Football Short Stories - 12
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Birth of the Split T
Bill Connelly, The 50 Best College Football Teams of All Time(2016)
Missouri head coach Don Faurot created his own version of the T formation to compen­sate for the loss of star QB Paul Christman.
In 1939-40, Pitchin' Paul finished in the top five of the Heisman voting twice and led Mizzouri to the 1939 Big 6 title and the Tigers' first ever bowl bid, a trip to the 1940 Orange Bowl. They averaged nearly 24 points per game in 1940, with Christman leading the way, and the St. Louis native was selected by the Chicago Cardinals in the second round of the 1941 NFL Draft.
Christman's presence drove the Missouri offense, and in his absence, Faurot thought he might need to get creative to keep moving the ball. In his 1950 book, Secrets of the "Split T" Formation, he explained: "Christman fit nicely into our single wing and short punt for&shymations. ... There was no suitable replacement in sight among returning lettermen. How­ever, our veteran backs had considerable speed, and the squad as a whole was versatile. The time seemed ripe for innovating the basic plays of the "Split T."
Mizzou was in the process of upgrading its out-of-conference scheduling. To help pay for athletic department expenses, Faurot, with his athletic director hat on, took a series of payout games. Between 1940 and 1949, the Tigers would play at Ohio State an incredible eight times, at Minnesota three times, and at SMU twice; they would also visit to Pitt, Wisconsin, Fordham, Texas, and Navy. In Secrets, Faurot noted that the deception of the Split T he was tinkering with was attractive because it might allow his guys to compete with bigger, stronger teams. "We needed the deception of the 'Split T' together with its promise of more offensive punch to offset the superior manpower mustered by our oppo­nents. If we couldn't beat them down to size, then we might bewilder them! It was worth a try."
Deception was long a part of football offenses, but options weren't. The premise of the Split T was to begin with your run-of-the-mill T formation and spread out the line further, giving them wider splits. Once the defense was spread out, you could find more gaps to exploit with speedy ball-carriers. But Faurot, once a basketball letterman at Mizzou, also saw a way to basically create miniature, 2-on-1 fast breaks. The QB could run the ball to the edge of the defense, and if a defender committed to tackling him, he could pitch the ball to a trailing halfback.
Faurot may have been the first college football coach to commit to option football. With film study still at a minimum, Missouri was able to constantly fluster unprepared oppo­nents with it. He unveiled the offense in the second half of the 1941 opener against Ohio State, and while it was too late to help the Tigers against the Buckeyes in a 12-7 loss, the Tigers would proceed to go 16-4-1 over the next two seasons, 9-0-1 in Big 5 Play. They reached the Sugar Bowl in 1941 and went 8-3-1 in 1942 ... They finished the 1942 season with one of the most impressive wins of the Faurot era: a 7-0 win over the Iowa Pre-Flight Seahawks in a Kansas City snowstorm.

Don Faurot, Paul Christman, Bud Wilkinson, Jim Tatum
With war efforts well underway, college-age males - including football players - were enlist&shying in the armed services. Millions of Americans enlisted in 1942, and to say the least, the effects were noticeable when it came to football rosters of able-bodied, athletic 18- to 22-year olds.
Football already had a grip on the country's consciousness, and many believed that it could be a useful tool within the armed forces - it helped to toughen men up, taught teamwork and discipline, etc. Beginning in 1942, teams from various Army camps and Navy bases began to play full sche&shydules against not only each other, but also local college teams, many of which consisted of freshmen (who were previously ineligible to play) and/or players who were denied entry into the service for one reason or another.
These military teams frequently used recent college football players and sometimes even included a smattering of pros. Quite a few of these teams existed, and a few played schedules against mostly top-division schools. ...
In 1943, for instance, teams like Nebraska, Pittsburgh, TCU, Yale, Wisconsin, and Georgia were all varying degrees of awful, while Iowa Pre-Flight, Great Lakes Navy, Delmonte Pre-Flight, and March Field finished ranked in the AP poll at the end of the season. Meanwhile, non-powers Tulsa, Dartmouth, Colorado College, and Amos Alonzo Stagg's Pacific also finished ranked. ...
