Tim Tebow, Frank Gifford, Darren McFadden, John Elway, Roger Goodell, George Atkinson/Jack Tatum/Willie Brown; Joe Lacob/Rick Barry
THE TALK that that the New York Jets traded for Tim Tebow because they want to use the “Wildcat” offense part of the time just shows that football is a game where elements re-appear from the past. That was true even of the Bill Walsh offense, which changed the NFL so much. Walsh told me one time that the delayed handoff to the fullback, in which the quarterback goes past the back and then slips it to him, was actually a play “Pop” Ivy used with the Houston Oilers in the ‘60s.
The “Wildcat” is a variation of the single wing, which was the primary offensive formation until it was replaced by the T and variations of it.
In the single wing, the tailback took a direct snap from center, standing several yards deep. At that point, he could pass the ball, hand it off to another runner – or even punt it. The quick kick on third down was frequently used because, if you got a roll at the end of the kick, you could get very good field position. Sammy Baugh’s NFL record for average punts came in great part because he originally was a tailback in the single wing.
There were great college single wing tailbacks as late as the ‘50s. Dick Kazmaier was a Heisman Trophy winner at Princeton, before the Ivy League de-emphasized football. He never played in the pros. Frank Gifford, a quarterback in JC, starred at USC in 1951 and, of course, went on to a Hall of Fame career as a running back in the NFL. Paul Cameron was a great tailback for the 1953 UCLA team but had a short and undistinguished NFL career. Though UCLA had a significant falloff with Primo Villanueva the next year, they shared the national championship with Ohio State, winning one wire service poll while the Buckeyes won the other. The Bruins could not play in the Rose Bowl because of the no-repeat rule, so L.A. Examiner columnist Melvin Durslag wrote that the national championship should go to the team that beat USC by the biggest margin. By that measurement, UCLA came out ahead with a 34-0 shellacking of USC, which lost by 20-7 in a muddy Rose Bowl game to Ohio State.
The single wing was phased out because teams soon realized it was easier to get one player who could pass the ball and another who could run it than to get one player who could do both well. And USC proved that just one year after Gifford had left. The Trojans had what would have been a great T formation backfield with Rudy Bukich at quarterback, Jim Sears and Al Carmichael as halfbacks and Leon Sellers at fullback. Instead, coach Jess Hill stayed with the single wing and alternated Bukich, a great passer who couldn’t run well, and Sears, an outstanding runner but terrible passer. Because they had a great defense, the Trojans won the Rose Bowl, but by only 7-0.
There have been echoes of the single wing since. Red Hickey introduced the “Shotgun” offense with the 49ers in the early ‘60s and it was spectacular for two games, but then crashed and burned. Teams still use the Shotgun, but not as a basic formation.
Colleges have gone to spread formations which resemble the Shotgun, and Arkansas brought in the “Wildcat” when Darren McFadden was there, and used it effectively.
Miami had some brief success with it in 2008 but no team uses it as anything but for occasional surprise plays. There are two basic problems with it: (1) If the quarterback is flanked to the outside, he’s in danger of being injured; and 2) It’s obvious what’s happening when a non-quarterback lines up to take the snap, so the surprise element is gone.
That’s why I doubt that the Jets got Tebow to run the “Wildcat,” though I’m not sure why they made that trade. They can’t have any thoughts that he can be a good NFL quarterback. That would require a complete change in his passing motion. I think he’s capable of being a good NFL running back, and he might even make a tight end, because he’s got the size and he’s an outstanding athlete.
I do know this: The most relieved man in football when Peyton Manning signed with the Broncos was John Elway, who knew Tebow was not an NFL quarterback but was committed to giving him the starting job next season because of his devoted following. Manning gave him the perfect chance to ship Tebow out of town, and he did that quickly, with not a murmur of public protest.
A cartoon sent me by a reader summed it up perfectly: Tebow was portrayed on the field praying after a victory, with a caption reading, “To win a Super Bowl, the Broncos sacrificed a virgin.”
