Wing-Shift or Dead-Indian Play

One of the problems with dating Pop Warner’s innovations is that his memory 20 years after the fact was far from perfect, as are most people’s. The well-known difficulties in dating the births of the single-wing and double-wing with certitude are due, at least in part, to Warner’s inconsistent memories. A month and a half ago, I wrote a bit about the 1903 game with Utah in which Joe Baker led the Indians to a 22-0 win over the Mormonites by running the new wing-shift play several times for three second-half touchdowns (they counted 5 points in those days).

In his autobiography—actually a series of magazine articles written by Warner that were compiled into book form—Warner stated that during the 1912 Thanksgiving Day game against Brown, Harvard’s coach, Percy Haughton, was his guest on the sidelines to see Warner’s new surprise play—the wing-shift. Haughton disapproved, saying, “These series plays are never worth a darn. If such plays do work, it is usually in the first attempt, because they are trick plays and surprise is the feature that usually makes them successful.” After seeing Carlisle run them for long gains later in the game, Haughton grudgingly admitted, “Well, it did work that time.”

For a newspaper series of favorite plays from several coaches in the 1930s, Lone Star Dietz described the “Dead-Indian Play.” What he described was the old wing-shift that Carlisle ran so well. Because the wing-shift, or dead-Indian play, was a series of two plays it had to be called ahead of time. The player, generally a back, who carried the ball on the first play would linger on the ground long enough to give six of his teammates time to line up to one side of him. The rest would position themselves in the backfield. When the downed man could see that all were in place, he hopped up and snapped the ball to a backfield man to start the second play, catching the defense off guard.

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