The Forward Pass, "A Dangerous Risk"


By Dan Duddy
Head Football Coach NJ

In 1906 the game of football legally changed in a way that it otherwise wouldn’t sell a 10 second commercial today. We wouldn’t know the phrase “Montana to Rice” nor would we cringe watching old highlights of the “Assassin”, Jack Tatum.
Funny thing is the forward pass was made legal because it was tried in a few desperate moments, for example in the 1876 Yale-Princeton game Walter Camp was about to be tackled and passed the ball forward, an indecisive referee actually tossed a coin to determine how he would call it.
The coin toss went in favor of Yale, and receiver Oliver Thompson was awarded what might be the first forward pass for a touchdown, yet still illegal.
In 1906 Teddy Roosevelt intervened with American Football when it become a possibility that the game would be abolished due to a rash of injuries, many fatal. There were 18 deaths reported in one year!
Roosevelt and the men of the newly formed NCAA would now make the game safer by bringing out “skills” and “speed” instead of the brutality of the way the game was being played. The NCAA was to change the game so to overcome the “brute strength” and the “force of weight” that “shook the ground” during “mass plays”.
The New York Times had its own thought on the ruling at the time, "There has been no team that has proved that the forward pass is anything but a doubtful, dangerous play to be used only in the last extremity."
I think it is every football coach’s dream to change the game with some scheme that just can’t be defended, or at least for a season or two until defenses catch up to it. Or maybe find a “hole” in the rule book that can influence the game forever, like the forward pass.
We don’t have great athletes all the time, or maybe not at all, and if we did it would really be quite boring. Heck, there wouldn’t be much of a need for us. We would find out at that moment that really anyone can coach football. The rules aren’t really difficult. On the other hand, try explaining the game of baseball to an alien. Football is easy. 
If there is a “hole” today in our game, and it’s in all games, football, basketball, and politics, it’s the one right under our collective noses, character. The greatest scheme we can choose to teach our athletes is “Character”.
We practice at my school the “inside veer” perhaps 100 repetitions each way, right and left, each week. Then when it comes to game time, “character” is something we “hope for” in order to execute and make count all that hard work.
If there is a trend in defenses, like say the “flat wall reading philosophy” of the defensive fronts in the 1980’s in order to overcome trapping, slashing and pulling offensive lineman, an offensive trend at the time, then why are we not taking real good care of another trend in order to stop opponents to get into the end zone today?
There isn’t a coach today that won’t complain about today’s athlete being a product of a culture that promotes mediocrity, selfishness, and lack of focus due to an ever stimulating and superficial world around them.
Heck my wife can read a practice script, break a huddle and film a practice of a b-zillion triple option plays. My players can look at the film and see what they did wrong.
But if the real culprit, unless of course you’re just out sized and maybe a whole lot slower than your opponent, is the probability of a “character flaw”, then why aren’t we practicing it with the same intensity or more?
Now I love my wife, but she CAN’T do that for other young men!
If there is a deficiency in character in our world, and our world includes our opponents, and our athletes belong to this world, and as men we can do something about character, and IT IS OK to WIN, then why are we not doing 100 reps of it per day?
“Bad character is like bad teeth, everyone sees it, and it’s a matter of choice”.
The game needs character and we all know it, the game needed the forward pass, and we didn’t know it until it mistakenly happened. It was considered a “risk” when it became legalized.
Teaching character is legal and we all need to take the risk of changing this game.
“You” are “more of the game” then Walter Camp was.
Well you could be anyway, but that’s a matter of choice.