Thursday, November 1, 2007

All that’s missing are the leather helmets

All that’s missing are the leather helmets

Published on Thursday, November 01, 2007
Commentary by Matt Hickman

So the other day I’m shopping for aftershave and the entire aisle is causing me confusion and stress.

I’m being bombarded on one side by all of these effeminate lotions and oils, what with their paba and aloe and keratin, and on the other by all these Godless body sprays that supposedly make women lose control and attack you with condiments.

Tossed about in this angry sea of marketing to metrosexuals and little boys who want never to grow up, one product stands out like a beacon in the night.

Old Spice.

I don’t mean the new line of Old Spice products that mock their namesake with ironical jokes about chest hair and grey-haired professors taking advantage of TAs. I’m talking about the original aftershave in the white bottle with the clipper ship on it. The kind made only from sea water, rubbing alcohol and the finest spices pillaged during a recent voyage around the Cape of Good Hope.

True, it doesn’t do much to soothe the burn of a rough, bloody shave. But smell is the sense with the quickest link to memory. And if my smell is going to be the background music to a day in my life, I want to walk around with the memory of a sentiment worth remembering.

I want to smell exactly like my grandfather did from D-Day to the day he could no longer remember his grandchildren’s names. The fragrance from a thought like that will keep you brave, humble and oh so refreshed all day long. For this reason, Old Spice is the men’s fragrance that refuses to die.

In football, there’s an offense that similarly refuses to die (pardon the stretchy segue).

NFL offenses today are so fraught with strategy and complicated mathematics, 40 year-olds have to be called out of retirement when the starter goes down because the 20 year-old the team just drafted isn’t smart enough to handle them.

This is progress?

Don’t look now, but throughout high school football and every once in a while in the college game, you see the return of the single wing, the offense invented by Glen ‘Pop’ Warner in 1912 and made famous by Jim Thorpe, Red Grange and Neil Kinnick to name a few.

To see it in 2007 is a bit of a shock. Players bunch together in the backfield like a team skydiving troupe and play a sort of shell game with the ball after the snap. He who receives the snap may run straight ahead, hand to a criss-crossing back, or spin around like a top, faking handoffs to other backs till the defense is as dizzy as he is.

If you let your eyes blur you can see such a team in sepia tones, sporting leather helmets and celebrating touchdowns by doing the Charleston in the end zone before splashing on some Old Spice for a night at the speakeasy.

At 7 p.m. on Friday night in Scottsdale, the Bisbee Pumas will open the state playoffs against one of the teams bringing back the Old Spicey ways of matriculating the ball down the field.

The Scottsdale Christian Academy Eagles are a team essentially without a quarterback, without a tailback or any other label a modern analyst might require. Somebody, anybody may snatch the shotgun snap and take off running behind an unbalanced line.

It’s maddening to defend, but Bisbee head coach Truman Williamson, who in four decades of coaching has never employed the single wing, feels confident his defense can handle it.

“They’re running the old single-wing stuff, and it’s some old, old stuff,” Williamson said after seeing the Eagles on film. “The advantage is, you get a five-yard run at the line of scrimmage.”

Williamson said the main reason for employing the single-wing is to hide a lack of skill position players, and to make for easier passing.

Fifth-year Scottsdale Christian head coach Jeff Fox, whose team ran out of the traditional I formation, said the transition was largely a lesson learned from the year before when top tailback Ryan Tulley went down with a knee injury early in the year and did not return. Without a starting tailback, the Eagles were hung out to dry with the I-formation.

For Tulley’s senior year, Fox wasn’t going to put his team in a position again where one injury could have such a drastic impact.

“Our kids are pretty open-minded minded about it,” Fox said of his kids’ reactions to their great-grandfathers’ offense. “We like the fact that we can get a number of different kids a lot of carries... We wanted to be in a situation where if we lost a player we could still fight our way into the playoffs.”

Off the map at Baboquivari High School on the Tohono o’odham reservation, Warriors coach Jeff Pichotta is a voice in the deep desert wilderness for the single wing. He has his own Web site devoted to it and travels around to conferences with fellow travelers. In 20 years of head coaching he’s never used another offense.

“I run it because I grew up with it and I have yet to find an offense that matches the simplicity yet is very complicated. To me it is an art form. When you see a spinning series worked to perfection, it is like poetry in motion,” Pichotta said.

His bulleted list of other advantages include the following:

• Teams never adjust to the unbalanced formation.

• Most teams give us numbers advantages before the play even starts.

• The snap is much safer, if we fumble the snap we have more room to recover.

• The ability to snap to 3 different backs is incredibly deceptive.

• The spin series is the most deceptive and least seen series in football.

• The defenses are not used to seeing this offense.

• Scout teams have a hard time emulating this offense.

• It’s easy to pass out of the formation with the offset fullback and tailback.

• Fewer handoffs that often cause fumbles.

• No pitch sweeps required to get outside, hence no pitches put on the ground.

• Ball control means less time for your defense on the field.

• Excellent “cult” support system.

• Overwhelm your opponent at the point of attack.

• No requirement to have a stud quarterback or big feature back.

• All the kids get involved in the offense, it’s team football at its finest.

• It’s fun for the kids and the coaches.

• It doesn’t require lots of big linemen.

• It’s flexible.

• It maximizes the talent you do have.

• It has unmatched power.

• No quarterback under the center for our pulling linemen to run into.

The “cult” support system is no joke. There are numerous Web sites, conferences and even a hall of fame promoting the vitality of the old offense.

“Across the U.S. we have coaches clinics — we call them symposiums,” Pichotta said. “We get together in different parts of the country, we bring in speakers — I’m a guest speaker often.”

So why is it called the single wing?

“Because there’s no quarterback, just a single wing on outer end, flanker or slot back out on its own,” Pichotta said. “If you’re unbalanced, which means you have an extra lineman on one side — an overload. A defense either has to match that, and if they don’t, you have more at the point of attack.”

This is the element that makes the single wing so effective in high school, where 80 percent of quarterbacks are basically glorified hand-off-and-watch specialists in run-oriented offenses.

As John Reed, an author of books on the single wing said, the first obstacle in implementing the single wing is, “You just have to tell the quarterback, ‘Son, we’re going to make you the waterboy.’ ”

“If you don’t have that quarterback, that quarterback can become a blocker,” Pichotta said. “If the quarterback has to hand the ball, you’re actually playing the game with 10. In single wing, the quarterback the quarterback can be blocker or a runner or part of what you’re running.”

Pichotta said the secret society of coaches promoting the single-wing, doesn’t want to keep it a secret to a select few.

“It’s more spreading the gospel of the single wing,” Pichotta said. “We don’t want to just keep it to ourselves. SCA, it took them a while to finally “get smart as we call it,” but they went to the single-wing and they’re surprinsg teams.”

But as the No. 2 seed, Scottsdale Christian may have gotten a tough draw against No. 15 Bisbee, Pichotta said.

“(Tombstone head coach Mike) Hayhurst and Williamson have been toughest defending against the wing,” Pichotta said. “Williamson is going to have it all figured out... It’s going to come down to who plays the best.”

The Sierra Vista Herald
102 Fab Avenue
Sierra Vista AZ


No comments: