Johnny Manziel trick play illegal because of Colts game 60 years ago

September 22, 2014|By Jon Meoli | The Baltimore Sun

Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel was robbed of what would have been the crowning moment of his young NFL career Sunday when an illegal procedure penalty was called on rookie running back Terrance West for not getting set in the backfield.

Manziel, who feigned leaving the field after his lone snap at quarterback for the game, was standing near the sideline — but still on the field — with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan when he set off into a go-route into open space and hauled in what would have been a 39-yard completion.

But as many have pointed out Monday, the play should have been stricken as illegal even without the ticky-tack call on West — and the rule that made it so was installed in the rule book because of a play that kicked off a seasoning opening rout the Baltimore Colts suffered in 1954.

Dan Daly wrote on his website, Pro Football Daly, of the connection between the trickery, which came nearly 60 years to the day after the rules were changed.

On the opening play of the 1954 season, 10 Los Angeles Rams lined up at the center of the field while tremendously named halfback Skeet Quinlan lingered near the sidelines unnoticed, but in play. Quinlan caught a pass from quarterback Norm Van Brocklin 25 yards down field and trotted in clean for an 80-yard touchdown.

The Colts lost, 48-0, and the next day NFL commissioner Bert Bell called the play “unsportsmanlike” and said, “this kind of thing will never happen again if I have anything to say about it,” according to a newspaper report.

He said offending teams going forward would be penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. Here’s the rule that sprang from it, in full: Using entering substitutes, legally returning players, substitutes on sidelines, or withdrawn players to confuse opponents, including lingering by players leaving the field after being replaced by a substitute and an offensive player lining up or going in motion less than five yards from the sideline in front of his team's designated bench area. However, an offensive player is permitted to line up less than five yards from the sidelines on the same side as his team's player bench, provided he is not in front of the designated bench area.

Of course, Bell is no longer the commissioner and died in 1959, so it’s fair to say he no longer has a say in the matter. The current commissioner, Roger Goddell, has bigger things to worry about and would probably muddle this up if he intervened.

But thanks to a guy named Skeet, Johnny Manziel is again made the victim for running an illegal play that his coaches called against a Baltimore football team whose predecessor in the city the rule was written for.

Wheels within wheels.

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