The Chicago Tribune“Hugh L. Ray brought about a complete change to the game of football and officiating...Ray rewrote the pro code.” September 17,1956
Lewis F. Atchison
The Washington Star“Shorty Ray...brought the pass to full-flower by streamlining the ball.” February 10,1956
The National Football League“Hugh L. ‘Shorty’ Ray...” Author of rules.” 1957-65 NFL Record and Rules Manual
Pro Football Hall Of Fame“Hugh (Shorty) Ray...Rules Book Author.” “He [Ray] was the editor of the pro rule book for many years, he wrote the high school code, which served as a model for all grid rule books.” “Ray saved a dull game from extinction and played the major role in making the sport the fast-paced, wide-open game of today.” September 17, 1966.
“THE NFL’S MR. EINSTEIN” is a ground-breaking history of American football centered on Hugh Ray, the man who invented the modern game. Ray is the NFL’s best-kept secret, and arguably the greatest rules genius in football, and sports history. He reinvented and reimagined a sport battered by unsafe and confusing rules. To put Ray’s work into perspective I summarize how the game has evolved throughout its colorful history.
The story begins with football’s first three fatality crises and President Theodore Roosevelt’s well-known attempt to make the game safer in 1905. But it was Ray, not Roosevelt, who saved football. He began by making innovative rules suggestions to the NCAA. Because of this success, the High School Federation hired Ray in 1929 to write a new set of rules for its game. They were having trouble obtaining group injury insurance because of the high fracture rates suffered playing under the dangerous NCAA rules.
Around this time his good friend George Halas, the legendary owner and coach of the Chicago Bears asked Ray to do the same for the violent, sluggish NFL game. From 1933-52 Ray rewrote the NFL rules, stressing speed, safety, and excitement. In 1938 Ray was officially appointed the NFL’s first Technical Advisor on the Rules, and Supervisor of Officials. He wrote rules that created the modern passing game. He also invented hashmarks that opened up the field, the 30 second rule, penalty flags, the two minute warning, free substitution, whistles for every official, and so many other hallmarks of today’s game.
Late in 1939, Ray began the first scientific studies of football to maximize the minutes of actual playing time. When those results were combined with his prodigious stream of playing rules they revolutionized NFL football. His brilliant rules reduced serious injuries by over 70% at the high school level, and tripled scoring in the NFL. They also increased average plays per game by 25% and quadrupled the NFL’s average attendance. Ray’s ground-breaking statistical analysis of football’s time and space is the basis for modern sports analytics. His unheralded work transformed football into an exciting, fast-paced, human chess match that continues to elevate the National Football League to new heights of popularity.
Ray retired from the NFL in 1952, and died in 1956. He was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966 for his outstanding contributions to the rules of pro football. But since then, some of his closest former associates and their organizations have minimized or omitted his contributions to the game because of copyright issues, and some very large egos.
For a decade after Ray’s death, NFL and the Hall of Fame both acknowledged him as the author of the modern rules and the NFL Rules Book. But beginning in 1966, both organizations began deleting all references to Ray’s rules work and his role as author of the rules that made the game so successful. I have repeatedly pointed this out to both organizations, but both have refused to give Ray the credit he deserves.
Interestingly, among all the shrewd NFL owners, George Halas said “Shorty Ray was the first to realize that attendance rose with an increase in the offense.” Ray termed it “Football For The Fans” and his concept quickly became the DNA for the NFL. Today, Ray’s clarity of purpose and vision live on. The NFL is the most successful and exciting sports conference in the world. It is a highly respected global brand because of its laser focus on the quality of its product and its consummate ability to manage, market, and monetize its unrivaled sports entertainment.
I wrote this book to set the record straight. In doing so, I dispel some widely held notions and myths about football and rewrite American football history. I also shed some much-needed light on this unknown sports hero who saved football from itself. This book is for anyone who loves the game and wants to learn more about its fascinating characters, events, and evolution.
Hugh L. “Shorty” Ray was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966 for his outstanding contributions to the rules of the NFL. Ray saved the dull violent NFL game from extinction and made it the fast-paced, wide-open game of today.
The following are just a handful of the hundreds of innovative playing rules that Ray devised. His work transformed the game making it safer, faster and more exciting. Today, because of Ray’s work, the NFL has become the most popular and prosperous sports league in America.