Saturday, December 3, 2011

Gator History and the Days of the Single Wing

We came across something very interesting yesterday afternoon.  Tucked away on a shelf in a Gainesville thrift shop was a 1977 Florida vs. Kentucky program, and in it was an article entitled "The Days of the Single Wing" by the Boston Globe's Joe Concannon.  And what is the "single wing"?  The spread option or the wildcat formation.

Here's an excerpt (and don't miss the photos down at the bottom):

Ah, yes, the single wing, a throwback to the era of the raccoon coat, the Model T and the Great Depression. Gradually, the T replaced it as the primary offense of the college game and, eventually, it all but vanished, lingering only as a nostalgic art form.

It was hauntingly appropriate though, that the single wing should have had its brief revival in aged Harvard stadium on that afternoon last fall.  Pop Warner, the man who originated the single wing, used it, in a ll likelihood, in 1907, when his Carlisle Indians with Jim Thorpe stunned Harvard, 23-15, in Harvard Stadium.

Dick Colman, presently athletic director at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vt., employed the single wing formation at Princeton until he stepped down after the 1968 season.  Princeton was the last major college to use the formation.  It was, up to the end, a devastating offense.

Although best known as a running formation, the single wing could use motion and open up interesting pass-run options.  In more recent use, the quarterback was set back with the tailback as a passing threat.

Joe REstic, the Harvard coach noted for his innovative multiflex offense, put in the formation at the start of the 1976 season, still has it and plans to use it again.  "We wanted to show it against Brown," he said, "and unload it the following week against Yale."

Why?  Well, he had a quarterback who could run and pass and, when Harvard came out in the single wing, there was confusion.  Harvard had both their quarterback and a running back set to take the snap, and had a short side attack, a trap series, an off-tackle power series, and an option run-pass to the strong side.

"It created total confusion," said Restic.  You've negated their defensive ability.  I hate to find myself in a position where I don't know what's going to happen.  That's the strength of multiple thinking.  It was disruptive. I will say it was a good tactical move on our part.

"It's a great formation.  I look at the things you can do from that set.  Especially if you have that one key man, the tailback.  A strong runner who can go outside.  You can utilize options off the formation. You have an inside threat but once you go outside, you pressure them with the option of running or passing."

"There are other reasons why it was so effective.  When the wingback is in tight, it creates a double team problem.  If a defensive lineman is too aggressive, the blocking back is sitting there to trap him.  The nature of the single wing puts the defense in a vulnerable position.  The offense shifts its front, so the center is no longer the center."

One of the last to use the formation successfully on a national level was Sanders at UCLA.  After he was named Coach of the Year in 1954, Larry Robinson wrote in the New York WORLD TELEGRAM AND SUN how Sanders "stands out in his profession as one of the stoutest bulwarks of the supposedly archaic single win."

"While a vast majority have gone to the T, or its new-fangled projection, the split T, Sanders has stood like a rock with his back deployed as in the old days; a blocking back, a real wing or right half, a spinning fullback, and a tail or back back who does the bulk of the ball toting."

So it died slowly, painlessly and now virtually an unknown entity to the college player.  When Harvard did come out in the single wing against Brown, the crowd, at first, sat quietly.  But then, as it sensed what formation Harvard was in, the old Stadium rocked with applause.

In spite of its recent disuse, some coaches would like to see it come back.  Traditionalists believe the flair of the single wing would give the college game an exciting new dimension, by using an old twist.

It only took 30+ years for those coaches to get their wish.  And how a few other things have changed since then.

Cris Collinsworth

Jeremy Foley

John Brantley

Wes Chandler

Dock Luckie

Albert riding in on a motorcycle is cool, but the old Albert, not so much.
And the "power" of being able to watch "whatever whenever."