Which Obscure NFL Penalties Have Been Called Rarely?


The National Football League (NFL), a colossus in the world of professional sports, operates under an extensive and intricate rulebook. This collection of regulations define the legalities of the game, sculpting the flow of the game. Among these weird NFL rules, certain provisions remain shrouded in obscurity, and are called rarely. These enigmatic penalties are not just footnotes in the storied history of the game, but rather symbolic of the sport’s intricate complexity.

This post delves into the heart of these obscure penalties, unearthing their nuances and the peculiar circumstances under which they are invoked. The focus is not just on the penalties themselves, but on their strange nature and the bewildering scenarios that led to their appearances on the NFL stage.

Fair Catch Kick

The Fair Catch Kick, a rule entrenched in the records of NFL regulations, emerges as an idealistic yet fascinating aspect of football’s rulebook. This rule permits a team to attempt an unopposed field goal from the spot of a fair catch, an event as rare as a blue moon. The defense, standing at least 10 yards away, can only watch as the kicker endeavors to convert a field goal directly from the catch.

Historically, this arcane rule has seldom been invoked, making its occurrences a subject of intrigue and curiosity. Instances of the Fair Catch Kick resemble short-lived apparitions, materializing in moments when the strategic planets align.

This rule, seemingly dormant, offers a window into the ingenuity and resourcefulness that coaches and players can exhibit. It also underscores the ever-evolving nature of football strategy, where even the most obscure rule can become a game-changer under the right circumstances.

This rule has been part of the NFL since its inception, but fair catch kicks are exceedingly rare. The most recent successful fair catch kick in the NFL was made by Ray Wersching of the San Francisco 49ers on November 22, 1976, against the Chicago Bears. Before that, the last successful fair catch kick was by Sam Baker of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1968. These kicks are so rare because the specific circumstances required for a fair catch kick to be a viable option occur infrequently.

Palpably Unfair Act

The Palpably Unfair Act (PUA) penalty in the NFL can make a difference when it does make an appearance. This rule is the gridiron’s equivalent to a deus ex machina, invoked in scenarios where a player or coach commits an act so egregiously against the spirit of the game that it palpably alters the expected outcome. The PUA is a guardian of fair play, ensuring the integrity of the game remains unblemished by acts of blatant chicanery.

The historical enforcement of this rule is as rare as it is dramatic, but when it is enforced, it creates high drama and controversy. These instances, though few, serve as powerful reminders of the rule’s latent potency. The rule’s application hinges on the discretion of the officials, and requires a delicate balance between rule enforcement and the human element in sports adjudication.

One of the most famous instances of the Palpably Unfair Act rule being invoked occurred in a 1954 game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cleveland Browns. In that game, Eagles player Chuck Bednarik tackled Browns running back Jim Brown when he was not in the game and was on the sidelines. This act was deemed palpably unfair, and the officials penalized Philadelphia.

One-Point Safety

The One-Point Safety, a rule in the NFL that borders on the obscure, presents a rare. This rule comes into play under highly specific and unusual circumstances: when a team attempting an extra point or a two-point conversion inadvertently downs the ball in their own end zone. It holds a peculiar charm for those who revel in the game’s intricacies.

Instances of the One-Point Safety in NFL games are so scarce that they become etched in the memory of football aficionados as moments of bewildering novelty. The contrast of the One-Point Safety rule in the NFL with its relatively more common occurrence in college football adds an additional layer of interest.

The last known occurrence of a one-point safety in an NCAA college football game happened during the 2013 Fiesta Bowl. In this game, which took place on January 3, 2013, Oregon was playing against Kansas State. Oregon attempted a two-point conversion that was blocked, but then Kansas State accidentally took the ball back into their own end zone and were tackled there, resulting in a one-point safety for Oregon. It’s also technically possible in the NFL, but the specific circumstances that would lead to a one-point safety are so rare that it has not yet happened.

Illegal Formation – All Players Off Line of Scrimmage

The NFL’s rulebook has a peculiar rule of ‘Illegal Formation – All Players Off Line of Scrimmage’. This rule is activated in a bizarre scenario, where every offensive player finds themselves off the line of scrimmage at the snap. The surreal nature of this formation makes its occurrence not just rare but almost mythical within the context of the game.

Though its invocation is rare, there have been instances where this surreal formation has been unintentionally materialized on the field. The conundrum posed by having all players off the line of scrimmage offers a fascinating glimpse into the complexities of NFL play formations.

While seemingly a footnote in the extensive playbook of NFL rules, the ‘Illegal Formation – All Players Off Line of Scrimmage’ holds a unique place in the strategic tapestry of the game. Both the NFL and NCAA do not commonly highlight this specific penalty in their major penalty summaries or statistical records, as it is relatively uncommon compared to other penalties like false starts, holding, or offsides.

Intentional Grounding by a Receiver

The NFL’s rulebook includes a lesser-known regulation: ‘Intentional Grounding by a Receiver’. This obscure rule comes into play when a receiver, in a rare reversal of roles, intentionally throws the ball into the ground to avoid a loss of yards or a potentially risky situation. Such instances are as infrequent as they are unexpected, making this rule a curious footnote in the grand narrative of the NFL.

When it has been called, this penalty leaves players, coaches, and fans alike in a state of bewilderment. The rarity of seeing a receiver in a position to intentionally ground the ball makes each instance a notable moment in NFL history. It is a rule that, while seldom seen, adds an extra layer of depth to the game, challenging players and coaches to be prepared for even the most unlikely of scenarios.

Due to the uniqueness of this situation, it is not a frequently discussed or highlighted penalty in NFL game summaries or statistics, making it difficult to pinpoint the last occurrence without access to detailed and comprehensive NFL game records. If this penalty has been called in recent years, it would likely have been a notable and unusual event in that particular game.

The Role of Obscure Penalties in the NFL

In the NFL, a league celebrated for its strategic depth and complexity, obscure penalties play an unexpectedly significant role. These rarities in the rulebook act as hidden gears in the intricate machinery of the game, influencing strategies and outcomes in subtle yet profound ways.

The strategic implications of these rare penalties are manifold. Coaches and players must maintain a comprehensive understanding of even the most obscure rules, as overlooking these could lead to game-changing situations. Moreover, these obscure penalties contribute to the NFL’s commitment to fairness and integrity. Each rule, no matter how infrequently invoked, serves as a testament to the league’s efforts to cover all possible scenarios, ensuring a level playing field.

The psychological aspect of these penalties also cannot be understated. The anticipation or fear of such rare calls can have a psychological impact on players and teams. The existence of these obscure NFL rules adds to the rich tapestry of the NFL’s history and culture. They provide intriguing anecdotes and discussion points for fans and analysts, contributing to the lore and appeal of the game.

Obscure, yet Special

Obscure, yet Special

While they may not dominate headlines or occur every other day, these obscure penalties hold a special place in the NFL. They underscore the complexity and unpredictability of the game, reminding us that football is full of unexpected twists and turns. From the Fair Catch Kick to Intentional Grounding by a Receiver, these strange NFL rules provide a unique window into the complexities and nuances of professional football. These obscure penalties, while infrequently called, are more than mere curiosities. They embody the depth and intricacy of the sport, highlighting the strategic foresight required by coaches and players.


The obscure NFL penalties serve as guardians of the sport’s integrity, ensuring that every conceivable scenario is accounted for. Although rarely called, these penalties help maintain the competitive balance and fairness of the game. They also add a psychological dimension, influencing player behavior and decision-making in subtle ways. The rarity of these penalties only adds to the intrigue and allure of the game, a testament to the endless possibilities that lie within the boundaries of the framework.

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