These service teams were coached by real, well-known college football coaches. Minnesota's Bernie Bierman, for instance, led the Iowa Pre-Flight team in 1942. When he was assigned elsewhere, another new enlistee took the reins in Iowa City: the 41-year-old Faurot. Mizzou's head man spent a year with Iowa Pre-Flight, then took over Jack&shysonville N.A.S. in 1944.
You could legitimately say that Faurot's lone season with Iowa Pre-Flight changed college football. It's not because the Seahawks were good - though they certainly were - but be&shycause of the proliferation of the Split T. Among Faurot's assistants on the 1943 Seahawks: Bud Wilkinson and Jim Tatum. ...
Faurot was not a secret keeper. He could have leaned on his single wing and "short punt" formations while at Iowa ... Instead he shared with his young assistants the ins and outs of his new baby, the Split T.
For football itself, this was great. This became a staple of many a college offense over the next couple of decades, and not necessarily because of Faurot. In 1946, after the war, Oklahoma hired Tatum as its new head coach, and Tatum brought Wilkinson along as an assistant. After one 8-3 campaign and Gator Bowl title, Tatum was pulled away by Maryland, and OU promoted Wilkinson. Tatum would win 73 games in 10 seasons at Maryland, finishing third of better in the AP poll three times and winning the 1953 national title. Wilkinson, meanwhile, coached for 17 years in Norman, won 145 games, finished in the AP top five 10 times in 11 years, and claimed shares of three national titles (1950, 1955, 1956).
Both Tatum and Wilkinson were better recruiters and perhaps better overall head coaches than Faurot; the tactical boost they got in Iowa City pushed both of their respective ca&shyreers into the stratosphere, and they left their one-time mentor behind Faurot. Faurot would go on to reach two more bowls after the war, but he went an incredible 0-17 against Tatum and Wilkinson. The final loss of his career, in fact, was a 67-14 shellacking in Norman.
The NFL's Space Ship Division
Richard Bak, The Coffin Corner (May/June 2020)
Foortball coaches are always looking for an edge, and new technology often provides it. In the early stages of the 1956 season, several teams, led by rivals Cleveland and Detroit, rolled out an innovative messaging system that was a glimpse of the National Football League's future. For the first time, selected players were "wired for sound" - outfitted with miniature radios that allowed them to receive signals from the bench or the press box.
Unsurprisingly, the pioneer was Paul Brown. The Cleveland coach had been fooling around for years with the idea of using radio signals to more efficiently send plays to his quarterback, instead of relying on his usual system of messenger guards and backs. According to a source, at one point Brown "actually got a radio in Otto Graham's hel­met. Then he experimented at League Park and Cleveland Stadium. Brown broadcast from the bench while Graham ran to all corners of the field, wig-wagging the results."
It wasn't until September 15, 1956, in the second of back-to-back preseason games with the Lions, that Brown field-tested the system against a real opponent. The helmets of quarterbacks George Ratterman and Vito "Babe" Parilli were each outfitted with a receiver about the size of a pocket watch. Brown, who had to obtain a shortwave li­cense to operate the radio, used a four-watt transmitter and microphone to send plays from the bench. There was no difference in the outcome. A week earlier the defending champs had lost to Detroit, 17–0, without Brown's gizmo, and on this occasion they were whipped by the same seventeen-point margin, 31–14, with it. "There is some spec­ulation that quarterbacks Ratterman and Parilli might have picked up some short-wave police calls, some dance music, or an SOS from a stricken fishing boat off the coast of New Zealand," wrote a bemused Lyall Smith in the Detroit Free Press. Actually, Ratterman spent much of the stormy evening in Akron fearing for his life. In addition to the head-hunting Lions targeting the contraption in his helmet, there were the occa­sional flashes of lightning that he admitted "scared the hell" out of him by threatening to fry his electronic ears.

