Football, like most sports, has its share of unfair moments, plays and penalties. Sometimes there are things that take place on the field that are grossly disproportionate to the penalty officials are permitted to assess.
However, there is a little-known dragnet rule, a nuclear option, that officials can use when the outcome has been so grossly affected that to proceed otherwise would be fundamentally unfair.
These are the the Palpably Unfair Acts.
All of the major American football codes include some form of unfair act rule. In all cases, the definition is deliberately vague, giving the officials great latitude in defining such an act and enforcing penalties for such acts. At the high school level, officials are free to assess any penalty they see fit, up to and including forfeiture of the game. The National Federation of State High School Associations, however, also includes the general rule that all acts are legal unless otherwise explicitly stated; thus, the unfair act rule is only invoked in cases when specific rules have clearly been broken, but the penalty for the foul itself would still be less than the result of the play had the unfair act not occurred.
While the rule has been seldom invoked sometimes it has been necessary. Alabama was on the giving end of perhaps one of the most unfair plays to see an American football field. And, as a result, the Tide is probably the most famous recipient of the catch-all rule’s equitable wroth.
Harold “Red” Drew’s 1953 Alabama Crimson Tide was the SEC champion, although it was by no stretch a juggernaut. The Tide came into the Cotton Bowl Classic on January 1, 1954 with a record of 6-2-3. ‘Bama was not in the class of the 8-2 Rice Owls, led by All-American halfback, Dicky Moegles. And it showed early and often.
After the Tide took an early 6-0 lead, it was all Dicky Moegles for the next three quarters. On the first play of the second quarter, Moegles blew past Alabama defenders for a 79-yard score and a one-point Rice lead. On the very next Owl possession, after forcing a Tide turnover, Rice was pinned in at their own 5-yard line. They went with the safe play: a harmless end run to Moegles. But, the All-American broke contain again and was flying down the sideline for a sure 95-yard score.
That is when Alabama fullback, Tommy Lewis, took matters into his own hands. Lewis sprinted off the bench near the Tide 40. What followed next is magic, especially Lewis’ actions after the play was over.
The Owls were awarded a 95-yard score using the palpably unfair act. At that point the game was over; Rice went up 14-7, and would add two more touchdowns in the second. Lewis’ true 12th Man Tackle was the only thing to stop Moegle that day -- he finished with 24.1 yards per carry and three touchdowns — on just 11 carries.
"The incident became the first in bowl game history where a man on the bench tackled a runner, and also the first where a runner received credit for a touchdown while flat on his back 38 yards from the goal line."
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