Penguin Football History

History of the Penalty Flag


Dwight Dike Beed

In the game of football, as with many other sports, nothing is more loved or hated than the penalty flag. Every fan knows that a penalty flag is thrown when a rules infraction occurs during a game. What most fans do not know, is that creation of that penalty flag was in Youngstown, Ohio more than 60 years ago. It was conceived by then Penguin head coach Dwight "Dike" Beede and sewn by his wife Irma. The penalty flag was first used on Oct. 17, 1941 a game against Oklahoma City University at Youngstown’s Rayen Stadium. Today the penalty flag is used in every competitive football game throughout the world.

Before the introduction of the penalty flag, the officials used horns to signal a penalty. This made it difficult for those in attendance to know that there was an infraction on the field because they could not hear the signal. Beede said, "I always disliked the fish horn signal, figured it was a nuisance, irritating to the ears." Jack McPhee, who was an official during the first game the penalty flag was used said, "Through the use of the signal flag, everyone in the stadium knows that something is wrong. It’s been a big help."

Beede came up with idea of the flag and had his wife sew it together. His wife, Irma Beede, is today known as the ‘Betsy Ross of Football’. Dike asked Irma to make a flag that had a bright color. However, contrary to popular belief, the first flags were not yellow; they were red with white stripes (of course). The flags were put together using pieces of the Beede’s daughter’s old Halloween costume and an old sheet. Irma used some lead sinkers from Dike’s fishing tackle box to weigh it down. The flag was 16 inches square with the weight all at one end. The flag has been modified over the years and today it is yellow cloth that uses sand to weigh it down.

Beede came to an agreement with Oklahoma City Coach Os Doenges to use the flags as an experiment. Beede proceeded to ask the game officials to use the flag. "Do me a favor boys, instead of using the horns, try dropping these flags on violations. The fans never hear the horns. Besides its just an experiment." The four game officials (reportedly) Hugh McFee, Jack McFee, Bill Renner, and Carl Rebele all agreed to use the flag. Jack McFee later used the flag at the Ohio State-Iowa game which happened to have the league’s commissioner, Major John Griffith, in attendance. He became very curious why the officials were throwing "rags" in the air. Griffith was impressed with the idea when McFee later explained what was going on. Griffen and McFee officially introduced the flag at the 1948 American Football Coaches rules session.

first penalty flag

McFee carried the original flag for many contests including games of Princeton-Yale and various Ohio State games until it faded. The flag made it\'\s way to the Rose Bowl, where the ‘red and white’ was tossed in front of 100,000 fans. Two of the original flags are on display in the Mosure Hall of Gridiron Glory on the fourth level in Stambaugh Stadium.

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