What are the most Rarely-called and Bizarre Football Penalties?


Football, known for its thrilling gameplay and strategic depth, is governed by a comprehensive set of rules that ensure fair play and order on the field. These rules, ranging from the basic to the highly intricate, form the backbone of the sport, dictating every aspect from gameplay to player conduct.

This post explores the lesser-known corners of the football rulebook, revealing the complexity and breadth of regulations that guide this beloved sport. By shining a light on the vast array of rules, some of which are rarely called into action, we set the stage for uncovering the unique and often surprising aspects of football that even seasoned fans may not be aware of.

Among the multitude of football rules, there exists a subset of rarely-called and bizarre penalties that occasionally surface to the astonishment of players, coaches, and spectators alike. These penalties, often obscure and unexpected, carry with them a sense of intrigue and can significantly impact the flow and outcome of a game.

The Infamous “One-Point Safety”

The one-point safety is a highly unusual scoring play in football, often unknown even to avid fans. This rule comes into effect under very specific and rare circumstances during a conversion attempt (either a PAT or a two-point conversion) after a touchdown. If the defense gains possession of the ball, then loses it back to the offense in their own end zone, and the ball becomes dead there, the offense is awarded a single point. This scenario is so rare that it has only occurred a handful of times in the history of both college and professional football, making it one of the weirdest football rules in the sport.

The 2013 Fiesta Bowl – Oregon vs. Kansas State

A noteworthy instance of the one-point safety occurred during the 2013 Fiesta Bowl, where Oregon faced Kansas State. In this game, after scoring a touchdown, Oregon attempted a two-point conversion. The play led to a series of unusual events, culminating in a one-point safety being awarded to Oregon. This incident not only surprised many viewers but also served as a perfect illustration of how this obscure rule functions. It highlighted the unpredictable nature of football and how even the most unlikely scenarios can unfold on the field.

The “Fair Catch Kick” Rule

The fair catch kick rule is a rare and often overlooked aspect of football, buried deep within the rulebook. This rule allows a team to attempt a field goal directly from the spot of a fair catch, without opposition from defenders. It can be executed either by a placekick or a dropkick, and if successful, awards the team three points, just like a regular field goal.

This rule traces its origins to the early days of football and remains one of the sport’s more arcane and seldom-seen provisions. Its rarity is due in part to the specific circumstances required for it to be a viable option, and also because many players, coaches, and even fans are unaware of its existence.

2013 Attempt by Phil Dawson of the San Francisco 49ers

One of the most recent and notable attempts to utilize the fair catch kick rule occurred in a 2013 NFL game with Phil Dawson of the San Francisco 49ers. After a fair catch was called near the end of the first half, Dawson attempted a long-range field goal. Although his attempt was unsuccessful, it brought significant attention to this unusual rule. This incident serves as an example of how teams can leverage lesser-known and weird rules in football to their advantage, even in professional leagues where such opportunities are rare.

The “Palpably Unfair Act” Penalty

The “Palpably Unfair Act” rule in football is a catch-all provision designed to address situations where a player or team commits an act so blatantly unfair that it falls outside the normal scope of penalties. This rule grants referees the discretion to impose penalties in response to actions that don’t necessarily fit under standard foul categories but clearly affect the fairness of the game. The rule is intentionally vague, allowing officials to make judgment calls in extraordinary situations. The rarity of its application and the broad discretion it allows make it one of the most intriguing aspects of football’s rulebook.

Baltimore Colts (1954)

One of the most notable instances of the Palpably Unfair Act penalty being enforced occurred in a 1954 game involving the Baltimore Colts. In this game, a player from the Colts came off the bench and tackled an opponent who was on his way to scoring a touchdown. This blatant act of rule-breaking led to the application of the Palpably Unfair Act rule, highlighting its necessity in maintaining the integrity of the game. Such instances, while rare, demonstrate the rule’s significance in addressing extraordinary breaches of sportsmanship and fair play.

The “Tuck Rule” Game

The “Tuck Rule” was one of the most debated rules in the NFL before its eventual repeal in 2013. According to this rule, if a quarterback’s arm is moving forward when the ball is knocked out of his hands, it is considered an incomplete pass, not a fumble. The controversy around this rule primarily stemmed from its interpretation and the difficulty in determining a quarterback’s intent during the rapid progression of a play. The rule focused on the action of the quarterback’s arm and whether he was attempting to tuck the ball back into his body after initially moving his arm forward to pass.

