It Probably Wasn’t the Single-Wing

Now that we’ve dealt with some obvious errors in Rich Manning’s article, let’s get to the original issue: formations. The single-wing section in the Carlisle Indian School article in LeatherHelmetIllus.com starts this way:

In 1907, ‘Pop’ Warner returned to Carlisle. Together he and the Indians developed a new formation that would revolutionize football. The single wing shifted the halfback out wide, to outflank the opposing tackle. The new offense formed a shape that look like a wing. It opened up options and disguised intentions. The ability to show one thing and do another combined with the new rules made it possible to run, throw or kick at any time. ‘Pop’ Warner unveiled the new formation against the University of Pennsylvania, on Oct. 26, 1907.

I have read that the single-wing was unleashed in several different years due to Pop Warner’s inconsistent memory and writers’ imaginations. After researching this topic a bit, I came to believe that the single-wing did not arrive fully formed as the unbalanced-line, direct snap version depicted as Formation A in Warner’s 1927 book. I have concluded that the formation evolved over time as Warner implied on page 136 of his 1927 classic where he stated that it was first used by the Carlisle Indians and that he had used it or variations of it since the rules change of 1906. That he spent a week in Carlisle before the start of the season preparing coaches Bemus Pierce and Frank Hudson for the rule changes gives credibility for it having been first used by the Indians in 1906 when he wasn’t their coach. Fortunately, some documentation exists.

Warner began marketing a correspondence course on football in 1908 for which I have located and have reprinted the Offense pamphlet along with its annual updates. The 1908 pamphlet includes a number of offensive formations, which is not surprising as Warner was noted for tinkering with them. That newspaper coverage of the 1907 Penn game mentioned that multiple formations were used is not surprising. However, it is far from clear that end-back formation, the earliest documented version of Warner’s single-wing, was the formation being described for many of the plays as it didn’t feature a direct snap to a running back. That would come later. However, the punt formation did allow direct snaps to the backs and Warner had devised a set of running and passing plays from this formation.

He even described Play No. 17 thusly, “This is the long forward pass play used so successfully last season.” Last season would have been 1907, so this is likely the formation from which Frank Mt. Pleasant and Pete Hauser completed all those passes, not an early incarnation of the single-wing.

Play No. 17 from 1908 correspondence course Offense pamphlet

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