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.