The 2001 AFC Divisional Playoff (The New England Patriots vs. Oakland Raiders)

The most infamous application of the Tuck Rule occurred during the 2001 AFC Divisional Playoff game between the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders. In a pivotal moment late in the game, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was hit by a Raiders defender, causing the ball to come loose. Initially ruled a fumble, which would have likely secured a win for the Raiders, the call was controversially overturned upon review, citing the Tuck Rule. This decision allowed the Patriots to retain possession, leading to a game-tying field goal and an eventual victory in overtime.

The “Illegal Batting” Rule

Illegal batting in football refers to the intentional striking or hitting of the ball with the hand or arm in a direction that is deemed unlawful by the rules of the game. This action is often taken by a player to prevent the opposing team from recovering the ball or to aid their team in gaining possession. The rule against illegal batting is designed to uphold the game’s integrity by preventing players from gaining an unfair advantage through such actions. The penalty for illegal batting can be severe, often involving a loss of yardage or the awarding of possession to the opposing team, and can have a significant impact on the outcome of a game.

The 2015 Game (The Seattle Seahawks vs. Detroit Lions)

A notable instance of the illegal batting rule being invoked occurred in a 2015 game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Detroit Lions. In this game, a critical play unfolded when a Seahawks player batted the ball out of the end zone following a fumble near the goal line. This action prevented the Lions from potentially recovering the ball for a touchdown or a safety. Initially, the officials missed calling the penalty, leading to a significant controversy. This incident not only brought the illegal batting rule into the spotlight but also raised questions about officiating and rule awareness in crucial game situations.

The “Too Many Men on the Field” Fiasco

The rule against having too many players on the field in football is straightforward but crucial for maintaining the game’s fairness. It stipulates that a team cannot have more than eleven players on the field during a play. Any number beyond this results in a penalty, typically a yardage penalty, which can be significant depending on the game situation. This rule is designed to prevent teams from gaining an unfair advantage by fielding extra players, and its enforcement is critical to ensuring a level playing field.

The 2009 Incident (The Minnesota Vikings vs. New Orleans Saints)

One of the most memorable incidents involving this rule occurred during the 2009 NFC Championship game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints. In a crucial moment of the game, the Vikings inadvertently had twelve men in the huddle, which resulted in a penalty that pushed them back five yards.

This penalty had a significant impact on the game, contributing to the Vikings being out of optimal field goal range and subsequently turning over the ball. This error was seen as a major factor in the eventual loss of the Vikings and their missed opportunity to advance to the Super Bowl.

Significance of Rare and Bizarre Penalties in Shaping Football History

Significance of Rare and Bizarre Penalties in Shaping Football History

The significance of rare and bizarre penalties in shaping football history lies in their ability to leave a lasting impact on key games, influence the evolution of rules, and add an element of unpredictability to the sport. These unusual penalties often highlight areas where the rulebook may lack clarity or fairness, prompting discussions and changes in the rules. The controversy surrounding the “Tuck Rule,” for instance, eventually led to its repeal. This process of rule evolution, often stimulated by rare penalties, shows the sport’s willingness to adapt and improve for fairness and relevance.

Importance in Covering all Possible Scenarios

Importance in Covering all Possible Scenarios

The existence of these rare and weird football penalties brings to light the delicate balance between maintaining a comprehensive rulebook that covers all possible scenarios and preserving the spirit and flow of the game. The existence of rules for rare scenarios ensures that no matter how unusual a situation is, there is a framework in place to handle it fairly.

This comprehensive coverage prevents teams or players from exploiting loopholes for an unfair advantage, thereby maintaining the integrity of the sport. For instance, the “Illegal Batting” rule ensures that players cannot deliberately manipulate the ball’s position in a way that would unfairly disadvantage the opposing team. They also encourage awareness and strategic thinking and the occasional application of a bizarre rule can add an extra layer of excitement and discussion to the game (read more about some of the best football matches in history).


The evolution of football rules is a testament to the sport’s dynamic nature, reflecting its adaptation to new tactics, technologies, and understandings of fair play. Changes such as the implementation of video review systems and modifications in penalty rules showcase a commitment to accuracy and fairness, crucial in a sport where a single call can alter the outcome of a game. These evolutions are not just administrative but have profound implications on the field. Coaches and players are compelled to constantly adapt their strategies and understanding of the game’s legal framework, adding layers of complexity to their roles.

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