The Rams attempted to catch everyone off guard with a quick substitution/fake punt in the first quarter of the game against the Giants. The play eventually wound up confusing everyone watching the game as well.
The Fox Sports broadcast crew had to dump out of the replay of the third down play to barely catch the snap and a flag from down judge Mike Carr. It was clear to us on Sunday that the Rams were flagged for an “illegal hideout,” quite simply no player may line up within 5 yards of his bench. It is legal to line up in front of an opponent’s bench or the portion of your sideline outside of the bench area; the illegal hideout also goes away if that player is matched up with a defender, as the play is obviously not deceptive. For reference, the bottom of the yard numerals are 12 yards from the sideline, so a player must be half that distance or more away from the bench area (and not committing other substitution fouls).
However, referee Alex Kemp issued a noninformative announcement of offsetting penalties — “Unsportsmanlike conduct, Giants. Unsportsmanlike conduct, Rams.” That’s it, no specifics as to which of the dozens of unsportsmanlike conduct provisions were violated, jersey numbers of the offenders, and where the hell did the flag come from against the Giants. (To be fair to Kemp, referees are apparently being instructed this season to limit the amount of information given in their public-address announcements.)
NFL spokesman Michael Signora confirmed to Football Zebras that the Rams violated Rule 12-3-1(k) which encompasses a “lingering” foul, or players who walk to the sideline to give the appearance of going to the bench. The next paragraph contains the hideout provision, so really it’s a choice of either one.
Signora stated that the Giants foul, which was not seen on television, was assessed on the bench for sideline interference. An unspecified coach, apparently reacting to the Rams foul, ran in front of line judge Jeff Bergman. Small transgressions of sideline interference are a warning first, but a major violation will draw a flag on the first offense. Because the actions significantly hampered the ability to properly officiate the play, it was an automatic flag.
The all-22 angle shows that someone on the Giants sideline is directly in Bergman’s path to move laterally down the sideline before it zooms in on the catch.
Neither unsportsmanlike conduct foul is in the category that two such fouls in one game result in ejection.
Unfortunately, by employing a “less is best” standard for referee announcements, situations such as this will continue to confuse fans, broadcasters, and sportswriters — even more, the players and coaches are apparently also in the dark.
History of the hideout rule
The hideout foul was originally inserted into the rules by commissioner Bert Bell after the first week of the 1954 season as a result of a play by the Rams.
On the first play of the season, Rams quarterback Norm Van Brocklin connected with halfback Skeet Quinlan on a “sleeper” play for an 80-yard touchdown in a 48-0 victory against the Baltimore Colts. Bell told a reporter, “This thing never should have happened in the first place. No matter how many good rules we have, somebody also comes up with something that we have to correct.” The Rams insisted that they wanted to spread the formation throughout the game so that a wide flanker would pull a potential pass rusher away from the core. The intention was to have that receiver seen, but Van Brocklin took advantage of the blown coverage.
Bell issued a memo to all 12 NFL teams the next day banning the practice.
Initially, the hideout rule only was charged if there were sideline players in proximity to the in-bounds player. This was later amended to place the 5-yard distance in the books. In the 1980 NFC wild card playoffs, line judge Dick McKenzie called an illegal hideout against the Eagles, which lead to a humorous exchange in the confusion between CBS announcers Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier.
As I pointed out in my book, So You Think You Know Football, the foul was also committed by Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel in 2014.