Backward Pass

Football Terms – Lateral – Onside Pass

A backward pass is also known as a lateral or lateral pass in American football and an onside pass in the CFL. This kind of pass must be lateral to the line of scrimmage or behind it, although the receiver can still advance the ball once the catch is made.

The backward pass can be made anywhere on the field, and all offensive players are eligible to receive such a pass. An unlimited number of backward passes may be attempted on any given play. If a receiver catches a backward pass behind the line of scrimmage, then he may opt to throw a forward pass before crossing the line.

If a backward pass falls to the ground, the ball is still considered “live” and is treated like a fumble. If, however, the initial receiver of a backwards pass drops it before he has possession and a defender recovers, then the ball is ruled dead.

A few of the most famous backward passes include:

  • “The Play.” In the 1982 game between UC Berkeley and Stanford, Berkeley trailed by one point with four seconds left. They received the ball on a kickoff, used five backward passes and scored the winning touchdown. They then ran through the Stanford Band (who were in the endzone celebrating their team’s victory).
  • “The Music City Miracle.” During the 2000 playoffs, the Tennessee Titans used a backward pass to defeat the Buffalo Bills. A great deal of controversy arose around whether or not the pass was actually legal.
  • “The Mississippi Miracle.” During a 2007 Division III football game, Trinity University trailed by two points with two seconds remaining. They threw the ball across the middle of the field and then executed 15 backwards passes to take the ball 60 yards for a touchdown.

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