The Un-Brotherly Shove
On December 31, 1967, at Lambeau Field, at the end of the “Ice Bowl” – the NFL Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys – on 3rd and 1 from the Cowboys 1 yard line with 16 seconds left to play, trailing 14-17, Packer Head Coach Vince Lombardi called a “quarterback sneak” play to Hall of Fame signal caller, Bart Starr. When the ball was snapped, Packer Right Guard, Jerry Kramer drove Cowboys’ Defensive Tackle, Jethro Pugh into the ground, creating a lane for Starr to plunge forward into the end zone for the Championship clinching touchdown. On that play, when Packers’ running back Chuck Mercein drives forward and dives into the line next to Starr, you see him lift both arms in the air, indicating that he is not touching Starr in any way, thus not aiding his progress into the end zone. Back then, it was illegal to push on the back of a ball carrier to help him progress forward. It was a penalty called “helping or aiding the runner”.
That rule was eliminated in 2005, and as a result, the Philadelphia Eagles have been running a play on short yardage called “The Brotherly Shove” or “The Tush Push” in which the Eagles’ Quarterback, Jalen Hurts receives the snap from Center, buries his head and drives forward into the line. When his forward progress becomes stopped, he is then pushed forward 2 to 3 yards by his powerful teammates pressing his backside. Hurts gets credit for all the yardage gained even though he did not move the full yardage under his own power.
Allowing this play directly contradicts the rules of the NFL. Imagine if there was a penalty called, “defensive pass interference”, but not “offensive pass interference”, or if there was “defensive offsides”, without “offensive offsides”. Allowing the so-called “Tush Push” is doing precisely that, having one set of rules for the defense and the exact opposite set of rules for the offense. There is a rule called “forward progress” which states, when “the forward momentum of a player who is in possession of the football is stopped by a defender… A player is awarded the most forward spot the runner reached when the ball is declared dead even if he is pushed backward.” If a ball carrier is stopped by the defense, and the defense pushes him back 5 yards, the officials will spot the ball where the ball carrier’s full yardage was gained, even though his knee never touch the ground, or his foot never stepped out of bounds. The ball is not placed where the defense pushed him back, because ball carrier did not go backwards under his own power. And that is the essence of the rule.
The “forward progress” rule should be applied to both the offense and the defense equally. The moment a ball carrier needs to be pushed from behind to continue his progress forward, the play should be whistled dead. If this play is allowed, then the defensive players should be allowed to push a stopped ball carrier back as far as they are able – 10, 20, even 30 yards – until his knee touches the ground and the ball should be spotted there. But that would turn the game into a farce. It would look like a distorted form of Rugby. If the defense does not get credit for pushing the ball carrier back, then the offense should not get credit for pushing him forward. The ball must be carried forward by the power of the ball carrier. You cannot have the two separate application of the rules. You cannot have “forward progress” and then allow “the Brotherly Shove”, it’s contradictory, it’s hypocritical, and it is an abomination to the game.
This type of hypocrisy and unequal application of the rules reminds me of crony capitalism that we have witnessed over the last 20 years in America. The government bailouts of the big banks in 2008 where the banks were allowed to privatize their gains up until 2008 and then socialize their loses after. They got full credit for everything they gained, but don’t have to suffer the losses. During Covid, the US government gave the pharmaceutical companies over $30 billion to produce the vaccines, and in 2021 and 2022, big pharma made over $90 billion from the vaccines that the government financed. They took no risk and did not pay the government back a dime. Like an NFL ball carrier, big pharma made all the profits and risked none of the losses. Every government bailout of a private industry is doing just that – privatizing gains and socializing losses.
This does not apply to the average citizen and the small business owner, though. We are taxed through the nose on the gains that we make but have to realize the full extent of our losses even when it is the government policies which are driving our losses through debilitating taxation and over-regulation. During Covid when the government was creating 573 new billionaires through its heavy-handed policies, it also drove over 700,000 small businesses to close permanently as a result of the inane government shutdowns.
The NFL has an excuse for their unfair and hypocritical rules governing a ball carrier’s forward progress. They are going to favor the offense. They always have. They always will. Offense puts people in the seats; offense turns on TV sets; offense creates revenue for the entire league; offense makes everybody richer. They want the offense going for it on 4th and 1. They don’t want to see a punt. But what is the government’s excuse for doubling the incomes of multi-billionaires Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page while simultaneously bankrupting 700,000 middle class families?
Judd Garrett is a graduate from Princeton University, and a former NFL player, coach, and executive. He has been a contributor to the website Real Clear Politics. He has recently published his first novel, No Wind.