NFL BOUNTY: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s strong ruling on the “bounty” program, suspending both New Orleans coach Sean Payton and former defensive coordinator Greg Williams for the 2012 season, didn’t surprise me. The NFL is very vulnerable legally right now, with more than 20 lawsuits filed by former players who allege they weren’t adequately protected from concussions. Goodell had to show that the NFL is concerned about the health of their players. Finally.
I covered pro football (Raiders, 1967-71) in an era when players were considered interchangeable parts. Kent McCloughan was the best cover corner I’ve seen – well, perhaps tied with Jimmy Johnson – but when he tore up his knee he kept playing instead of coming out of the game and effectively ended his career. Dan Birdwell, a very good defensive tackle, did the same. Jim Otto, of course, is the classic example of a player who just kept playing despite multiple injuries. Today, Otto has had to have both legs amputated below the knees. He remains upbeat, though; I saw him at the BASHOF banquet earlier this month, and he’s still around for Raiders news conferences.
That was the way the game was then. Team doctors were not expected to report honestly on a player’s injury, which is why Bob Albo, a very close friend of Al Davis, resisted pleas to be a Raiders team doctor, a function he performed for many years with the Warriors.
Pills (probably amphetemines) were put out in plastic containers in the dressing room at practice and I saw players taking handfuls of them as they walked by. But the team doctors could say truthfully that they didn’t prescribe them.
The rules were also not so restrictive on the defense, so defenders could roam the field doing damage. The Raiders had no pass plays in which a receiver ran into the middle of the field, where he could be flattened by a linebacker. All the Raiders pass plays were on the sidelines, except for the deepest throws which, of course, would be defended by defensive backs, not linebackers.
Of course, those defensive backs could be hard hitters, too. George Atkinson broke Russ Francis’s nose in a playoff game. Jack Tatum was a very hard hitter but one who played within the rules. Tatum got a bad rap because a legal hit on Darryl Stingley paralyzed the receiver, and then Tatum was talked into doing a book entitled, “They Call Me Assassin.” Off the field, Tatum was quiet and reserved, and he worked for good causes before succumbing to an early death in 2010.
The Raiders and Steelers had some real knockdown battles in the ‘70s as they battled for supremacy in the AFC, which also meant the NFL because the Dallas Cowboys were the only NFC team which came close to the Steelers, Raiders and Dolphins in the ‘70s.
Steelers coach Chuck Noll was so enraged by the Raiders play that he said publicly that there was a “criminal element” in the NFL, referring to the Raiders. With the help of Willie Brown, then an attorney preparing to become a politician, Atkinson brought a suit against Noll. I wrote that the suit was an example of Brown seeking publicity for himself. Willie demanded a retraction from The Chronicle. Gordon Pates, then the managing editor, told me, “Everybody knows you’re right but attorneys will act pro bono for each other. Our attorneys feel it would cost more to fight this than it’s worth. We’ll run a small retraction, but don’t let it bother you.”
I didn’t, and as a matter of fact, I got to know Brown on a much more favorable basis later. When he was speaker in Sacramento, he helped me clear up an annoying tax battle with the state tax board. Probably took him 10 minutes. To thank him, I brought a nice bottle of Bordeaux to his San Francisco law offices and for years after that, when we’d meet at a public function, he’d refer to me as “the wine guy.”
But as tough as those Raiders-Steelers battles were, there were no bounty programs. I was on Comcast’s “Chronicle Live” show last Thursday and Raymond Chester, who played on some of those ‘70s teams, confirmed that there was nothing like that. “Coaches would clap a guy on the back when he came off the field and say, ‘Great hit,’ but that was all,” Chester remembered.
Football is a very tough game and injuries are common, but to give money to a player who deliberately tries to put another player out of the game? That is truly beyond the pale.
