It Fit the Millennium To A T!
NEVER IN THE HISTORY of American sport has the coaching of a traditional game been changed as strikingly as it was in football in the autumn of 1940.
It wasn't a rule change, a Supreme Court decision, or an Act of God that produced the metamorphosis. It was an invention by three coaches - George Halas, Ralph Jones, and Clark Shaughnessy.
Halas coached the Chicago Bears, Jones coached Lake Forest College, and Shaughnessy, after a seven-year stint at the U. of Chicago, was about to launch his first year at Stanford.
The three men enjoyed a mutual admiration society that met every summer at the Bears' training camp at Lake Forest, 30 miles north of Chicago.
In the late 1930's, they had begun tinkering with an alignment that had always intrigued them, the old T formation. A lot of coaches had tried it, but found it wanting in the area of running-oriented offenses. It was simply too difficult to get outside from a T configuration.
You could see it every Saturday afternoon in South Bend, IN. Knute Rockne actually had his Notre Dame offense line up in a T on every play. But it would then shift into its famous box formation to run the play.
The three amigos (Halas, Jones, Shaughnessy) wondered about it. Was there any way you could run the ball effectively from a T? They used up mountains of paper (and chalkboards) with their X's and o's, and the answer finally emerged. They would put the quarterback over the center with his hands up in the center's crotch to take the ball on every play, while the left halfback would go in motion before the snap. That would put him out in the flat where he could pose all kinds of defensive problems as a pass receiver, blocker, and passer.
Everything was meticulously worked out--the quick hand-offs to the halfbacks and fullback, the faking, the pitch to the fullback, the counter to the weakside, and a drop-back passing game.
The T formation now had speed, deceptiveness, quick blocking potential, and an air game. Note: The ends were set off from the rest of the formation, facilitating their use as receivers and blockers.
There was a lot more, of course, and the coaches now felt they were ready to put their revolutionary deux ex machina on public display.
They couldn't have picked a better year than 1940. Both Halas and Shaughnessy had great quarterbacks and runners, as well as outstanding blockers on the line--and none of their opponents had ever played against "A Modern T Formation with a Man in Motion."
The rest is ancient history. The Bears won the NFL championship, defeating the Washington Redskins 73-0 in the title game. Stanford went unbeaten to win a share of the NCAA championship, and Lake Forest had the best season in its history, going 6-0-1.
The only openings that could compare with "The Modern T with a Man in Motion" were Gone With the Wind and South Pacific.
Crossing a Few T's
The Pick-Up: The love affair with the T was instantaneous. Within 10 years, the only NFL team still using a single wing was the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The single-wing traditionalists held out longer in the colleges and high schools. But the handwriting was all over the walls, and it read "What are you waiting for?"
Possibly the last single-wing claimant to the NCAA championship was Charlie Caldwell's masterful Princeton "Single Wing with the Buck Lateral Series" of 1950.
The Prob1ems. The coaches went a little ballistic trying to teach the brand new T. There were no books, no films, no clinics, and the center-QB exchange was a brand new concept that demanded meticulous teaching.
Most Dramatic Switch: Frank Leahy, a Knute Rockne protege, puts Boston College on the map with his version of the Notre Dame Box, then returns to his alma mater to announce his intention to switch to the T formation!
The Notre Dame alumni pass out. But they never have to ask for smelling salts. Leahy gets them all back on their feet (and in the seats) by going on to compile a winning percentage of .924 (80-5-5) over the next decade--including three unbeaten teams and four national championships.
He also becomes a guru of the T formation. When Dave Nelson was inventing his famous Delaware Wing-T, he sent an assistant to a Leahy clinic to pick up everything he could on the Center-QB exchange!
The N.Y. Giants did it a different way. They traded for an obscure Philadelphia Eagle back-up quarterback named Allie Sherman, not to play QB but to teach Charlie Connerly, how to handle the ball in the T.
Note: Sherman was one of the very few college quarterbacks who had played in a T formation, thanks to his visionary coach, Lou Oshins, at Brooklyn College (NY).
Scotching a Myth. The Bears demolishment of the Redskins 73-0 left the world with a distorted remembrance of the 1940 Bears. The facts: The Bears won their conference title with an 8-3 record--the same as they had with their single wing in 1939, but with 60 fewer points!
During the season, the Bears had actually lost to the Redskins 7-3. All of which goes to prove how 73 points can destroy the experts' objectivity. We have to believe that the 73-0 massacre was strictly an aberration.
The truth is that both Luckman and the Bears needed a shake-down year with the T before they could go on to do awesome things with it.
Coming of the Light. One year after the sudden emergence of the Modern T, its three inventors published a complete analysis of the formation in a 107-page soft-covered text with 70 diagrams. Every coach in America bought one. (Our memory has to be playing tricks. We recall the price as $1.)
Scholastic Coach published at least a dozen articles on the center-QB exchange. Among our premier pieces were an article by Allie Sherman in which he demonstrated and analyzed the basic handoffs. (He call them "buckle to buckle handoffs.")
The other article (photos and text) were reproduced from a training film that Bud Wilkinson was using at Oklahoma--a great team (and a great show).
All sorts of fascinating things have happened to football over the years-- free substitution, special teams, and take-offs from the basic T such as the Split T, the Wing-T, the Veer, the Wishbone, the West Coast passing game, one-back and no-back formations, etc.
But none of them has ever electrified the game, the coaches, and the fans the way "The Modern T with a Man in Motion" did in the early autumn of 1940.
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|Author:||Masin, Herman L.|
|Publication:||Coach and Athletic Director|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2000|
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