The quarterback slide came into existence in the NFL before the 1985 season. Despite the protests of the vaunted Chicago Bears defense, the NFL added a new rule that called a quarterback down if he slid feet first. This ended up working out pretty well for Chicago: Mike Ditka taught Jim McMahon how to slide—“I really like Jim … But, I like him healthy,” he said—and the Bears went 15-1 and won the Super Bowl.
The rule did not come to college football for a long time. Though attempts were made to change it over the years, it was legal to hit a quarterback during a slide as long as you didn’t hit him in the head. Finally, before the 2016 season, all players (not just quarterbacks) were considered defenseless when they slid; a team would be assessed a targeting penalty for a hit.
Five years later, the ACC title game was, somehow, Pitt vs. Wake Forest. And, boy, did the slide rule come into play.
That’s Pitt QB Kenny Pickett, ACC Player of the Year, galloping for a 58-yard touchdown run in the Panthers’ 45-21 win over the Demon Deacons. In the middle of this impressive run, Pickett fakes a slide, freezing several Wake Forest defenders. He then jets past them into the end zone. (Yeah, he both galloped and jetted here. Deal with it.)
Pickett, for his part, was not coy about it. Good! He admitted postgame that he hadn’t planned it in advance, but that he “saw their body language” and decided to continue downfield.
The Demon Deacons ended up getting blasted in the game, and coach Dave Clawson was pretty peeved at that play. “If that is the rule, I will just have my guy fake knee all the way down the field and really, what do you do?” Clawson said. “So it’s something the NCAA is going to have to look at, and you know, you can’t fake a slide.”
I really want to see a guy faking a knee all the way down the field. That would rule. College teams have been bending the rules since the very first football game (three players in Rutgers’ 6-4 win over Princeton in 1869 were failing algebra, per Ronald Smith’s Pay for Play: A History of Big-Time College Athletic Reform). Why not try to bend the rules this way? Quarterbacks should basically fake slides until they’re told they can’t.
This makes sense. There’s a thing called the Iron Law of Prohibition, which states that any prohibition of drugs will inevitably lead to more compact substitutes being favored by traffickers. Allow me to introduce The Gridiron Law of Prohibition: Any prohibitions in football—such as hitting a sliding QB—will inevitably lead to the exploitation of these rules by clever players. Once they outlaw the fake slide, just wait: The fake fake slide will emerge. Well, maybe.