L-R: Paul Brown, Otto Graham, George Ratterman, Babe Parilli
Lions head coach Raymond "Buddy" Parker was more concerned than amused. Other teams, such as Los Angeles, the defending division champs, also were experimenting. Parker wasn't about to be left behind, even as the Lions opened the 1956 campaign with road wins in Green Bay and Baltimore. With the first home stand of the season coming up against the Rams and 49ers, he had general manager Nick Kerbawy ex­plore the cost of putting in a system at Briggs Stadium. The retail price came to $1,161.50. However, Kerbawy was able to strike a deal with electronics expert Len Kieban for about $500. The grounds crew installed 2,200 feet of wiring under the sod, criss-crossing nearly the entire playing area. The network allowed a wired helmet to pick up signals extending 30 feet beyond each sideline. Of course, Parker's star quarterback, Bobby Layne, wouldn't countenance any play-calling from the sidelines, electronic or otherwise. But Joe Schmidt, in his first year as middle linebacker in the Lions' recon­stituted 4-3 defense, was receptive—-literally. A button-sized receiver and an amplifier shaped like a cigarette lighter were fitted into Schmidt's helmet. The unit weighed a combined four ounces and cost $79.50. "I'm for it solidly," Schmidt said. "We can al­ways use a 12th man."

L-R: Bobby Layne and Buddy Parker, Joe Schmidt, Bert Bell
The Lions had three additional helmets outfitted, "in case Parker should elect to in­crease his Space Ship membership for future home games," wrote the Detroit News's pseudonymous Buck Rogers. The Lions' so-called Space Ship Division made its debut at the home opener on October 14, 1956. With assistants Aldo Forte and Red Cochran making observations from their vantage point in the press box, defensive coordinator Buster Ramsey relayed coded defensive formations from the bench to No. 56 on the field. "Couldn't help feeling a little funny every time Ramsey's voice came into my hel­met," Schmidt said afterwards. "Caught myself looking around a couple of times to see what he was doing out on the field." Ramsey was happy that, for once, he wasn't hoarse for two days from spending the entire game screaming out instructions. The Lions narrowly won, 24–21, stockpiling a 17-point lead and then holding off a fourth-quarter Rams rally. After the game, Los Angeles officials complained about not being able to utilize their own gadgetry. According to commissioner Bert Bell, "The Rams said they were told certain equipment was denied them, that they weren't cut into the wire. If the Lions wire the field, I think everyone is entitled to the use of that wire." Electronic skulduggery was the order of the day. In New York, the Giants bragged that they had used a receiver tuned to the same frequency as Cleveland's to intercept signals and score an upset win. The short-wave revolution was short-lived. Four days later, with the unanimous backing of owners, Bell issued a directive. "All electronic devices, including walkie-talkies, hearing aids of any description used to receive messages, radio equipped helmets or any device of this nature must be eliminated," he ordered. Although the ban was intended only for the balance of the 1956 season, it stayed in place until 1994, when owners officially approved the league-wide use of helmet headsets. Bell's embar­go caused the Lions to cancel plans for expanding and improving their system. Mean­while, Schmidt went back to calling signals and pretending not to hear any shouted instructions from the sidelines that he didn't agree with.
The "Heidi" Game
Gang Green, Gerald Eskenazi (1998)
The Jets' game in Oakland during that 1968 season saw such bizarre, nutty, funny circumstances that it became a permanent part of sports lore. The Jets-Raiders affair came to be known simply as the "Heidi" game. ...
The Jets and Raiders met in Oakland for an unofficial playoff preview, the Jets with their four-game winning streak, the Raiders with three in a row.
Before the game, one of the game officials asked Dr. Nicholas [the Jets' team doctor] to take a look at his bad back. This Nicholas did, and then promised to return when the game was over to check it out again.
The game turned into a brutal, penalty-laced affair, with players pounding one another and points lighting up the scoreboard. The Jets went ahead by 32-29 on [Jim] Turner's field goal with 65 seconds remaining. But it was also close to 7 P.M. in the crowded, TV-saturated East. And at seven o'clock eastern time, a made-for-television movie, Heidi, the story of the little girl in the Swiss Alps, was scheduled to appear on NBC. ...
What harm, thought NBC officials, could there be in leaving the game after a commercial? The Jets were about to win. Someone in the control room calculated that 10 seconds would be sliced from the clock on the kickoff. There wasn't enough time in 55 seconds to make a difference. So the network cut away from Oakland and shifted to Heidi.
