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11 NFL Rules Named After People

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New rules in the National Football League, as in any sport, are often enacted in response to repeated on-the-field actions or bizarre incidents involving a specific player or coach. These rules commonly take the name of the individuals indirectly responsible for their creation. Here are 11 such rules you can bring up during today's conference championship games.

1. Bill Belichick Rule

Since 1994, NFL quarterbacks have been permitted to wear speakers in their helmets, enabling coaches on the sideline to communicate plays to them without the use of hand signals. Beginning in 2007, lime-green stickers were used to mark these radio-equipped helmets. During the 2008 offseason, the NFL passed a rule that allowed one defensive player on the field to have a speaker in his helmet. The season before, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots were fined for videotaping a game against the New York Jets from an unauthorized location in order to learn their defensive hand signals. “If you didn’t have any signals, it wouldn’t have happened,” former Dallas Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips said of the Spygate scandal. “I’m just happy to get something passed. That way you don’t have to worry about it. People were putting towels up in front of people. You shouldn’t have to play football that way.” The Patriots voted in favor of the proposal.

2. Bronco Nagurski Rule

The Bronco Nagurski Rule was enacted after a controversial finish in the 1932 NFL championship game between Nagurski’s Chicago Bears and the Portsmouth Spartans. At the time, a forward pass was only legal if it was thrown from at least five yards behind the line of scrimmage. After Nagurski was stuffed twice on runs up the middle in a tie game, he took a few steps back and threw a pass to Red Grange for a touchdown. Portsmouth’s coach argued that Nagurski wasn’t five yards behind the line of scrimmage when he threw the pass, but the call stood and the Bears went on to win 9-0. The following season, the league declared that forward passes could be made from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage.

3. Ken Stabler Rule

In 1979, the NFL enacted a rule in response to a play during the 1978 season that became known as “The Holy Roller.” With five seconds remaining and the Oakland Raiders trailing the San Diego Chargers by six points, Oakland quarterback Ken Stabler dropped back to pass from the San Diego 23-yard line for an apparent last-ditch heave into the end zone. Stabler was pressured, however, and in an effort to avoid a sure sack, intentionally fumbled the ball forward. The ball rolled to Raiders fullback Pete Banaszak, who kicked the ball forward to tight end Dave Casper. Casper dribbled the ball into the end zone before falling on it for the winning touchdown.


The resulting rule, which is informally known as the Ken Stabler or Raider Rule, prohibits an offensive player other than the player who fumbled the ball from recovering or advancing a fumble on fourth down or on any down in the final two minutes of a half. If another offensive player recovers the ball, it is placed back at the spot of the fumble.

4. Emmitt Smith Rule

In 1997, the NFL enacted Player Conduct Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1, which prohibits a player from removing his helmet while on the field. The rule was informally named after Smith, the Hall of Fame running back who had a habit of removing his helmet to celebrate touchdowns—including after the TD he scored on his first carry of the 1995 season. “I had just come off a serious injury, and all I read about was how I supposedly had lost a step, that I was on the down side of my career,” Smith told the Dallas Morning News. “I went 60 yards on my first carry and my hamstring didn’t pull. I was excited.”

Smith was flagged for removing his helmet during the first season that the rule was enforced. “Is it a badge of honor?” Smith told the Austin American-Statesman. “No, it’s not.”

5. Greg Pruitt Rule

Cleveland Browns running back Greg Pruitt was one of several NFL players who wore tear-away jerseys during the 1970s as a sneaky means of shaking off would-be tacklers. Pruitt rushed for 1,000 yards for three consecutive seasons from 1975-77. “For it to be effective, you couldn’t wear anything under it,” Pruitt told Cleveland Magazine. “It got pretty cold playing on the lakefront.”

The league banned tear-away jerseys in 1979. Pruitt was named to five Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl with the Raiders in 1983.

6. Hines Ward Rule

In 2009, the NFL enacted a rule that prohibits blindside blocks that come from the blocker’s helmet, forearm, or shoulder and land to the head or neck area of the defender. The rule is informally known as the Hines Ward Rule, after the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver who established a reputation for leveling unsuspecting defenders and broke Keith Rivers’ jaw with a vicious block in 2008. “It’s kind of funny because week in and week out, that’s all we see is highlights of somebody getting blown up by a defensive player,” Ward told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “In my case it’s shunned or doesn’t look good or makes me a dirty player. I don’t do anything different than what they do to offensive players.”

