About The Game

Click here to read the rules of New Gridiron Football.

When NFL Hall of Famer Mike Webster passed away in 2002, the end of his life appeared tragic. Here was a strong man who had reached the peak of American football accomplishment by winning four National Football League titles as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. After his career ended, however, he was, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “homeless, unemployed, deep in debt, beset with medical ailments, lacking health insurance, in the midst of divorce, in the care of a psychiatrist and on medication, and involved in a complex lawsuit over real estate investments.”

After Webster’s death at age 50, Dr. Bennet Omalu, a junior pathologist at the Allegheny Medical coroner’s office, studied Webster’s brain. He discovered that Webster suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. According to Dr. Omalu, Webster’s brain resembled the brains of “boxers, very old people with Alzheimer’s disease or someone who had suffered a severe head wound.”

In the following years, Dr. Omalu and other scientists studied the brains of other deceased NFL players and discovered that many others also suffered from CTE. The NFL attempted to obfuscate this research, as detailed by reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru in the book League of Denial. One NFL doctor reportedly told Omalu, “Bennett, do you know the implications of what you’re doing? If 10 percent of mothers in this country would begin to perceive football as a dangerous sport, that is the end of football.”

The “end of football” as a popular American sport, however, remains a long way away. NFL games remain the most-watched prime time television programs in the country, and pro and college football remain as popular as ever.

What’s more, a decline in popularity for the American game of football comes with a price – replacing the infrastructure that has been built to support the game.

Infrastructure has long played a role in the development of football around the world. Association football (soccer) and Rugby football are both products of the environments in which they developed. In 19th century England, the Rugby School had large, wide-open fields that encouraged a running and tackling game. Schools in London had far more limited real estate, many of them limited to stone and concrete cloisters, which led to a kicking and dribbling game that eventually became soccer. At the same time in Australia, football was being designed as a game to keep cricket players fit during the winter, so Australian football was designed to be played on an oval-shaped cricket ground.

Indeed, infrastructure for American football laid the foundation for the game as we know it today. After 19 college football players died from injuries suffered in games in 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote:

“I demand that football change its rules or be abolished. Brutality and foul play should receive the same summary punishment given to a man who cheats at cards! Change the game or forsake it!”

In the first meeting of the Intercollegiate Football Conference in 1905, Yale graduate Walter Camp, the man who changed the rules of Rugby Union to create a unique American game in the late 19th century, proposed widening the field to allow more running and decrease the number of serious collisions in the game.

Harvard president Charles W. Eliot objected to this rule. The reason? Harvard had just spent roughly $310,000 to build a new concrete stadium. Tearing down that stadium and replacing it with a new one would cost nearly twice as much. Thus, Eliot formed a new coalition on the committee with Georgia Tech football coach John Heisman and Navy football coach Paul Dashiell to legalize the forward pass.

That rule helped football grow into the popular sport it is today. Billions of dollars have been spent on stadiums specifically designed for the game of American football. Hundreds of colleges across the country have football stadiums, as do thousands of high schools. Many of these stadiums cannot be easily retrofitted for other sports. Thus, if American football as we know it finds itself in decline because of young players opting not to play to avoid suffering long-term brain injuries, what becomes of all that infrastructure?

New Gridiron Football attempts to answer that question by rewriting the rules of football while still utilizing the American football field as we know it today. The object is to create a new football game that greatly reduces the potential for the sub-concussive blows that cause CTE, without sacrificing the inherent joy of playing a game, or the pleasure of watching a well-played sporting contest.

This rulebook should provide all the details necessary to explain how New Gridiron Football is played to potential players, coaches, and officials. Like all football games, however, these rules can (and very likely will) change based on the input of those involved in the game — which is the case for every football game. For there is no such thing as “real” football. Every football game, from soccer to rugby to American football and beyond, is a man-made game with man-made rules. We created those rules, and we are free to change those rules whenever we want. 

And we do. All the time. Beyond the adoption of the forward pass in 1905, or the change to the shape of the football in 1934, consider the influence the illegal contact penalty had on Peyton Manning’s ability to win a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts. Consider how changes to the offside rule have impacted soccer over the years. Consider how rugby union and rugby league have diverged into two very different games. The rules of football are and have always been fluid. New Gridiron Football will be no different. 

Teddy Roosevelt encouraged us to “change the game or forsake it”. As more and more NFL, college, and even high school football players are seen to be impacted by football-induced CTE, perhaps it is time for us once again to consider changing the game, for the benefit of all.

Click here to read the rules of New Gridiron Football.