In North American football, why are 2 of the 5 offensive linemen called “tackles”?

In North American football, why are 2 of the offensive linemen referred to as “offensive tackles”? I mean, 1) they’re not allowed, under the rules, to tackle anyone, and 2) there is no equivalent defensive position, though “tackling” is an important part of the defense’s job?

1 Answer

Looking deeper into the initial development of the word tackle, from

Middle English (denoting equipment for a specific task): probably from
Middle Low German takel, from taken: lay hold of. Early senses of the
verb ( late Middle English) described the provision and handling of a
ship’s equipment.

Considering the role of an offensive tackle is both to grapple and to guide, very fitting. And we indeed still have some situations today where we can mean tackle as to wrestle with a situation rather than to necessarily to defeat it, such as:

I’ll take care of the homework first, then I’ll tackle studying for the final.

If the sports usage really evolved down from that meaning, it actually seems slightly more odd that soccer calls it a tackle!

However, I had a feeling it was quite a bit more complex than simply that explanation, and voilĂ , came through in spades!

Basically it indicates that

  • Players originally played both sides of the ball (makes sense, since the game derived from the continual action of rugby).
  • The primary offensive play was to run towards the outside (as it often is in rugby). So the defenders on the edge of the line were tasked predominantly with tackling, and so were named for that, regardless of which side of the ball they were playing at any given moment.

As Philip indicated in his comment to you, defensive tackle is still a standard position in North American football.

So it’s only then that the offensive side became disconnected from its origin. And I was shocked the article suggests that platoon football, where you have separate teams for offence and defence, didn’t come into much popularity until into the 1960s!

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