One of the most iconic symbols of an American football field are the goal posts. Shooting straight into the sky with a vibrant yellow color, when driving near a playing field or stadium, once you see the goal posts you instantly know it’s a pitch of football.
The origins of the goal post for American football came directly from rugby to which the new game loved the idea and “borrowed” not just the concept but the very design of the structure from its origins. Since the beginning of this game, changes have been made to the structure which has made the game safer.
Invention of slingshot goal posts
Joel Rottman was a magazine and newspaper distributor. He was also an inventor.
He was having lunch at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Canada. At one point, he didn’t participate in his two guests’ football conversion and started looking at his fork. It was then that he realized that if you removed the two middle teeth, it would make an improved goal post.
Rottman then designed a curved center pole similar to the antique lampposts he had seen. This turn would allow the single post to be six feet inside the end zone rather than on the goal line. In addition, the single post allowed one less obstacle on the field and would be safer for players, and also less interfering with play.
He contacted a company called ALCAN to build an aluminum display. He then set up the exhibition at the Universal Exhibition in Montreal. The University of Miami purchased a set and had them installed on October 21, 1966 at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida.
When he approached then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, he told Rottman that the league had wanted to address changing the goalposts one way or another and the idea was in committee for three years. But the design photo Rottman brought showed the standard 10-foot uprights, and Rozelle wanted to see a much taller version at 20 feet. Rottman then airbrushed the extra 10 feet that Rozelle is to provide to owners.
The league loved his idea, and on Opening Day 1967, all 16 NFL clubs had the bright yellow goal posts ready to play.
By the end of 1971, the slingshot goalpost had been installed in 600 college stadiums for $1,775 each. Another goalpost company, AAE Sports, offers an NFL-style slingshot goalpost with 35-foot uprights for $16,950.
At the same time, Rottman and former football coach Jim Trimble invented the four-inch wind tapes above the uprights that were installed on each sling goal post.
Rule changes via controversy
A pass that hit the crossbar or the uprights had different decisions over time.
The 1945 NFL Championship game between the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Rams was played in freezing cold conditions. Washington QB Sammy Baugh backed into his own end zone and passed left, which hit the post. The decision at the time was a safety. Washington would lose to the Rams by one point. This rule was later changed so that any pass that hits the crossbar or uprights is an incomplete pass.
The 1965 Western Division Playoffs between the Baltimore Colts and Green Bay Packers saw Packers last-second kick Don Chandler go over the post for a good field goal. The Colts argued that the ball did not line up inside the vertical lines of the uprights extension, but to no avail. The NFL then added an additional 10 feet to the top of the uprights to extend to 20 feet.
Then there is the “Phil Dawson rule”.
In November 2007, Dawson lined up for the game tying a 51-yard kick against the Baltimore Ravens. The kick was quite long and grazed the left post, went to the center of the goal where it touched the gooseneck attachment, or stanchion part, and then bounced downfield. The kick was ruled bad. After discussion, the referees decide that since the post is located inside the goal posts, the kick must be good.
At the time, the game was not reviewable although the umpires had a powwow to discuss it and changed their original decision. The following year, the league adopted the rule which now allows umpires to review a bouncing basket.
In 2012 Baltimore hosted the New England Patriots. With seconds remaining, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker lined up for a game-winning field goal from the nine-yard line. The kick was high and traveled about three feet above the post and was good. The Patriots, however, said the ball went directly over the yellow post, which would have been ruled bad.
There is a referee positioned under the two uprights whose job is to determine whether the ball goes through the goal posts or is out.
There were many discussions about what to do next to prevent this from happening again. One idea was to install lasers like in tennis. Another idea was to implant a chip inside a special hitting ball while another was to install a digital grid for field goal attempts similar to what baseball has for the zone shot from a pitcher.
In 2014, “The Tucker Rule” was enacted by the league’s competition committee. The final idea was to raise the uprights an additional 15 feet. But transporting something 45 in length plus manufacturing costs caused the uprights to rise from 30 feet to 35 feet high.
For 2015, a new rule prohibited players from dipping the ball over the crossbar. Also this year, the NFL experimented with a narrower opening in the Pro Bowl goalposts.
How are goal posts made?
There are only a few companies that manufacture soccer goal posts. One is Sportsfield Specialties of Delhi, New York.
The most commonly used goal posts are called AdjustRight. This system allows a football goal post to be lowered and removed from any sports field in just a few minutes.
Most venues and stadiums are used for activities other than football, such as concerts, football matches, track competitions, tractor pulls, monster truck races and many other unrelated events At the sports. Goal posts must be removed, stored and then reinstalled.
This hydraulically hinged system is capable of lowering the goal posts for disassembly or for transport as a complete unit. Previously, the task was to disassemble the thing using ladders and a lot of manpower.
Six-inch schedule 40, 6061 aluminum is used to make the goal posts. The gooseneck post section is 6063 schedule 40 aluminum pipe. The aluminum crossbar is saw cut to fit the 18-foot, six-inch NFL size.
Next, an aluminum gooseneck coupler is metal gas arc welded in place at the direct center of the crossbar. This hollow aluminum pipe has high heat temperature problems, so to avoid distortion, two convex crossbar positioning devices were invented. This fixture solved the problem of bends that just weren’t accurate. Two crossbars can be worked at the same time. The material is then preloaded to allow for distortion due to heat, which preemptively corrects potential flex.
Then, at each end, holes are milled on top of the crossbar into which a rotating sleeve is inserted. A bead is then welded into the sleeve. From there is welded an aluminum cap that closes each end. Finally, an integrated wind directional flag clip is welded on.
Today, many college, high school, and recreational league goal posts are designed with a football post and a football net underneath.
Barry Shuck is a professional football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association.