Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Miller’

Hidden Ball Play Mystery

January 27, 2011


Pop Warner told a different story on page 104 of his autobiography:

“When I was coaching at Cornell in 1897, I had the scrub team work the hidden ball play against the varsity in a practice game. The later in the season against Penn State, the hidden ball play was used for the first time in a game. In those days, Penn State was not as strong on the gridiron as they would later become and this game was merely a workout for Cornell.

“This play was used only once in the game and this was late in the fourth quarter after Cornell had already secured a big lead on the scoreboard….And the play worked like a charm. The Cornell ballcarrier untouched and scored a touchdown.”

Warner also wrote about how he had elastic installed in the hem of Charles Dillon’s jersey sometime before the 1903 Carlisle-Harvard game and how James Johnson placed the ball up the back of Dillon’s jersey after receiving the kickoff that opened the second half of the game. After Dillon crossed the goal line, another player (probably Johnson) removed the ball from his jersey and touched it down as was required by the rules at that time.

Determining the accuracy of Warner’s claim that his first use of the hidden ball play was in the 1897 Cornell-Penn State game could easily be verified by asking Joe Paterno as it would have happened early in his tenure in Happy Valley. Determining the accuracy of Heisman’s claim will be more difficult. It will likely require the perusal of newspaper coverage of the game by at least the Atlanta Constitution and the two schools involved. However, lack of mention in newspaper coverage doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t happen because sportswriters often get things wrong.

I guess we will have to wait for Jeff Miller’s biography of Pop Warner to know who first used the hidden ball play.

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Origin of hidden Ball Play

January 25, 2011

It is with some trepidation that I return the blog from its vacation. Readers have been very supportive, so supportive in fact that more people read the blog while it was on vacation that had read it for several weeks. Also, one day had a record high number of readers. (Actually, one day in August 2008 was a bit higher but that was due to a glitch of some sort.) Even though more people are reading the blog when I don’t write anything than when I do, I will persist in continuing to put some thoughts in digital ink.

Jeff Miller, who is working on a biography of Pop Warner, wrote me with questions regarding the origin of the famous hidden-ball play. He found that others claim that John Heisman first used that play: “The Orlando Sentinel ran an article in which it stated that John Heisman used it first in a game against Vanderbilt in 1895.  Leather Helmet Illustrated claims Heisman first used it in a game against Pop Warner’s University of Georgia team in 1895.” Recalling reading Warner’s account of his using the trick play, I thought I should investigate the matter a bit.

The first thing I did, even before pulling Warner’s autobiography off the shelf, was to do a quick search on Heisman and the hidden ball play. Not surprisingly, I found something different than what was in Leather Helmet Illustrated. The Encyclopedia of Alabama entry for Heisman includes the following:

“The Vanderbilt game in 1895 was memorable for the introduction of a hidden-ball play into the game. Trailing Vanderbilt, 9-0, in the second-half, Heisman instructed Auburn quarterback Reynolds Tichenor to stuff the ball under his shirt. The wedge of players surrounding him then scattered to all parts of the field, distracting the Vanderbilt players. Tichenor, who pretended to be tying his shoe, got up to run down the field unopposed for a touchdown. The play would later be outlawed.”

To be continued…