The forward pass

Have I mentioned that I'm reading Edmund Morris' volume covering Theodore Roosevelt's presidential years?

Inspired by Morris' account of how Roosevelt mediated a coal strike, I wrote and published this treatment for a movie (I think it could be another Lincoln movie).

Forward passI'm at the part in the book where Roosevelt has just attempted, unsuccessfully, to get the Government Printing Office to adopt "simplified spelling" in all official documents for the Executive Branch.

Most of Roosevelt's interventions were consequential, of course, and many shaped the 20th Century, not just for the United States but for the world.

But on this day, Super Bowl Sunday, I thought I'd share this bit of TR trivia passed along by Michael Beschloss in a tweet: "Brutality & deaths on gridiron made Pres T Roosevelt 1905 demand forward pass, other reforms to thwart demands for abolition of football."

As if, fresh from reforming robber baron practices to save capitalism from itself, Roosevelt had an eye for things about to collapse of their own weight!

Well, I haven't done the research to verify the Beschloss tweet, but I did find an interesting article from the Washington Post (note: behind a paywall) published in 1906. The piece doesn't mention Roosevelt, but does talk about the forward pass:

 ". . . It is practically assured that there will be a forward pass in football next season under certain restricting conditions. . . .

"Under the head of opening up the play a rule was adopted at any man back of snapper back be allowed to make a forward pass, provided the pass does not extend beyond the line of scrimmage or be to a man who is in the line of scrimmage when the ball was put in play.

"There can be a dozen forward passes behind the line of scrimmage, but none once the ball is carried beyond the line of scrimmage. This rule in itself is a pronounced departure from the game as it has been played. Forward passes heretofore have been paralyzed; now they become part of the game."

Instead of the downfield forward pass that we think of today, it sounds like the reform of 1906 contemplated screen passes and other lateral throws behind the line of scrimmage.

Doesn't really sound like a Rooseveltean reform to me. He would have gone downfield.

Photo: Fenner, Penn; Library of Congress / Flickr.


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