NFL adds rule making it a 15-yard penalty for non-players to clear snow off field before kicks

The Bills and Colts played one heck of a weird football game last year, with the two questionably talented teams engaging in slow-motion battle in a Buffalo-area blizzard. Snow was dumping so hard before the game you couldn't see what was actually happening on the field, and the footage captured from the game was marvelous.

The game went completely off the rails, with Buffalo eventually winning in overtime. The game only went to the extra period because longtime Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri buried a knuckleballing extra point after Colts players and game-day personnel helped clear the field for his kick. 

Should the same situation unfold in 2018, the Colts would be assessed a penalty, according to a change to the 2018 NFL rulebook. As noted by the helpful striped gents at Football Zebras, the NFL added a provision making it illegal for non-players to clear snow off the field prior to any kind of kick. 

"It is impermissible for the grounds crew or other team personnel to clear away snow for a Try, field goal, punt, or kickoff," the rule now reads. "Officials should try to prevent this as soon as they see someone coming out on the field, thus avoiding the need to call a penalty."

The rule also notes that "players may help clear snow, using only their hands and feet (no towels, etc.)." 

If you go back and look at the extra point in question, you see both happen. Originally, with 1:16 left on the clock and the Colts trailing 7-6, the players are all kicking snow everywhere, trying to open up a spot for kicking the long extra point. It's pretty hilarious to watch.

But what you don't see among the players kicking and right before the kick is that the Colts called timeout and sent a bunch of members of their game-day staff -- mostly grounds crew type folks, I believe -- onto the field in order to help clear out the spot where Vinatieri was going to kick.

colts-clear-out-snow-1.png
via NFL Broadcast / NFL.com

Football Zebras helpfully points out this was already against the rules in the NFL's game-day operations manual, but there previously wasn't anything in place to actually punish anyone for engaging in the snow-clearing behavior. At best, you would have to warn the group on the field or warn the sideline before actually punishing the team. 

At the time, the officials did all they could, sprinting over and chasing the group off the field.

colts-clear-snow-2.png
via NFL Broadcast / NFL.com

Perhaps this was the rare savvy in-game decision by Chuck Pagano? More than likely it was just a desperate move designed to try and make the kick easier for Vinatieri. It certainly worked, with the Colts kicker waffling one in to tie things up and send the game to overtime.

(Quick aside: this is a perfect example of how gambling on football makes things more interesting and runs counterintuitive to rooting for a team. The Colts tied the game up but it actually hurt anyone who bet on the Colts, who were underdogs in this game. The Bills would score a walk-off touchdown in overtime, covering the spread. The under certainly hit though!) 

Now, however, sending anyone off the sideline and onto the field in order to clear out snow wouldn't have the same result. Instead, the Colts would be penalized 15 yards and Vinatieri would be staring down a field goal even he probably wouldn't be able to bury in that kind of snowstorm. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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