One of the most iconic symbols of an American Football field are the goal posts. Shooting straight into the sky with at vibrant yellow color, when you drive by any playground or stadium, once you see the goal posts, you instantly know it is a football field.
The origins of the goal post for American Football came directly from rugby to which the new game liked the idea and “borrowed” not only the concept but the actual design of the structure in its origins. Since this game’s infancy, there have been changes made to the structure which has made the game safer.
Invention of the sling-shot 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 was not involved in the conversion about football of his two guests and began staring at his fork. It was then that he realized that if you took out the middle two prongs, it would make an improved goal post.
Rottman then designed a center curved stanchion similar to antique street lamp posts he had seen. This bend would allow the single post to be six feet inside the end zone instead of on the goal line. Plus, the single post allowed one less obstacle on the field and would be safer for players, and also less interfering with the play.
He contacted a company called ALCAN to build a display out of aluminum. He then set up the display at the Worlds Fair in Montreal. The University of Miami bought a set and had them installed on October 21, 1966 in 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 goal posts in some fashion and the idea had been in committee for three years. But the design photo Rottman had brought showed the standard 10 foot uprights and Rozelle wanted to see a much taller version at 20 feet. Rottman then airbrushed in the extra 10 feet for Rozelle to provide to the owners.
The league loved his idea and on opening day of 1967, all 16 NFL clubs had the bright yellow sling-shot goal posts ready for play.
At the end of 1971, the sling-shot goal post had been installed in 600 college stadiums for $1,775 each. Another goal post company, AAE Sports, offers an NFL-style sling-shot goal post with 35 foot uprights for $16,950.
At the same time, Rottman and former football coach Jim Trimble invented the four-inch wind ribbons on top of the uprights which were installed on each sling-shot goal post.
Rule changes via controversy
A pass which hit either the crossbar or uprights had different rulings over time.
The 1945 NFL Championship Game between the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Rams was played in bitter cold conditions. Washington QB Sammy Baugh dropped back in his own end zone and passed left which hit the upright. The ruling at the time was a safety. Washington would lose to the Rams by one point. That rule was later changed to any pass that strikes the crossbar or uprights is an incomplete pass.
The 1965 Western Division playoff between the Baltimore Colts and Green Bay Packers saw s last-second kick by the Packers Don Chandler sail over the top of the upright for a good field goal. The Colts argued that the ball did not align inside the vertical lines of the extension of the uprights, but to no avail. The NFL then added another 10 feet to the top of the uprights to extend to 20 feet.
Then there is the “Phil Dawson Rule.”
In November of 2007, Dawson lined up for the game tying 51-yard kick against the Baltimore Ravens. The kick was long enough and skimmed off the left upright, went into the center of the goal to which it hit the gooseneck attachment, or stanchion portion, then bounced out into the field. The kick was ruled no good. After a discussion, the referees decided that since the stanchion is located inside the goal posts, the kick must be good.
At the time, the play was not reviewable although the referees had a pow-wow to discuss it and changed their initial ruling. The following year the league passed the rule which now allows the refs the opportunity to review a field goal that bounces around.
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 upright and ruled good. The Patriots, however, said the ball went directly over the yellow upright, which would have been ruled no good.
There is a referee stationed underneath both uprights whose job is to determine if the ball goes through the goal posts or is outside.
There were numerous discussions about what to do next to prevent this from happening again. One idea was to have lasers installed just like tennis. Another thought was to implant a chip inside a special kicking ball while another was to install a digital grid for field goal attempts similar to what baseball has for a pitcher’s strike zone.
In 2014, “the Tucker Rule” was enacted through the league’s competition committee. The final idea was to raise the uprights another 15 feet. But transportation of something 45 in length plus manufacturing costs resulted in the uprights being raised from 30 feet to 35 feet tall.
For 2015, a new rule prohibited players from dunking the ball over the crossbar. Also in this year, the NFL experimented with a narrower opening in goal posts in the Pro Bowl.
How goal posts are made
There are only a few companies that make football goal posts. One is Sportsfield Specialties out of Delhi, New York.
The most used goal posts are called AdjustRight. This system allows a football goal post to be lowered and removed from any athletic field in just minutes.
Most venues and stadiums are used for other things besides football such as concerts, soccer matches, track meets, tractor pulls, Monster truck races and many more non-sports related events. The goal posts need to be removed, stored and then re-installed.
This hydraulic hinged system is able to lower the goal posts for disassembly or for carting off as a complete unit. Beforehand, the task was to take the thing apart using ladders and a whole lot of man-power.
Six-inch schedule 40, 6061 aluminum is used to make the goal posts. The gooseneck stanchion section is schedule 40, 6063 aluminum pipe. The aluminum crossbar is saw cut to fit the NFL size of 18 feet, six inches.
Next, an aluminum gooseneck coupler is gas metal arc welded into place at the direct center of the crossbar. This hollow aluminum pipe has high heat temperature issues, so to prevent any distortion two convex crossbar positioning fixtures were invented. This fixture solved the problem of curvatures that just weren’t accurate. Two crossbars can be worked on at the same time. The material is then pre-loaded to allow for distortion from the heat, which preemptively corrects potential bending.
Then on each end, holes are milled out on the top of the crossbar to which a rotating sleeve is inserted. A stub is then welded into the sleeve. From there an aluminum cap is welded which closes each end. Finally, an integrated wind directional flag clip is welded.
Today, a lot of goal posts for colleges, high schools and rec leagues are designed with a football upright and a soccer net below.
Barry Shuck is a pro football historical writer and a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association