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In the NFL, a toe is a foot but a heel isn’t


Today’s 10-pack includes a question regarding the reality that ten toes (or as few as two) can count as two feet when it comes to catching a pass.

The official rule book says that, to complete a catch, a player must get two feet in bounds, or some body part other than a hand.  But the rule book doesn’t address what it means to get a foot in bounds.

Routinely, players drag toes without every getting the rest of the foot in bounds.  So when Saints tight end Jimmy Graham planted his right heel into the end zone on Sunday, before the toe of his right foot landed out of bounds, it seemed only fair treat the heel the same way the foot would be treated.

Apparently, the NFL endorses heel discrimination.

The NFL has confirmed via email that the official rule book merely says that a player must get two feet in bounds, with no elaboration or explanation regarding the ability of a player to make a catch while only ever getting a toe or the top of the foot down.  But the league interprets the rule to mean that a toe is a foot, as long as the toe is dragged.  If in the act of dragging the toe the foot comes down and any portion of it is out of bounds, a catch was not made.

For that same reason, if the heel strikes the ground and in the normal process of taking a step the front of the foot lands out of bounds, a catch has not been made.

This interpretation comes from something called “Approved Ruling 15.79” of the 2011 Casebook.  Though it would make far more sense for the official rule book to set forth the circumstances in which part of a foot equates to a foot, the crew working the Saints-Titans game on Sunday correctly applied the rule, vague as it may be.

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35 Responses to “In the NFL, a toe is a foot but a heel isn’t”
  1. earthtopft says: Dec 12, 2011 2:10 PM

    To get around this quirk in the rules, Jimmy will wear his cleats on backwards from now on.

  2. theslex says: Dec 12, 2011 2:11 PM

    The NFL has made their reception/incomplete rules so unnecessarily convoluted. I can’t imagine how confusing this must be for a new/casual fans of the sport.

  3. NFLJunkie says: Dec 12, 2011 2:17 PM

    We came to this same conclusion in the stands watching this unfold yesterday without the aid of TV commentary, that if you drag your toes as you move forward across the boundary, then logically your whole foot must be in bounds at that instant.

    But what about the heel, do they have to wait to see where the rest of the foot comes down to see if the whole foot is in bounds? (Apparently, they do.)

    So if a receiver has his back to the sidelines when going up for the ball, lands on his toes but then the heel comes down as part of the same continued backwards motion and is on/over the boundary, is that a catch? Seems like it shouldn’t be, based on the Graham call yesterday.

  4. irishnativeson says: Dec 12, 2011 2:17 PM

    Competition committee has work to do. Everybody understands that the rules have been skewed over the years to favor the passing game but for Christ’s sake you shouldn’t have to put the ball in a trophy case for it to be a catch.

  5. romoscollarbone says: Dec 12, 2011 2:23 PM

    That was a TD the NFL rules and subsequent explanations are so lame. The guy got both feet and a knee in. What else can he do?

  6. derekjetersmansion says: Dec 12, 2011 2:25 PM

    @ theslex

    Football literally doesn’t make sense to anyone, except George Carlin.

  7. enutpenfry says: Dec 12, 2011 2:32 PM

    This isn’t rocket surgery. If any part of the foot is out of bounds, it is not a catch. A tip-toe catch is only a reception if the player does not subsequently have his heels land out of bounds unless he first lifted his feet off the grounds. It is almost physically impossible for a player to land on only his heels without having his toes hit the ground as well, which is why you never see a heel-only catch.

  8. rmiller517 says: Dec 12, 2011 2:33 PM

    Maybe they should ask Rex Ryan about this rule.

  9. realitypolice says: Dec 12, 2011 2:37 PM

    This is Rex Ryan’s favorite PFT post ever.

  10. mrsryansfamoustoejam says: Dec 12, 2011 2:38 PM

    I think my Rexy should be consulted in terms of clarifying this rule. He is probably the most experienced person in the NFL regarding toe and foot issues.

  11. schmokes says: Dec 12, 2011 2:41 PM

    Saints won. Who cares?

  12. clinttaurus says: Dec 12, 2011 2:47 PM
  13. fin72 says: Dec 12, 2011 2:50 PM

    The NFL should refer to this as the “Rex Ryan Rule”.

  14. britishraven says: Dec 12, 2011 2:53 PM

    I challenge anyone to sit there on a Sunday and explain to someone who hasn’t seen a game before what a ‘catch’ is – I tried this during the Saints game on Sunday and it’s impossible.

  15. eustus says: Dec 12, 2011 2:53 PM

    The lawyers that run this league are killing it.

  16. randolph32 says: Dec 12, 2011 2:54 PM

    Me bets the Ref’s would approve of a Tebow ‘heel’, Touchdown!!!!

  17. damko12 says: Dec 12, 2011 2:54 PM

    Rex Ryan comments coming in 3..2..1..

  18. blaz0037 says: Dec 12, 2011 2:56 PM

    I’ve been saying this for years so take note:

    Look at that picture. Then watch the replay of Holmes’ catch. I’m telling you, he doesn’t get both feet down. That catch will go down as one of the greatest ever, and will be shown thousands of times, as it should……..but it wasn’t a TD.

