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40 Years Ago: The NFL institues the "Davidson Rule"

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The spearing of Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson by Raiders defensive end Ben Davidson in 1970 laid the foundation for the 1976 rule change.

Ben Davidson (83) delivers a hit to New York Jets QB Joe Namath (12) during a 1967 game.
Ben Davidson (83) delivers a hit to New York Jets QB Joe Namath (12) during a 1967 game.
By Russ Reid/Oakland Tribune

During the course of NFL history, the Raiders have been on both sides of great and infamous plays. From the Holy Roller to the New England Snow Job (Tuck Rule), some of these plays have led to the NFL making significant rules changes.

In the 1960s, Ben Davidson was the physical embodiment of all things Raiders and he played a hand in a rule change that would take effect in 1976, six years after he snatched victory, or at least a tie, out of the jaws of defeat from the Kansas City Chiefs.

During the Nov 1, 1970, contest the Chiefs clung to a 17-14 lead with about two minutes remaining. They had third-and-three or four and needed only to pick up a first down to run out the clock. Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson held on to the ball on a sweep and picked up about eight yards and then dropped to the ground. Davidson, acutely aware he had not been touched down, speared him in the lower back. A melee ensued and the referees called to repeat the down. The Raiders stopped them and went on to tie the game and outpace the Chiefs by one victory to earn the AFC West title.

It took until 1976, but the NFL changed the rules about downing a ball carrier. The rule prohibited defenders from "running or diving into, or throwing his body against or on a ball-carrier who falls or slips to the ground untouched and makes no attempt to advance, before or after the ball is dead." While Davidson is not specifically cited in the rule book, hurling his 275-pound body into the star quarterback was a legal hit in 1970. The league thought better of the practice after that game.

Other 1976 Rules Changes

- A play clock was placed at either end of the field visible to both fans and players.

- The incidental grabbing of the facemask becomes a five-yard penalty, while yanking or pulling it is 15 yards.

- The official coin toss is moved to three minutes before kickoff. Previously, the coin toss was conducted 30 minutes before kickoff, with only a simulated showing three minutes before the game began.

- A defensive foul on a successful extra point assessed on the ensuing kickoff.