Press "Enter" to skip to content

The fumble touchback: An oddity of American football

American football is a game rife with strange rules and quirks that set it apart from the sports of the rest of the world. Among the most controversial of these rules is the infamous fumble touchback, which reared its head in the University of Maine football’s homecoming win against Long Island University.

LIU quarterback Ethan Greenwood was steps away from paydirt, and about to score until defensive back Damon Matthews popped the ball out of his grasp. The ball took a strange tumble and bounced off the pylon in the corner of the endzone, resulting in an uncommon fumble touchback.

A fumble touchback is a crucial and often dramatic play in American football that occurs when an offensive player loses possession of the ball inside the opponent’s end zone, resulting in a touchback. In this scenario, the defending team is awarded possession of the ball at their own 20-yard line. The fumble touchback rule has significant consequences for the game’s momentum and highlights the importance of ball security in football.

The fumble touchback rule serves as a strong incentive for players to protect the ball near the goal line. It can be a game-changer, turning a potential touchdown or field goal into a turnover and a 20-yard advantage for the opposing team. Case in point, instead of taking a 14-0 lead, LIU turned the ball over to the Black Bears, who promptly marched down the field for a Montigo Moss touchdown. 

Many argue for abolishing the fumble touchback, as it is a cruel punishment for an offense that would otherwise have manufactured a successful drive. This is especially evident when you remember that a typical out-of-bounds fumble does not result in a team losing possession. 

However, many would argue that the fumble touchback’s unique cruelty makes it a valuable part of football. In the modern game, so many penalties and enforcements work to the offense’s advantage. Roughing the passer is more pertinent than ever. Defensive holding is always an automatic first down, and an errant defensive pass interference call can change the entire momentum of a game the same way a big passing play can. 

Despite not being unanimously adored, the fumble touchback adds an extra layer of tension and excitement to football games, making goal-line stands and fumbles some of the most memorable moments in the sport. It also emphasizes the importance of ball security, specifically in the red zone. If a team manages to fumble away a possession into their own endzone, it stands to reason that they should lose that possession. 

The fumble touchback rule underscores the fine margins of success and failure in football, where a split-second decision can dramatically impact the outcome of a game. It would be a shame to see the rule go, as it significantly augments the excitement and intrigue of what could otherwise be bland and uncompetitive moments. 

Get the Maine Campus' weekly highlights right to your inbox!
Email address
First Name
Last Name
Secure and Spam free...