NFL Players That Changed the Rules of the Game

Michael Dunbar@dunbarnationContributor IIIAugust 17, 2011

NFL Players That Changed the Rules of the Game

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    Throughout history, coaches and contributors are often credited for changing and developing the game of football we know today.

    For example, Ed Sabol is credited for developing NFL Films, which has been used throughout the years to develop the cinematography of football we love today.

    In addition, E.B. Cochems, coach of St. Louis in the 1900s, is credited as the “father of modern-day passing.”

    However, players have had a huge impact throughout the years, too.

    Therefore, this is a list of players who have literally changed the rules of the NFL with their play on the field or from plays that occurred to them. 

    P.S. If you know of any other situations, please let me know, and I may add it to the slideshow. 

Brett Favre/Emmitt Smith

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    Brett Favre is well known for collecting nearly every NFL passing record. However, he is also well known for his Super Bowl celebration on Jan. 26, 1997. After scoring a touchdown, Favre exuberantly took off his helmet and sprinted off the field with a joyous face.  

    Unfortunately, during the 1997 NFL offseason, the NFL decided to ban players from removing their helmets on the field, especially during a touchdown celebration.

    Although Brett Favre's celebration is the most notable, it is commonly referred to as the "Emmitt Smith" rule because of the running back's habit of taking off his helmet after every touchdown.  

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Honorable Mention

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    Julius Adams was the last player to wear a position number under the "grandfather clause."

    **Photo Courtesy of

Deacon Jones

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    Deacon Jones was arguably one of the most dominant pass rushers during the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, he was considered a genius with his array of defensive line moves. 

    However, his most notable move, the "head slap," was considered brutal and eventually outlawed by the NFL in 1977.  

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Carson Palmer

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    Carson Palmer was a rising star in the NFL during the 2005 NFL season and just secured a first-round bye for the Cincinatti Bengals. During the divisional playoff series against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Palmer threw a touchdown pass to Chad Johnson on the first possession. 

    Unfortunately, Steelers defensive tackle Kimo Von Oelhoffen tackled Palmer below the knee after he threw it and fractured his ACL and MCL, ending his season and the Bengals playoff hopes. 

    In addition, Tampa Bay quarterback Brian Griese endured an injury that season in a similar fashion.

    Therefore, the NFL decided to implement a rule after the season that prevented defensive players from hitting the quarterback at or below the knee.

    In fact, the rules became even more stringent after the 2008 NFL season when Tom Brady suffered a season-ending ACL and MCL injury because of a similar incident. 

Morris Stroud

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    Morris Stroud is known as the tallest tight end in NFL history and one of the tallest players in NFL history at 6'10".

    Although he didn't have a hugely successful NFL career, he was well known for his special teams play as a field goal blocker. 

    However, unlike field goal blockers who rush the kicker and attempt to swat at the ball, Stroud would stand by the field goal post and attempt to block it when it was going through the uprights.

    As a result, the NFL decided to create the rule known as the "Stroud Rule," which states: 

    "Goaltending by any player leaping up to deflect a kick as it passes above the crossbar of a goal post is prohibited. The referee could award 3 points for a palpably unfair act."

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Ty Law

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    Ty Law was one of the best cornerbacks in the early 2000s and is well known for being Peyton Manning's "second favorite receiver" during the Patriots-Colts playoff rivalry of the same period. 

    However, he was also well known for his physical play against receivers at the line of scrimmage. 

    In fact, the NFL decided to strictly enforce the five-yard illegal contact rule after the Colts complained of his aggressive play during the 2003 NFL playoffs.

Mel Blount

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    Mel Blount is arguably one of the greatest cornerbacks in NFL history whom was part of the ferocious "Steel Curtain" defense in Pittsburgh. In fact, at 6'3" and 205 lbs, he absolutely abused opposing wide receivers to the point that few receivers ever had the chance to receive against him. 

    Therefore, the NFL decided to impose a rule that prevented any defensive player from jamming an offensive player five yards past the line of scrimmage. If the defensive player failed to do so, then he would be charged with defensive pass interference.

    The rule, known as the "Mel Blount Rule," has dramatically had a huge influence on the opening of the passing game.  

Tom Dempsey

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    Tom Dempsey is tied for the longest field goal in NFL history at 63 yards. The best part is that he did it with a deformed right foot. 

    Unfortunately, the media and other players believed that he had an unfair advantage with his specially-designed shoe.

    Thus, after much debate, the NFL passed a rule, known as the "Tom Dempsey Rule," in 1977 that states:

     "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."

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Dick "Night Train" Lane

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    Dick "Night Train" Lane holds the NFL record for most interceptions in career at 81 picks. 

    During the 1950s, the NFL implemented plastic helmets with face masks to be worn by all players. 

    Unfortunately, Lane was the biggest culprit of "facemasking" his opponent. He would frequently grab the face mask of the offensive players and tackle them to the ground by it. Therefore, the NFL decided to implement the "facemask" penalty in the 1950s to help prevent it.  

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Roy Williams

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    Seen here on the Dallas Cowboys, he was a formidable tackler from the safety position and known for his bone-crushing hits. 

    However, he was also known for his oft-used "horse collar" tackle, which is where the player tackles the ball handler by the horse collar.

    There wasn't too much concern about it until it started producing injuries, such as Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Therefore, the NFL decided to ban the tackle in 2006 under the "horse collar rule."

Phil Dawson

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    During the 2007 NFL season, Dawson had a couple of kicks that would hit the upright and then the front crossbar. The referees would gather together and call the kicks good "after discussion."

    Known as "The Phil Dawson Rule," the NFL in 2008 decided to create a rule that allowed kicks that hit the uprights or crossbar to be reviewable.

R.C. Owens

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    Free agency used to be nonexistent in the early days of the NFL.

    However, in 1947, the league adopted the “1-year option” rule. This rule limited the team’s ability to automatically renew a player’s contract to just one year. Many owners used the reserve clause to indefinitely renew players’ contracts, and the one-year option stopped that practice.

    In 1963, R.C. Owens would become the first player in NFL history to change teams.

    Although it would be nearly 30 years until the NFL free agency would be established, he was the player who helped pave the way for the process.

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Keyshawn Johnson

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    Keyshawn Johnson is arguably one of the most outspoken wide receivers in the NFL, being known for his famous statement "Give me the damn ball." 

    In this case, Johnson decided to tell the NFL to "give me the damn number." 

    When he was drafted No. 1 overall by the New York Jets in the 1996 NFL Draft, wide receivers were restricted to the numbers 80-89. 

    However, he opted to wear No. 19 despite the restrictions and would have to pay "fines" for doing so.

    In 2004, because of the numbers 80-89 being retired by NFL teams and this incident, the NFL decided to allow wide receivers to wear numbers 10-19 in addition to 80-89.  

Peyton Manning

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    Peyton Manning has arguably one of the most efficient no-huddle offenses in the NFL.

    However, the NFL created a rule in 2009 that placed the umpire 12 feet off the line of scrimmage instead of 5 to 7 feet.

    Therefore, this increased the amount of time it took for the umpire to gauge the spot of the ball as well as get into position.

    Manning got so frustrated with it that he drew two penalties during the 2009 preseason while trying to do his "hurry-up" offense. 

    The NFL announced that it was a way to help decrease the amount of collisions with umpires, but it also reduced the effectiveness of hurry-up offenses, such as the Colts and the Patriots.


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