Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Want some surprising football? Bring back the single-wing

September 18, 2008

I don’t like to harp on the same subject, but the time has come to say it again. I wonder why some enterprising football coach — pro, college or high school, it doesn’t matter — doesn’t have his team run from the single-wing formation and surprise a stadium filled with fans.

Football today is the same Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Everybody runs from some version of the T-formation. Some win by large margins, but that’s because they either have better personnel, they execute better, the other team’s halfback has a bellyache, or they pull a trick play or two at appropriate times.
That’s well and good — except for the fact all teams look the same. They could all use the same playbook because their formations and their plays are basically the same.
Why doesn’t some coach liven up the game, especially on the high school level, by dragging out the old single-wing formation and having a go at it? Baseball teams, you may say, all look the same, but the conformation of the field accounts for that. With a football field, the offense can run any formation it wants.
“The T is a quick-opening formation,” some say. “It is sometimes easier to open a quick hole and have the runner speed through it and head east toward the goal line.
Or the pass receivers run their routes, and the quarterback is supposed to hit one with an accurate pass.
That’s OK. It works all right. But each team looks alike. The difference is mostly in the color of their uniforms.
Fifty years ago, someone brought out the T-formation, and it was different. It didn’t have the blocking of the single-wing. Running backs passed the line of scrimmage and didn’t have a lot of protection ahead of them. Blocking was faster in the T, which opened its plays more qquickly than the single-wing. But a single missed block could mean a loss on the play or a gang-busting tackle of the runner.
The single-wing was different.
Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice ran the single-wing all his career except with the Washington Redskins. He once told me, “I wouldn’t trade the single-wing for any other formation in the world. I felt safe running behind six blockers until I saw an opening, and then I would move away from the blockers and make the run on my own. But I didn’t have to go through the line naked, and that made all the difference in the world. It usually meant we gained some yardage.”
The quickness of the T-formation was not in the single-wing offense. The runner didn’t move as quickly as a T halfback going through the line.
“If the play was going to the right,” Justice said, “I had to wait until the left guard pulled out and joined the stream of blockers. Sometimes I had seven blockers ahead of me — if our left-side end was strong enough to block out anyone who might run me down from behind.
“I had to pause a moment after taking the snap to let that guard go by, and then I went through the line with my free hand on the tail of the last guard going through. I was on my own only after all of my interference had taken out their defensive men,” Charlie said .
He never felt naked, not with so many blockers paving the way.
“Shucks, my grandmother could have run behind the blocking I had in high school and college,” Charlie said.
Justice had a greater skill running in the open field than any runner I ever saw. Even while his blockers were getting their men, if Charlie saw a hole open to the right or the left, he took it, leaving his blockers behind. His skill in dodging tacklers and in running everywhere he saw a hole, was a tremendous contribution to the running game. He was better at open-field running than anyone he ever played against.
Not everyone is a Charlie Justice, I know that. In fact, I haven’t seen once since.
When the T-formation came along, everybody dropped the single-wing and ran the T.
Now it’s time for someone to reinstate the old single-wing. He would surprise a lot of teams, and surprise often wins football games.

This is the opinion of Bob Terrell. Contact him at bobterrell5@gmail.com or 712-6589.


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