Friday, November 25, 2016

Kicking Butt, Old School Style

On Saturday, the Menominee Maroons will play for a Michigan state high school football title--and a quarterback will never step on the field for them.  In an era where many schools have gone to the
Spread/Read Option offense that slings the ball all around the field on every down, Menominee runs an offense that harkens back to the days when the forward pass was illegal.

The Maroons operate the Single-Wing offense--which was invented by Pop Warner in 1907--when he was coaching the Carlisle Indians and his star player was Jim Thorpe.  For those not old enough to have seen the Single Wing in action, the fullback and the halfback line up with a hand on the ground about four yards behind the offensive line and the center may snap the ball to either one of them to start the play.  There are no "wide receivers"--just "ends" who run little slip routes after faking like they are blocking for another running play.  The halfback or fullback usually throw the passes.  A blocking back lines up behind one of the tackles--usually on the same side as the wing-back--who lines up just behind one of the ends.  There is never a direct-snap to a player under center.

One of my first "professional" play-by-play assignments was a Menominee football game.  Fortunately, I had been briefed that they ran the Single Wing--but nothing prepares you for seeing it in person yourself.  The offense is predicated on misdirection.  The center snap is directional--so the halfback or fullback usually catch it while running sideways or toward the line of scrimmage.  There are reverse inside handoffs, there are laterals to the wingback running behind the formation, there are throwback passes between the backs--and it's all behind trap blocking--so defenders never know which way the play is going based on the offensive line movement.

Don't think that Menominee's run to the state title game this year is some kind of "Hoosiers" on a football field.  The Maroons already have three state titles--and have been to the final four nearly a dozen times.  In fact, one of the years I was in Menominee, they won the champtionship--beating a powerhouse Detroit suburban private school with future college players soundly--all while making them look clueless on how to stop such a "primitive" offense.

The key to Menominee's success is that the Single Wing is the only system they ever learn.  From day one at Pee Wee practice, they run it.  The kid playing center on this year's high school team has been the center his entire football career--since he needs to know in which direction to hike the ball and which gap he has to block.  The halfback and fullback have played those positions for as many as ten years--knowing all of the options that can be called from just a single formation that is used all game long.

It's nice to know that in an era filled with so many "offensive geniuses" who have completely abandoned the running game (I'm looking at you Mike McCarthy) that the "groundbreaking system" can still win.

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