The Mystifying Offense

Oftentimes, lo these many years removed from college, I search You Tube for old football films, some even in color, of those long ago halcyon days of autumnal splendor.

I have gone back as far as 1937 watching Jackie Robinson returning punts for UCLA. I’ve never seen a more smooth-striding broken field runner, seemingly saving those pigeon-toed sprints exhibited stealing bases in Brooklyn for his later journey to Cooperstown.

Having run the Split-T offense in college at Minnesota, I find especially entertaining the skill with which Coach Bud Wilkinson steamrolled all opponents en route to 47 straight wins in the 1950s at Oklahoma with that offense.

The T Formation, the Veer, the Pistol, the Shotgun, the Single Wing, the Double Wing, the Power “I”, the Pro Set, and Wildcat formations all experienced a modicum of success before being replaced by something else, just because something else might prove better. The greener grass syndrome at work!

During the 1920s and 1930s, the Single Wing offense perfected by Notre Dame and Tennessee ruled football, featuring power running with just a dash of trickery to keep defenses honest.

But then along came two guys from Michigan who combined the power of the single wing with the sleight of hand of the T formation to bedazzle and befuddle opponents. Coaches Forrest Evashevski at Iowa and Davey Nelson at Delaware ran the “Wing T” to perfection. I had the misfortune to play against Iowa and I can attest to how difficult it was to figure out what the hell happened on the snap of the ball.

Back then, players had to go both ways so I played quarterback and safety.

Offense was much easier than defense, I hasten to add.

On the snap, a safety is taught to take a step backwards, the thinking being never let anybody get behind you. But the tricky ball handling by the quarterback in the Iowa Wing T was so quick, if you took your eyes off that action, a ball carrier would come out of nowhere so fast you’d end up saving touchdowns by making game saving tackles way downfield.

Then just as you gained confidence in stopping the run, a fake into the line would freeze you in place for a nano second while a streaking receiver would run by you like a freight train passing a bum.

In one such instance that freight train was future NFL star Jim Gibbons while I painfully played the part of the bum trying to jump on board.

In another instance, All-American Rich Kreitling of Illinois resembled more the sleek 20th Century Limited racing from Chicago to New York while I got stuck somewhere around Cleveland vainly chasing him.

Twenty-five years later, I was working at IBM when I met a fellow employee who had played at Colgate. I asked if he had ever played safety against Delaware’s Wing T. His immediate answer was, “Yes, and I had nightmares every time they snapped the friggin’ ball!”

Nice tradition at the University of Iowa. On campus and rising high above Nile Kinnick Stadium is the Iowa Children’s Hospital. At the end of the first quarter all the fans rise as one and cheer the children brought to the hospital’s upper windows, waving their arms in unison, saluting the efforts of all the kids to get well.

That is college football at its very best.

6 responses to “The Mystifying Offense

  1. From what I’ve seen the first two weeks of the NFL season, most teams can go back tot the drawing board to figure out how to run an effective offense.

    That being said, the Buccaneers are not one of those teams. This team is on the path to good things, my friend.

  2. They sure had a good day.. Good defense. Great pursuit.

  3. Yes, I remember the game at Iowa in 1957 and the Chinese fire drill like plays Randy Duncan was running with their offense., Do you remember the game delay when Dave Herbold lost one of his contacts and members of both teams were down on all fours trying to find it? Alex Karras was one of the big hulks helping his opponent out.

  4. Randy Duncan was a great quarterback. He died recently. I remember well huge linemen on both teams trying to find that contact lens. The ref told us we would all have to join in the search. I think Karras found it.

  5. RE the T formation, you overlooked the team that really brought it to national prominence: the 1940 and 41 Stanford Indians under Coach Shaughnassey (sp?). As a 10 year old kid, I watched them play in the Stadium because
    I lived just a few blocks away. Had a great team and beat Nebraska in the Rose Bowl. Do you remember Frankie Albert? An early version of Joe Namath, colorful but not quite so ostentatious. I can still name the full starting offensive lineup.Pete Kemetovic made a great darting touchdown run in the Rose Bowl.

    The Giants should fire the GM!

    Jack White

  6. Frankie Albert indeed. A southpaw with the 49’ers after college. Norm Standlee was the fullback, I believe. Giants need new GM and head coach. It’s time to look for Eli’s succesor as well.