Football Horse Collar Penalty

Football Horse Collar Penalty

A horse collar is a penalty in American football called on the defensive player usually in the process of attempting to tackle the ball carrier. The horse collar penalty is called when the would-be tackler stops the ball carrier by grabbing above or around their nameplate. This type of tackle is deemed illegal due to the risk of injury.


A football horse collar penalty is called when a defensive player grabs the inside collar of the back or side of the jersey or shoulder pads of the ball carrier in an effort to bring them to the ground. The runner does not necessarily need to go to the ground for this penalty to be called. If the ball carrier's knees simply buckle due to this illegal act, it is a penalty on the offender. The result of this penalty in the NFL is a personal foul, loss of 15 yards, and an automatic first down.

A defensive player can grab the upper back side of a runner's jersey without being penalized at the referee's discretion. This can occur if the defender releases the jersey quickly without pulling on it, thus offering little or no risk to the ball carrier.

The horse collar was a legal play in the NFL until 2005. The banning of the play came in response to a number of horrible injuries throughout the NFL due to the horse collar tackle in 2004. Dallas Cowboy safety Roy Williams notoriously used the horse collar tackle as a technique when he entered the NFL in 2002. Williams was responsible for causing a number of injuries through the use of this tackling technique in 2004 alone. Most notable among them was in a game with the Philadelphia Eagles when he used the horse collar tackle to bring Pro Bowl Eagle wide receiver Terrell Owens backward to the ground and, in the process, Owens suffered a broken leg.


Horse Collar15 Yards, Automatic First Down15 Yards, Automatic First Down15 Yards15 Yards, Automatic First Down10 Yards

In almost all American football leagues the result of a horse collar penalty is 15 yards. It also may result in an automatic first down for the offense. In high school football, the penalty does not award an automatic first down. The now defunct AFL penalized the defense 10 yards for a horse collar.

Penalty Signal

football penalty signal illegal horse collar tackle

To signal a horse collar penalty the referee will make a fist with their hand, raise their fist toward their collar, and make a downward pulling motion.


  • The ball carrier runs past the defense and in a last-ditch effort to stop them, the closest defensive player reaches out to grab the back of the runner's jersey to keep them from scoring a touchdown.
  • The quarterback is out of the pocket scrambling away from the pass rushers and one of the pass rushers reaches out to stop them, but, possibly accidentally, grabs the quarterback by the shoulder pads and pulls on them.
  • The quarterback throws a forward pass to their receiver in the end zone, but just as the ball hits the receiver's hands, the beaten defensive back pulls them down by the back collar of their jersey and the receiver drops the ball as they're going to the ground.