From his home, Allan B. (Scotty) Connal, the head of NBC Sports, immediately sensed this was not a good idea. He tried to persuade the technicians on duty not to switch from those last seconds of the late-running game. But he couldn't get through to anyone who mattered, and Heidi it was.
When the 11 o'clock news went on that night, fans heard for the first time the unbelievable final score: Oakland 43 Jets 32. While they weren't watching, the Raiders had scored 14 points. Raiders QB Daryle Lamonica connected twice with RB Charlie Smith, who outfoxed rookie SS Mike D'Amato. First, Smith gained 20y, with a D'Amato penalty tacked on. The next play, Smith took a swing pass and scampered 43y for a TD.

L-R: Dr. James Nicholas, Walt Michaels, Weeb Ewbank
Was [Jets coach] Weeb [Ewbank] nuts playing the rookie against Smith? Weeb had no choice: the veteran Jim Hudson had been ejected for complaining about a penalty called against him. D'Amato was the only safety available.
Now, with 42 seconds remaining, the Raiders led by 36-32. Only a touchdown would win it for the Jets. Then again, with [QB Joe] Namath and [receivers Don] Maynard and [George] Sauer, it didn't seem impossible. But Earl Christy fumbled the kickoff, chased it back to the 10, lost it again, and watched it slither to the two. From there, a fellow named Preston Ridlehuber, who was never to play another season for the Raiders, scooped it up and ran in for the TD. Two scores, nine seconds apart.
No one back in New York knew this, though.
An hour after the game, Weeb telephoned his wife, Lucy, back in New York.
"Congratulations," she told him.
"For what?" said Weeb.
"On winning," she replied.
"We lost the game," said Ewbank.
Of course, Weeb was hardly alone in not realizing how New Yorkers were reacting to what happened. The Jets did not return home after the game because they had a game in San Diego the following week; as was the custom then, with consecutive West Coast games, the Jets simply spent the whole week in California.
So after the game, they flew to Long Beach. When the players turned on the late news, they learned that the NBC switchboard in New York had been knocked out of commission by thousands of callers. Some of the outraged fans had actually telelphoned the police to find out what had happened.
If fans were irate over not knowing what had happened, imagine how teed off the Jets were, who did. When the game ended, [defensive coordinator] Walt Michaels was still seething over Hudson's ejection. He believed it cost the Jets the game. So did Dr. Nicholas.
They headed for the officials' room. The door was locked. Walt started to bang on it, abetted by the doctor.
"Walt was yelling his head off," recalls Nicholas. "I went along with him. I thought I'd see the official I had examined and give him a piece of my mind and take a look at his back."
Nicholas complained while examining his patient. The next day, the league sent a letter to the Jets telling them that Nicholas was fined $2,500 and Michaels $5,000. The official, who got a free diagnosis, had turned in the good doctor.
"I'm the only team doctor in history ever fined for banging on the door," Nicholas likes to relate to this day. ...
The next day, the network's program director, Julian Goodman, issued a public apology for "a forgiveable error committed by humans who were concerned with the children."
A noble sentiment, indeed. But nobility gave way to practicality as NBC and the NFL altered their policy. Now, whenever a game is shown in either team's home market, it stays on to the end, regardless of the score. Even if the children will miss a kiddies' movie.
The Gator Flop
Tales from the Gator Swamp: A Collection of the Greatest Gator Stories Ever Told, Jack Hairston
Perhaps the most famous play in Gator history was the Gator Flop against Miami in 1971. I never saw anything like what happened in the final minutes of the Gators' 45-16 triumph over the Miami Hurricanes in Orange Bowl Stadium.
This was the situation: The Gators had sloughed through a 3-7 season up to the Miami game. John Reaves, Carlos Alvarez, Tommy Durrance and other members of the sophomore class in the spectacular 1969 season (9-1-1, including a Gator Bowl victory over SEC champion Tennessee) weren't happy seniors in '71. The beatings had been severe, and several players were still disgruntled that Tennessee Coach Doug Dickey had succeeded Ray Graves as Gator coach after the '69 Gator Bowl meeting. Miami was a slight favorite going into the '71 game in its first season under former Miami QB Fran Curci, an avowed Gator hater.