  19. rexryanisablowhard says: Dec 12, 2011 3:00 PM

    The NFL td reception rules are such crap. It started with Megatron last year and continues most recently with Ballard (last week) and now Graham. You can run a ball in endzone and the ball goes flying out of your hand as you cross and it’s a td, yet possessing the ball and getting both feet down is not? The NFL rules committee is a joke.

  20. tfaulk says: Dec 12, 2011 3:04 PM

    “But the league interprets the rule to mean that a toe is a foot, as long as the toe is dragged. If in the act of dragging the toe the foot comes down and any portion of it is out of bounds, a catch was not made.”

    I’m baffled by what you find inconsistent, discriminatory, or arbitrary about this. Seems like common sense.

  21. gafraidh says: Dec 12, 2011 3:06 PM

    I didn’t see the play in question, so I may be missing something here. If a player is falling forward and drags his toes, he is in bounds. If a player is falling backwards and drags his heals, he is in bounds. (The heal dragging is just not a frequent occurrence.) Touching the heal down and having some part of the foot (the toes??) land on the line would be out of bounds.

    Then again, I don’t understand rocket science, either.

  22. boisestatewhodat says: Dec 12, 2011 3:09 PM

    WHO DAT!!

  23. bdawk20 says: Dec 12, 2011 3:13 PM

    I don’t see a problem with this rule. If you have two toes hit the ground, and you had magnets from the bottom of your feet attracted to the turf, your heels would land in bounds.

    For the Heels, same application, your toes would land out of bounds.

  24. nagaswan says: Dec 12, 2011 3:21 PM

    How is this news to anyone?

  25. beedubyatoo says: Dec 12, 2011 3:30 PM

    As we found out last week in the Packers-Giants game, a foot and a knee also equals 2 feet.

  26. bdickey33 says: Dec 12, 2011 3:37 PM

    If your whole foot comes down. Your whole foot has to be in bounds. If part of your foot comes down then only the part that touched has to be in bounds. Does that simplify it enough?

  27. tfaulk says: Dec 12, 2011 3:49 PM

    Now that I’ve seen it, it seems far, far, far more rational to claim that his knee/side were in bounds prior to going out of bounds and/or that as his foot turns, his toe never actually touches the white line (the side of his foot gets very close and because of the curvature of his foot, portions of his foot may be over the line but not actually touching)… rather than “heel discrimination” which makes you sound stupid and trying to manufacture some sort of controversy.

    I’m not sure you’d be necessarily and 100% right in any case, but it seems a stronger argument.

  28. zaggs says: Dec 12, 2011 4:22 PM

    Well yeah. If you drag your toes, you’re not necessarily taking a step. Hard to drag a heal without taking a step. Its the step stupid.

  29. justadude71 says: Dec 12, 2011 4:24 PM

    Dude and one knee equals two feet

  30. michiganhockey11 says: Dec 12, 2011 4:33 PM

    Ambiguity in a legal contract favors the party that did not draft it. In this case, just because the NFL interprets “foot” as “toes” and not “heels, does not mean it’s definition is exhaustive. If 1 heel can make the determination of a catch out of bounds, a heel should be considered inbounds as well.

    Previous poster was correct. I heel drag is very seldom, if not never. That doesn’t mean it can’t occur. If a heel can be out of bounds, it can be inbounds, period.

  31. omegaichiban says: Dec 12, 2011 4:38 PM

    I’m with blaz0037, possibly the greatest pic i’ve seen on PFT. “How the refs gave the super bowl to the Steelers”. The right toe NEVER touched the ground, and you can tell in 9 out of the 10 replays you see. In the other one, you can’t see it period. If you want to discuss something, discuss who didn’t have the nuts to reverse that call! Sorry Steeler fans, but worst call ever, pretty much.

  32. woodreaux70119 says: Dec 13, 2011 8:30 AM

    …so, let me see if i get this, one knee equals two feet, but a part (the wrong part) of a foot doesn’t equal a foot…thanks NFL…

  33. 20bust11 says: Dec 15, 2011 5:11 AM

    The refs did everything they could to keep the Titans in the game. Espn, and NFL analysts all agreed Jimmy Graham was in bounds, and it should’ve been a touchdown. When Darren Sproles sprinted the entire football field for a score, a penalty flag was thrown for holding; no hold was visible. When it appeared Pierre Thomas was going to break for a long gain, a flag was thrown. When he only gained 2 yards, the flag was picked up, and the ref ruled that no violation occurred. The horrific calls in the Saints / Titans game would’ve been the top story had Minnesota not been robbed, by Detroit, of a win, on the final play of the game. The only reason the game was close were the terrible calls by the refs and anyone watching the game knew the Saints outplayed the Titans, in every phase of the 60 minute, flag tossing, show.

  34. cowboycjn says: Dec 15, 2011 3:42 PM

    Gonna agree that the refs tried to give the game to the Titans. They tried every dirty trick in the book but in the end the clock (which they couldn’t stop) ended the game.
    Saints won this time but with bad calls like these sooner or later they will have a loss due to bad calls.

  35. gregclucas says: Jan 12, 2014 3:10 PM

    NFL rule should be the same as in college/HS/Canada, etc. Make it easier on refs, players and fans… first foot to hit must be in bounds only….

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