss. Teams are allowed to send out no more than six players and all the players must be in full uniform and active participants in the game. If the teams send out more than six, or if a member is not in uniform or the captains are late to the kickoff, it is considered a delay of game penalty. Fifteen yards are added to the spot of the kick. However, there is also another penalty for this infraction. When this happens, a team loses its coin toss options for both halves of the game.
5 The Fair Catch Kick
The Fair Catch Kick is one of the most talked about obscure rules in the NFL Rulebook. Basically, when a receiving team calls a fair catch, that team has two options. They can begin an offensive possession or they can choose to try for a field goal. This field goal must be attempted from the spot of the fair catch. The kicker may not use a tee. Instead, it must be attempted as a placed kick or a drop kick. In addition to this, the defense is not allowed within ten yards from the spot of the kick. The last time this was attempt was by the 49ers’ Phil Dawson, who missed the 71 yard field goal. The Niners could have also elected to do this during Super Bowl XLVII following the Ravens’ safety. However, the last time a fair catch kick was successfully turn into three points was by Chargers’ kicker Ray Wersching in 1976.
4 Possession After A Touchdown
Today we believe that following a touchdown, the team that was scored on gets the ball. Technically, this is not the case. Following a touchdown, the team that was scored on gets to decide whether they would like to receive the ball or kickoff to the other team. No teams would elect the later today. This rule is still on the books from the early days of the NFL. Early on, teams would send out their captains to the center of the field to discuss who would be kicking off after each touchdown.
3 A Palpably Unfair Act
There is a way to score a touchdown without taking the ball across the goal line. A palpably unfair act is considered any illegal action that clearly deprives a team from scoring a touchdown. In order for this to be called, all the officials must unanimously agree that the team’s touchdown was illegally impeded. The most common example of this is if a player from the bench were to run on the field to tackle a player about to score a breakaway touchdown. When called, the team who was on the receiving end of the palpably unfair act is awarded a touchdown. This is one of the rarest officiating calls in all of sports. There are no examples of this happening in the NFL. Some argue the closest we have ever come to seeing this call be made was last season when Steelers’ coach Mike Tomlin interfered on a kick return from Ravens’ Jacoby Jones.
2 Snaps Between the Quarterback’s Legs
This particular rule is one of the strangest and least known in the NFL Rulebook. If the quarterback lines up under center, and the snap goes between his legs, the quarterback must be the next player to touch the ball. This does not apply to a shotgun formation. If a snap from the shotgun is not received by the quarterback, any player can pick it up. But in this particular case where a snap from under center goes between a quarterback’s legs, if any other player touches the ball before the quarterback, it is ruled as a false start by the offense. The last time this happened was in 2007. During a Bears and Eagles game, a snap rolled between the legs of the Bears’ Brian Griese. The ball was picked up by the Eagles’ safety Sean Considine who ran the ball in for a touchdown. The touchdown was not awarded to the Eagles; instead the ball was ruled dead and the Bears were charged with a five-yard penalty.
1 The One Point Safety
Believe it or not, a team can score just one point in football. This happens as a result of a conversion safety, or one point safety as it is more commonly called. A conversion safety can only be scored by the offense while attempting a point after kick or two-point conversion. A defense cannot score a one point safety because once the defense gets possession of the ball on one of these types of plays the ball is ruled dead. A conversion safety is awarded when a defensive player knocks the ball loose and the ball rolls into the back of the end zone without either team retaining possession of it. This is the only way a team can score one point in football. This has not happened since 1940.