7. Lester Hayes Rule

In 1981, the NFL banned the use of Stickum, a sticky substance used to improve grip that was popularized by Oakland Raiders cornerback Lester Hayes. During the 1980 season, including the playoffs, the substance helped Hayes haul in 19 interceptions. "You practically had to pry the ball loose from him whenever he got his hands on it," Raiders linebacker Ted Hendricks said of Hayes in a 2007 interview with ESPN’s Jeffri Chadiha.

8. Phil Dawson Rule

During a 2007 game in Baltimore, Dawson’s unusual 51-yard field goal led to the adoption of a new rule. Dawson’s kick, which tied the game, was initially ruled no good, as the ball deflected off the left upright and down off the stanchion support post behind the crossbar before bouncing back over the crossbar and into the end zone. While replay rules did not allow for the review of field goals at the time, officials reversed the call after a brief discussion on the field. The Phil Dawson Rule enacted the following season allowed for field goals and extra points that hit the crossbar or uprights to be reviewed.

9. Ricky Williams Rule

The Ricky Williams Rule, which was enacted in 2003, declared that a player’s hair was an extension of his uniform and therefore fair game for tacklers. The rule was informally named after Williams, the Miami Dolphins’ dreadlocked running back. It’s probably not a coincidence that most NFL players with long hair play defense, but defenders aren’t entirely safe from the dangers of hair-pulling. In 2006, Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson dragged Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu down by his hair after an interception. “The dude had hair,” Johnson said of his tackle. “What do you want me to do?” Polamalu has since insured his hair for $1 million.

10. Roy Williams Rule

The rule banning horse-collar tackles, in which a defender whips a player to the ground by grabbing the back of his shoulder pads, is informally named after Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams and was enacted before the 2005 season. Williams broke Terrell Owens’s ankle and also ended the seasons of Musa Smith and Tyrone Calico with horse-collar tackles in 2004. “I play by whatever rules the NFL lays down,” Williiams said after the rule was enacted. “If there’s a type of tackle that’s legal, I’ll use it. If it’s not legal, I won’t. It’s as simple as that.” Williams was suspended for one game in 2007 after being flagged for his third horse-collar tackle of the season.

11. Tom Dempsey

New Orleans Saints kicker Tom Dempsey was born without toes on his right foot and wore a modified shoe with a flattened and enlarged toe surface. Dempsey booted an NFL record 63-yard field goal to beat the Detroit Lions in 1970. In 1977, the NFL enacted a rule that requires “any shoe that is worn by a player with an artificial limb on his kicking leg must have a kicking surface that conforms to that of a normal kicking shoe." In 1956, the Lou Groza Rule banned the use of artificial aids for kickers. Groza, a Hall of Famer for the Cleveland Browns, used a strip of tape to line up his kicks and a special tee to help guide the ball off his foot.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
A Chinese Museum Is Offering Cash to Whoever Can Decipher These 3000-Year-Old Inscriptions

During the 19th century, farmers in China’s Henan Province began discovering oracle bones—engraved ox scapulae and tortoise shells used by Shang Dynasty leaders for record-keeping and divination purposes—while plowing their fields. More bones were excavated in subsequent years, and their inscriptions were revealed to be the earliest known form of systematic writing in East Asia. But over the decades, scholars still haven’t come close to cracking half of the mysterious script’s roughly 5000 characters—which is why one Chinese museum is asking member of the public for help, in exchange for a generous cash reward.

As Atlas Obscura reports, the National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Henan Province has offered to pay citizen researchers about $15,000 for each unknown character translated, and $7500 if they provide a disputed character’s definitive meaning. Submissions must be supported with evidence, and reviewed by at least two language specialists.

The museum began farming out their oracle bone translation efforts in Fall 2016. The costly ongoing project has hit a stalemate, and scholars hope that the public’s collective smarts—combined with new advances in technology, including cloud computing and big data—will yield new information and save them research money.

As of today, more than 200,000 oracle bones have been discovered—around 50,000 of which bear text—so scholars still have a lot to learn about the Shang Dynasty. Many of the ancient script's characters are difficult to verify, as they represent places and people from long ago. However, decoding even just one character could lead to a substantial breakthrough, experts say: "If we interpret a noun or a verb, it can bring many scripts on oracle bones to life, and we can understand ancient history better,” Chinese history professor Zhu Yanmin told the South China Morning Post.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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