Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A look at the history of football jersey numbering, offensive player alignment

By Dusty Sloan

The A11FL has consistently said that it will be traditional – in every sense of the word – professional football, but with one rule change.  That one rule change will allow all 11 players on the field to wear eligible jersey numbers – giving the new professional football league the ability to not only go back to football’s roots, but also allow it to be the most innovative offensive football league around.

Think about it. Offensive linemen in the National Football League and American college football have to wear uniform numbers ranging from 50 to 79, and offensive linemen in the Canadian Football League have to wear uniform numbers ranging from 50 to 69. But in the A11FL,  by dropping the jersey numbering requirement, “restricted linemen” can wear any number they choose.

For more context, let’s take a look at the current numbering systems and offensive player alignment rules at various levels of professional and college football:

  • NFL (from the 2012 NFL rule book) – Players have jersey numbers based on their position. Quarterbacks, punters and placekickers are assigned numbers from 1-19; running backs and defensive backs, 20-49; centers, 50-79; offensive guards and tackles, 60-79; wide receivers 10-19 and 80-89; tight ends 80-89; defensive linemen 50-79 and 90-99 and linebackers 50-59 and 90-99.
  • CFL (from the 2011 CFL rule book) – Eligible receivers will wear numbers from 0-49 and 70-00, and ineligible receivers will wear numbers from 50-69. On all scrimmage plays, at least five line players, including the center, shall be identified as ineligible pass receivers and must be positioned in a continuous, unbroken line. One player at each end of the line shall be identified as an eligible pass receiver. The exceptions to the rule are scrimmage kicks, extra-point kicks or players with ineligible numbers reporting in as eligible. No more than two players wearing an ineligible number are allowed to line up in eligible positions.
  • American college football (from the 2012 NCAA rule book) – It is strongly recommended that offensive players be numbered as follows: backs (quarterback, halfback and fullback) 1-49, ends (wide receivers and tight ends) 80-99, center 50-59, guards 60-69 and tackles 70-79. The numbers 0 or 00 are illegal. At the snap, at least five players wearing jerseys numbers 50 through 79 are on the offensive scrimmage line (those players are termed “restricted linemen”), and no more than four players are in the backfield.

Jersey numbering rules haven’t always been this way. Until 1952, when the NFL began to change its rules to more easily identify ineligible receivers, Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham wore No. 60. Another Browns Hall of Famer, fullback Marion Motley, started his career with the No. 76. In 1952, the NFL began the process of changing to what now is the modern jersey numbering system. In 1973, jersey numbers were further restricted based on position group.

The A11FL will still mandate that seven players have to be on the line of scrimmage, and that five of them are deemed “restricted linemen.” But with the numbering rules change, the defense will not know which of the players in the huddle will be eligible or ineligible receivers on any given play. They could see a left guard wearing No. 21, or a player wearing the No. 7 lined up at left tackle taking a handoff. A team may have its quarterback quick-kick 8-10 times in a season Or have two quarterbacks in the same backfield.

The result will be that the A11FL will return offensive strategy – along with jersey numbering – to football’s roots. And starting in 2014, we will begin to see all of this play out on a professional stage.

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