Reaves, going into the final game of his college career, was within 344y of the national career passing record held by Jim Plunkett of Stanford (7,545y). That seemed to be a nearly impossible reach for Reaves, who had averaged 290 passing yards per game in '69, 232 yards in '70 and was averaging 176y going into the Miami game. ...
The two leading characters in this drama were to be Curci and Reaves, who didn't like each other. The year before when he was head coach at the University of Tampa, Curci had described the Reaves-led Gators as crybabies. Reaves had expressed his displeasure about Curci. Now they were opponents as Reaves took aim at one of the game's top records.

L-R: John Reaves, Doug Dickey, Fran Curci
Reaves was hotter against Miami than he'd been in any game in two years. Late in the fourth quarter the Gators, amazingly, had a 39-9 lead, and Reaves, also amazingly, had thrown for 331y and was within 13y of the record. Curci's Miami team appeared to be running out the clock with a tedious series of running plays. The Gators got Miami stopped and forced a punt, but Gator CB Harvin Clark ran the punt back for a touchdown, and Miami got the ball again. More running plays. Clark apologized to Reaves for his touchdown, for depriving him of a chance at the record. Twice Clark called timeout and asked Dickey to allow Miami to score, because it was going to be the only chance Reaves would get one last shot at the record. Twice Dickey refused. With 1:20 left in the game and Miami at the Gator 7y line, third coming up, the Gators used their final timeout. People in the press box and in the UM radio booth predicted the Gators would intentionally let Miami score. Clark begged Dickey a third time, and this time Dickey said, "OK, but don't make it look bad." Clark ran to the defensive huddle. I asked John Clifford, the Gators' junior free safety, to finish the story of what happened. Clifford was from Coral Gables, home of the University of Miami ... I have heard several stories that Clifford was the only Gator that night who declined to flop.
"Harvin came into the huddle," Clifford said, "and told us, 'Coach says to let 'em score! We're all going to lie down!' I didn't flop, but I've been told that I stood up on the play, and that isn't so. I went down to one knee and didn't make a move to make the tackle.
"I've looked at some pictures of the play, and one of our players WAS standing up, but it wasn't me. I don't know who it was. I've been told I tried to make the tackle, but I didn't do that either. What I remember best is the look on (Miami QB) John Hornibrook's face when he rolled out and saw all those people on the ground. He hesitated a moment, and maybe his instincts took over, and he kind of walked across the goal. I've often wondered how weird it would have gotten if he had declined to score the TD and had run back up the field with the ball. That play might have gone on a long time.

The Gator Flop
"After the touchdown, we got the ball back, and John hit Carlos for 15y to break the record." The coaches had Reaves throw one more pass in case the addition wasn't right, and he hit Hollis Boardman for 2y.
"The coaches turned John loose a little more than usual in that game," Clifford said. "Let him throw more. But I'll always believe we could have done it better on the laydown play ... done it without embarrassing anyone. But I never considered myself any better than anybody else because I didn't flop. There was a lot of frustration on that team. We'd had a lousy season, and we weren't going to a bowl game. The frustration of the whole season came out that night. Also, I remember a lot of enthusiasm among the players before the game about John having a shot at the record.
"When the game was over, I don't know who started it, but we all ran down behind the end zone where the pool was for the Miami Dolphins' mascot, Flipper. We all jumped in the water and just splashed around, whooping it up." ...
Curci has devoted a lot of his life since that night to criticizing the Gator Flop. He had much to say about it from that night on. For years I thought Curci just saw an opportunity to get the spotlight off him and his team's poor performance. Miami was favored in the game and lost by a 45-16 score, and Curci installed a new offense the week of the game (the wishbone) and moved Miami's great RB, Chuck Foreman, later a longtime NFL star with the Minnesota Vikings, to flanker, where he didn't carry the ball a single time.
My thought was Curci was standing on the sideline with about a minute to play, thinking how he was going to be criticized, when the laydown play presented itself ... and presented Curci with a substitute scapegoat for everyone to focus on. People who have coached with Curci tell me, "No, he was really bitter about the laydown play, and many years later he was still cussing Dickey and blaming him for it."