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Polish Goal Line Defense – A Blast from the Past

8 Nov

Knowing the rules and how to manipulate them is often an aid to coaches as the diagram below will illustrate.  It’s from the Houston Oilers’ playbook in 1993, the one season Buddy Ryan spent as the team’s defensive coordinator. It depicts a special goal-line formation Ryan designed for the end of the half or the end of the game—situations in which there were “less than 15 seconds” according to Ryan.

You’ll notice that there are 14 defenders. The idea is to allow the offense to run a free play, which more than 11 defenders would presumably be able to stop, with the understanding that a penalty has to be taken. The purpose is to force precious seconds to waste away, leaving the offense with less time to maneuver. The wonder is why Ryan stopped at 14 players.

The Polish Goal Line defense was followed up by Ryan’s “Polish Punt Team” which he introduced to football lore while coaching the Philadelphia Eagles.  In a most unusual formation, the Polish Punt Team was designed to prevent a blocked kick or a long runback.  In it, Ryan sent 14 men onto the field for a crucial last-minute punt. At the worst, the expected penalty for too many men on the field would set the Eagles back 5 yards but drain precious seconds from the clock.

To the surprise of the Eagles, no flag was thrown and the safest punt in NFL history was executed without mishap. Was Ryan sheepish about employing such a questionable tactic? Hardly. When asked during the taping of his weekly television show about the propriety of having 14 men on the field, Ryan did note a flaw in the strategy. “There should have been 15,” he snapped.

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The Team That Invented Football – Conclusion

20 Jul

by Sally Jenkins, Sports Illustrated

To take advantage of the Indians’ versatility Warner drew up a new offense.  Camp would dub it “the Carlisle formation,” but later it would be known as the single wing.  It was predicated on one small move: Warner shifted a halfback out wide, to outflank the opposing tackle, forming something that looked like a wing.  It opened up a world of possibilities.  The Indians could line up as if to punt — and then throw.  No one would know whether they were going to run, pass or kick.  For added measure Warner taught his quarterbacks to sprint out a few yards to their left or their right, buying more time to throw.  The rest of the players flooded downfield and knocked down any opponent who might be able to intercept or bat away the pass.

Single Wing - Cal Poly Pomona 1924

Single Wing - Princeton 1950

“How the Indians did take to it!” Warner remembered.  “Light on their feet as professional dancers, and every one amazingly skillful with his hands, the redskins pirouetted in and out until the receiver was well down the field, and then they shot the ball like a bullet.”  Carlisle roared off to a 6-0 start. On Oct. 26 they went to Philadelphia to face unbeaten Penn, ranked fourth in the nation, before a crowd of 22,800.  No team all season had crossed the Quakers’ goal line.  But on just the second play of the game Hauser whipped a 40-yard pass over the middle that William Gardner caught on a dead run to set up a touchdown.

Hauser

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The Team That Invented Football – Part 2

18 Jul
by Sally Jenkins, Sports Illustrated

The Carlisle practice field was a piece of hardpan that could chip the blade off a shovel. It was an uneven, rock-strewn acre irrigated with the Indians’ sweat. The players themselves had dug the field, measured it, graded it and sodded it.

On a September day in 1899, Warner stood on the field and scrutinized his new football team. His heart dropped to his shoes.  The players were “listless and scrawny, many looking as if they had been drawn through a knothole,” he would recall later.  Over the next 13 years, the coach would have just one Carlisle team whose players averaged more than 170 pounds.

Carlisle Indians - 1899

Warner was 28 when he was hired by Carlisle on the recommendation of Camp, for whom he had played at Cornell before going on to coach football at Georgia, Iowa State and his alma mater. Warner had a reputation for creativity.   At Georgia he had experimented with the screen pass and the tackling dummy.  He also developed theories of fitness, diet, training and motivation.  He rousted the Bulldogs at 6 a.m. for five-mile runs and locked them in their dorm at night.  He was an authoritarian who backed up his words with physical force; he gave up scrimmaging with the Bulldogs only when he broke the collarbone of one of his players. Then in two seasons as Cornell’s head coach he went 15-5-1.

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The Team That Invented Football – Part I

13 Jul

Long before the BCS, there was a game between the top two teams in the country, pitting Indians against Soldiers.  Just two decades after Wounded Knee, a small Indian school from Pennsylvania challenged the mighty Cadets of West Point and transformed a plodding, brutal college sport into the fast, intricate game we know and love today

By Sally Jenkins, Sports Illustrated

The game, like the country in which it was created, was a rough, bastardized thing that jumped up out of the mud. What was football but barely legalized fighting? On the raw afternoon of Nov. 9, 1912, it was no small reflection of the American character.

The coach of the Carlisle Indian School, Glenn Scobey (Pop) Warner, strode up and down the visitors’ locker room, a Turkish Trophy cigarette forked between his fingers. Warner, slab-faced and profane, wasn’t one for speeches, unless cussing counted. But he was about to make an exception.

The 22 members of the Carlisle team sat, tensing, on rows of wooden benches. Some of them laced up ankle-high leather cleats, as thick-soled as jackboots. Others pulled up heavy football pants, which bagged around their thighs like quilts. They shrugged into bulky scarlet sweaters with flannel stuffed in the shoulders for padding. Flap-eared leather helmets sat on the benches next to them, as stiff as picnic baskets.

Often Warner was at a loss to inspire the Indians. He didn’t always understand their motives, and he had put his boot in their backsides on more than one occasion. Jim Thorpe could be especially galling. The 25-year-old Oklahoman from the Sauk and Fox tribe had an introverted disposition and a carelessness that baffled Warner. But on this Saturday afternoon Warner knew just how to reach Thorpe — and his teammates. Carlisle, the nation’s flagship institution for Native Americans, was to meet the U.S. Military Academy in a showdown between two of the top football teams in the country.

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Old School: The “A” Formation

15 Feb

Hashmarks were closer to the sidelines in the 20s and 30s than they are today, so offenses favored running to the wide side of the field.  As a result, formations were routinely unbalanced to that side which created a pronounced strongside.

This was particularly true in the fledgling NFL, where power running was the principal method of moving the chains and, when it came to power, the Single Wing ruled.  So did the Notre Dame Box.


(Single Wing)


(Notre Dame Box)

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What’s Old Is New…

29 Jan

The Single Wing, as seen here in this video, is the basis for the modern Wildcat and all it’s variations.  Even Don Markham’s Double Wing has its roots in the Pop Warner system.  Here in the video, the Single Wing is mixed in with a little Notre Dame Box which started out looking like the “T” Formation — back then it was called the “Regular” Formation — then shifted into various overloaded sets that created leverage and confusion.  Check it out.   If you’re lucky enough to have a long-snapper or can develop one — probably two — then the  Single Wing is a simple system to teach and powerful in its execution.


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Old School: “Mr. Inside, Mr. Outside”

27 Jan

They were the 1940’s version of the dynamic duo, with each earning a Heisman Trophy.  One in ’45; the other in ’46.

In their three years together at West Point, the Cadets didn’t lose a game, going 27-0-1, and winning back-to-back national championships.  One was a powerful, bulldozing fullback; the other, a fleet-footed and ankle-breaking halfback. To their teammates and coaches they were simply Glenn Davis and “Doc” Blanchard.  But to admiring fans everywhere, they were better known as Mr. Inside, Mr. Outside.


(Glenn Davis [L] and Felix “Doc” Blanchard [R])
Their legend begins in high school where both were stellar athletes in a variety of sports.  Davis was a 13-letter sport star at Bonita High School in La Verne, California, while Doc starred at St. Stanislaus Prep in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.  Each came to West Point by way of circumstance.