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Penalty: Illegal Use Of Towel

Soldier Field is a mess during rainfall
Quinn Harris/Getty Images

On Monday the Bears installed a new Bermuda grass playing field, replacing the previous Kentucky bluegrass. The previous turf had long been criticized, especially after it was an awful shape for a preseason game last month. “I mean, it's kind of always been like that,” Bears QB Justin Fields said. The new field was a welcome addition, kicker Cairo Santos said: “The Bermuda is a better grass to kick in this cold.”

How about the rain? Soldier Field was a mess pregame, with a crooked sideline that was being cleaned up just minutes before kickoff.

And while Santos may enjoy kicking the ball on this new turf, he didn’t always have the chance. The Bears lined up for a 47-yard field goal in the second quarter. Then punter/holder Trenton Gill got a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for bringing a towel on the field to wipe off the ball.

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This is against the rules? The refs threw a flag, but I couldn’t find anything all that clarifying in the NFL rulebook. I even found a specific provision that implied players can wipe the ball with a towel. “Players are prohibited from discarding on the playing field any loose towels or other materials used for wiping hands and the football,” the 2022 rulebook reads. Gill did toss the towel aside after using it, but everything he did before that seems to be allowed by the rulebook. Towels that are 6"x8" (larger for quarterbacks, of course) and have proper NFL branding (of course) are legal. What's confusing is that the rulebook says a failure to tuck the towel into the holder's waistband should result in a warning and then five-yard penalty, but Gill got hit for 15 yards:

A.R. 11.77 HOLDER BRINGS A TOWEL ONTO THE FIELD PRIOR TO SETTING UP FOR TRY On a Try attempt from the 15-yard line, holder A2 brings out a large white towel and wipes his hands before calling for the snap. After he wipes his hands, the holder (a) throws the towel away and behind where he is kneeling or (b) drops the towel directly in front of him. The snap is made and the kick is good. Ruling: (a) and (b) Try is good, KO A35. The holder is allowed to bring a towel out to the field that measures 6" by 8" and should be tucked into his waistband after use. The holder will be warned that, if on a subsequent FG or Try attempt he doesn’t tuck the towel into his waistband, there will be a 5-yard penalty.

The rulebook says you can’t use a towel to clear snow from the field, so perhaps that’s the valid rule there. Rain is kind of like snow! Or maybe Gill was deemed to be acting unsportsmanlike for not using an official NFL-branded towel. I don’t think this is out of the question. Football Zebras didn’t object, however. The 15-yard penalty knocked the Bears out of field goal range, and Gill ended up punting the ball. The Bears didn’t score until a third-quarter touchdown.

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