Horseshit Plays That Changed NFL History, Part One

You're familiar with the Butterfly Effect, right? You know, when a butterfly flaps his wings off the coast of Brazil, and weeks later, that results in a gust of wind that comes up and miraculously blows a Tim Tebow pass straight into the hands of his receiver? Yeah, that.

The history of the National Football League is littered with dubious, horseshit-looking plays that changed its history and sometimes, the history of sports in America.  Here is indisputable proof that the Butterfly Effect works, leaving even 350-pound behemoths helpless in its wake.

Here is the first of  six utterly ridiculous plays that flukishly turned on the most insignificant of factors, changed games, and changed NFL history in ways that no one would have predicted.

1945: What The Hell Is That Doing There?
Take a close look at the field in this photo.

Notice how the goalpost has two uprights, which are attached to a crossbar, which is attached to a support pillar stuck in the ground? Notice further how that support is conveniently located outside the field of play, in back of the end zone, where players running around are less likely to smack face first into it? Pretty basic safety engineering concept, right? Don't put immovable structures on the field of play that people are likely to brain themselves on.

But those goalposts haven't always been located there. At least, not in the NFL.

From 1933 through 1973, the goalpost at either end of the field was actually placed at the goal line.  The supporting pillar was just inside the end zone, which means two very important things:

1. It was in the actual field of play, and not located out-of-bounds.
2. It was in the actual field of play, and not located out-of-fucking-bounds.

This was the brainchild of one George Preston Marshall, owner of the then Boston Redskins, who pushed for the rule change that moved the goalpost from the back of the end zone, where it belongs, to the goal line, where it clearly does not.  All to make things easier for field goal kickers, who admittedly have always been the most respected players in the game of football.

Respected and feared.

Twelve years later, Marshall's brainchild was to bite him in the butt and cost him a championship. And, not incidentally, change the NFL forever in multiple ways.

The Play
In 1937, Mr. Marshall made two decisions that would serve him very well in the coming years: he moved the team from Boston to Washington, creating the Washington Redskins franchise, known and loved to this day by millions of fans nationwide who still pretend that "Redskins" isn't any sort of racial slur (Marshall was also largely responsible for the fact that the NFL employed no black people from 1933-1945)..  Then, he paid a young man from Texas Christian University named Sammy Baugh  a sizable (for those days) lump of money to forego a possible baseball career and come play quarterback for those Redskins.

He also bought him a really bitchin' new hat.

Sammy rewarded Marshall's confidence in him by immediately leading the Redskins to an NFL championship in 1937, and followed with another five years later. And, in 1945, Baugh led the Redskins back to the championship game, this time facing a team that called itself the Cleveland Rams.

Presumably the Rams' owner also considered "Cleveland Bites" and
"Cleveland Sucks" as possible names for his team.

In a game that matched two of the best quarterbacks of the day, Baugh and Cleveland's Bob Waterfield (sort of the Tom Brady of his day, handsome and married to movie star Jane Russell) the championship was ultimately decided by one seriously horseshit-looking play in the first period. Taking over the ball on his own five-yard line, Slingin' Sammy went back to pass, retreating into his own end zone before spotting an open receiver and letting fly.

Any guesses on how that worked out for him?  Yep. The ball bounced off the goalpost and came to rest in the end zone. Under the rules of the day, that was a "safety"--two points for the Rams. And when the game ended a couple of hours later, the Rams had won, 15-14. One point difference.

What Happened Next
The Rams were the champions of the professional football world. But the football business in Cleveland was not lucrative enough to suit Rams owner Dan Reeves; when the season ended he petitioned the league to allow him to move the team to Los Angeles. where they would play in a stadium that seated a whopping 92,000--Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The other owners said "no." Or maybe "fuck, no," if people talked like that back then. After all, Los Angeles was roughly 2000 miles from any other team in the NFL. And travelling by jet airliner in 1946? Not happening.

But Reeves decided to play hardball, or the football version of "hardball," whatever that might be. He threatened to end his relationship with football and leave the league, possibly disbanding the team. In other words, to take his ball and go home. The other NFL owners, thinking it might not look good to have their current championship team ritually disembowel itself in front of the entire country, relented and allowed the move. Would they have done this had the Rams not won that championship only weeks before? If that damn ball hadn't bounced off that stupid goalpost?

It certainly would have reduced Reeves' leverage over the league, you can be sure of that. And why was the move so critical to the future of the NFL?

1. It gave the league an outpost in California, a part of the country growing in leaps and bounds in the years following World War II, a full 12 years before Major League Baseball got there. This was big--within a generation, California would have mutliple football teams and the game would supplant baseball as the nation's "pasttime."

2. The owners of LA coliseum had one odd little condition they imposed on the Rams before allowing them to play there--they had to integrate the team with at least one black player.  Yes, integration of the NFL was one of the more direct consequences of that brutally stupid play in 1945. And again, the NFL was ahead of baseball in this regard, although in this case it was by only one year.  And the player they then signed? None other than Kenny Washington, former UCLA teammate of Jackie Robinson.

Note the irony: a decision made to move the goalposts, spearheaded by one of the most unabashedly racist men to own a professional sports team in the last century, led (somewhat indirectly, admittedly) to the NFL being re-integrated.

There was one other change that resulted directly from that horseshit play. The team owners, spurred again by George Preston Marshall, implemented a new rule for the following season: if a pass bounces off the goalpost, rather than counting as a safety and scoring two points for the defense, it is simply incomplete. And beginning in 1974, the goalposts were moved back where they probably should have been all along: at the back of the end zone. Never again would a piece of stadium equipment be in such a position to interfere directly in an NFL game.

Well, if you don't count that gigantic video display board they hung a mere 90 feet above the field in the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium a few years ago. While that hasn't altered any counting games as yet, it is low enough for a good, strong punter (like, say, one good enough to play in the NFL) to hit the thing with a high, well-aimed kick.

Caution is recommended for anyone attempting to throw a "jump" pass.

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