Of course, as I’ve written before, the real problem in football is steroids. Players are bigger, faster and stronger than ever before, so the collisions are much more damaging. The current league program, suspending players for four games if they test positive, has caught only a few offenders. What I see in the locker room – much bigger but buffed players – tells me it isn’t working.
SPORTSWRITERS: The one common denominator in sportswriters (and sportscasters, too), male or female, is that they grew up as huge sports fans. Writing/announcing was the way to stay close to the games.
For many, that pattern never changes. It’s a cliché that sportswriters only want to know what’s happening “between the lines.” Unfortunately, that also means that, if a PR man gives them a release, they just accept it without questioning. The latest example is the fable that then A’s owner Walter Haas gave territorial rights to then Giants owner Bob Lurie in 1990. As I explained in my Tuesday Examiner column, you can’t give away what you don’t have. Territorial rights didn’t exists in the Bay Area in 1990. But even Fox’s national baseball writer Ken Rosenthal referred to that mythical giveaway and further compounded his error by putting it in 1992, when Lurie had made a condititonal deal to sell the Giants to Tampa Bay investors.
I started my career as a huge sports fans, too, having long since reluctantly realized I couldn’t play any sport very well. But, I have also been very interested in politics – I took 27 upper division units of Political Science at Cal and got A’s in all but one course, in which I got a B. So, by the time I started writing a column in 1971, my main interests had merged and I wrote on the legal/political battles in sports, from the fight for girls/womens sports to the Raiders move to Los Angeles.
About that time, too, I got involved in the Giants attempt to get a new park and had one-on-one meetings with every San Francisco mayor from Dianne Feinstein to the aforementioned Willie Brown. I had many such meetings with Art Agnos before the 1989 attempt, and Agnos was so impressed with my ability to remember details (I neither take notes nor use a tape recorder but rely on my memory) that he asked me how I did it. Later, he gave me both an autographed picture of himself and a copy of his autobiography, both inscribed, “To Glenn Dickey and his incredible memory.”
So, with that background, I became deeply immersed in the successful effort by San Francisco investors to buy the Giants from Lurie in late 1992 and keep them in San Francisco. That’s why it bothers me that lazy sportswriters just accept the urban legend of Haas giving Lurie the territorial rights. They probably had a conversation, during which Lurie said he wanted to try to build a park in the South Bay, and Haas told him, “No problem.”
National League president Bill White did everything he could to stall the proceedings when league owners met in St. Louis, ostensibly to approve the sale to the Tampa Bay businessmen, which I covered for The Chronicle. The league absolutely did not want to lose its position in San Francisco. That’s why they made the deal to give the Giants territorial rights to the peninsula and San Jose if they would build a new park.
And, you know what – MLB would make the same deal today. If they hadn’t, there’d be one team in the Bay Area, either in Oakland or San Jose, and none in San Francisco. Nobody not bound by narrow chauvinistic interests would ever consider that to be a good thing.
JOE LACOB: In an interview on KNBR, Rick Barry criticized the fans for booing Warriors owner Joe Lacob and spoiling the uniform retirement party for Chris Mullin. He had the wrong villain.
If Lacob weren’t so anxious to be in the spotlight, he would have had Al Attles give the closing remarks as Mullin’s uniform shirt was hung on the wall. Nobody would have booed Attles.
The fans weren’t just reacting to the trade of Monta Ellis, either. I’m sure many of them were upset that Lacob wants to build a new arena in the Giants parking lot in San Francisco, which will be much less convenient for most of them.
I’ve been told that Lacob wants to make this a more complete experience for Warriors fans because there are restaurants around AT&T but none close to the Oakland Coliseum. So, fans will get a chance to pay much more for parking, then buy an expensive meal – after already overpaying for game tickets. That could easily mean that one (1) fan would pay $250 just to go to one (1) game. That’s a great way to reward fans who have stayed loyal to a team which has made the postseason only once in 16 years.
I would have booed, too.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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