In a controversial move that some believe could change how the game is played, NFL owners at their annual meeting in Phoenix passed a rule Wednesday that will make it illegal for ball carriers or tacklers to lead or initiate contact with the crown of their helmet.
The owners also voted to rescind the Tuck Rule.
Six rules were up for consideration this year. Two safety-oriented rules were passed Tuesday, leaving four still on the table.
The owners wrapped up their meeting Wednesday with a change to an instant-replay rule, known as the "Jim Schwartz Rule," to allow automatic reviews to proceed whether or not a coach throws a red challenge flag.
St. Louis Rams coach and Competition Committee member Jeff Fisher said the votes were "overwhelming" to pass the crown-of-the-helmet rule and rescind the Tuck Rule, which will now live in infamy as the call that allowed the New England Patriots to defeat the Oakland Raiders in a playoff game during the 2001 season.
According to NFL Network, the crown-of-helmet rule had only one abstention, by the Cincinnati Bengals. The Tuck Rule passed 29-1-2, with Pittsburgh voting against and the Patriots and Washington Redskins abstaining.
The reason for the Patriots' position is obvious. Redskins general manager Bruce Allen was in a similar position with the Raiders in 2001, which explains that vote.
Running backs are highly critical of the crown-of-the-helmet rule, which they believe will prevent them from protecting themselves at the point of contact.
"That is a ridiculous rule," Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith said. "It will leave runners vulnerable to injury. Maybe we will need an asterisk for all running stats starting in 2013. It will change how backs run or there will be a lot of penalties."
"This just gives the tacklers, the defenders, a huge advantage and puts the runner at risk," former Rams running back Marshal Faulk said.
Fisher believes players will be more accepting of the rule when it is explained in detail.
"This will not change how a runner charges into the line on short yardage or goal line, it is meant to address how players initiate contact in the open field," Fisher told The Sports Xchange. "I think when the rule is fully explained to players, they will have a different opinion. It is in their own interest."
After the rule was passed, and after hearing Fisher's explanation, Faulk was still not convinced.
"Jeff has not carried the ball and run as many times as we have, so he can't know what it is like," Faulk said in an interview on NFL Network. "Your run with your chin up, your eyes up, you will get hurt. Jeff also cannot know how the officials will call this rule. None of us do."
The league had incentive to pass the rule because of concerns about current and possible future litigation.
Most coaches seem to really believe the rule won't have a major impact on the game, or they are dutifully marching to the league's tune.
"I just don't think it's that big of a change," Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday. "As coaches, we've never taught the crown of the helmet. There's no coach that has taught the crown of the helmet. It's just not part of football, never has been.
"Anybody that has played the game knows that when you're going in on a higher hit you tackle with your eyes up, you see what you hit. That's what we've always taught our guys to do. When you front up a guy, you do it with your eyes up. That's how you protect yourself, and you see what you hit. You're a better tackler. You don't tackle very well by dropping your head."
Denver Broncos coach John Fox said the rule won't affect many plays.
"I think they are just trying to minimize those types of hits and penalize or even fine those hits that they deem not sportsmanlike," Fox said. "I don't think it will be a lot. It wasn't a lot in the research. I think it was about 35 plays in the entire season. You get back to how you officiate it. These officials get put in tough spots. So we'll see how that part goes."
The Tuck Rule allowed a quarterback who has initiated a passing motion to be exempt from a fumble until after he returns the ball to a cradled position against his body.
The Tuck Rule has not been called often, but one unforgettable instances will forever secure it a spot in NFL histoy.
On Jan. 19, 2002, at Foxboro Stadium, Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson appeared to have sacked Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and caused a fumble that was recovered by Oakland. But the sack and fumble were disallowed and the play was declared an incomplete pass based on the Tuck Rule. The Patriots then kicked a game-tying field goal and went on to win in overtime.
On Tuesday, the league passed one rule banning peel-back-blocks and another preventing defenses from overloading one side of the field with more than six players on point-after and field goal attempts.
The so-called "Jim Schwartz rule" on replays, which was altered Wednesday, derives its name from the Detroit Lions coach who threw a challenge flag that wiped out the referee's automatic review of a ball carrier who appeared to step out of bounds on a long touchdown run in a Thanksgiving Day game.