When did the National Football League introduce a facemask penalty?

The National Football League (NFL) was established, as the American Professional Football Association (APFA), in 1920. Rudimentary facemasks were available well before that time, but the invention of the facemask or, at least, a specific type of facemask, is usually credited to Vernon McMillan, an entrepreneur from Terre Haute, Indiana. In 1938, McMillan was granted a patent application for a ‘nose guard’ consisting of rubber-coated wire, which could be easily attached to the harden leather helmets of the day and provide protection for the nose, eyes and cheekbones without interfering with the field of vision.

In 1949, the NFL officially adopted plastic, rather than leather, helmets and the next major step in the evolution of facemasks was the so-called BT-5, which was patented by Cleveland Browns co-founder Paul Brown in 1954. Manufactured by Riddell and popularly known as the Single Bar, the BT-5 consisted of a semi-circular, rubber-coated steel tube, which could simply be bolted to either side of a plastic helmet.

In any event, facemasks started to gain greater acceptance from the mid-Fifties onwards, such that, in 1956, the NFL introduced facemask penalties. Originally, penalties were limited to facemasking any player other than the ball-carrier but, in 1962, the rule was extended to all players. Likewise, deliberate facemasking originally incurred a 15-yard penalty, whereas accidental facemasking incurred just a five-yard penalty. However, since 2008, facemasking of any description has been classified as a ‘personal foul’, incurring a 15-yard penalty regardless of intent.

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