Diplomatic and football history will be made this fall when Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, sits down in the stadium at College Park, Md. on Saturday afternoon, October 19, to watch the Maryland-North Carolina football game. By the time the Queen of England takes her first historic bite into a hot dog, it is probable that she—like so many wives there and at other games—will have asked a dozen tough questions about the proceedings on the field. Prince Philip will not be the only husband unable to give reasonable answers. For this thoroughly American game, although it is watched by some 15,000,000 spectators each fall, is really understood in its complexity by only a few.
Since the days of the flying wedge, the emphasis has shifted more and more from brute force to finesse and subtlety. Plays now deceive not only the defense but the thousands of people who hope for a glimpse of the ball and seldom get one. Still, the result of perfect execution of the fluid, violent patterns of football is the long run, the long pass or a combination of the two. A pass, thrown well and far and on target, creates a lovely clean line against an autumn sky, and the reaching quick moment when the ball and the receiver come together is a thrilling one.
The pictures on these and the following four pages demonstrate the PRECISION and PERSISTENCE and POISE which make this game so engrossing to such a multitude of students and their elders for three months each autumn. Football's fluid beauty is here in the camera's quick eye.
Precision makes the mare go in football, and precision is at its utmost in blocking. Above, the blocker ahead of the ball carrier has clipped away the footing of a would-be tackier at the precise moment the ball carrier makes his cut away from danger. The block was set up when the runner feinted one way to make the tackier commit himself and open the way for the blocker to get a clear shot at him. Below, in patterned unison, a single-wing team begins one of the awesome power plays which are the trademark of this formation. In the line, Nos. 34 and 75, nearly in step, are moving their opposite numbers out. Four more players, moving in step, are sweeping down on the point of attack to clear the way; the ball carrier, with a personal escort in No. 42, will trace the precise route laid out for him behind the precise blocking of his teammates. Here, in the beginning of the play, everything is working as it was drawn on the blackboard in the dressing room. In a few seconds, the human imponderables may destroy the symmetry of perfect execution but, if so, it will not be a permanent destruction. Sometime, somewhere the play will go off with all the neat economy of motion of the diagram it was born from.
September 22, 1957
Persistence in the face of strong resistance is one of the sine qua nons of football. No runner would be worth his salt if he lacked this quality of continued effort against what sometimes seem to be unbeatable odds. At the left, running with the classic high knee action common to nearly all power runners, the ball carrier has plowed into one tackle, sheered away from another and will likely break loose. The tackier, prevented from locking his arms around the runner by the lifted knee and harried by a persistent blocker, will be lucky if he makes this tackle stick. Below is persistence of another kind. The passer, here, is John Brodie of Stanford and, as often happened last year, he is under tremendous pressure from the ponderous charge of a big line. A less determined quarterback, in the same situation, might have unloaded a hurried pass at a poorly glimpsed target and saved his neck. Brodie, obviously finding his receivers covered thoroughly, has made a long-shot gamble pay off and taken advantage of an error in elementary tactics on the part of the onrushing linemen. Had they played the man, as they should have, and not the ball, as they have tried to do, Brodie would have been thrown for a loss. But a superb feint of a pass fooled Nos. 62 and 79 into leaping high in an attempt to bat the ball down. Had it been a pass and had they been successful in knocking it down, the ball would, of course, be placed on the original line of scrimmage again. Had they tackled Brodie and ignored the pass feint, he would have lost yardage. Now, faking the pass and running, he is obviously going to make an appreciable gain. The two linemen are off balance, and they have, too, blocked off a teammate (66) who might have tackled Brodie. Brodie, picking the right route, away from No. 66, can run or pass and, by persistent effort, has saved a play which would have been irrevocably lost by a less ingenious player.
Poise is the mark of a great team. On these pages, the team is one of the great ones of modern football—Oklahoma—and the poise shows in the cool, meticulous execution of the bread-and-butter play of the split-T offense, the option. Above, the halfback (26) has taken a pitchout from the quarterback and swung wide to his right, threatening a run. From the reactions of the defense (in white uniforms, Oklahoma must have been having considerable success with this particular wide sweep, because the secondary has reacted not wisely, but with a trace of panic. One defensive halfback is coming up after the runner under a full head of steam (upper right, opposite official, forsaking the deep territory it is his responsibility to guard against passes. Another is moving frantically across the field parallel to the line of scrimmage to cut off the run at the sideline, but in doing so he, too, has left untended a wide, vulnerable area behind the line. Oklahoma has sent receivers scurrying into both untended zones. No. 20 at left is the other offensive halfback, who must have blocked briefly to lend authority to the feint of a run, then crossed into the deep area on a straightaway route a split second later than the offensive left end (86). The end is the primary target for the pass; had one of the defensive backs attended to his business and covered this end, the halfback would have represented a secondary, safety-valve target to allow the passer to throw with a good chance for a completion. Here, though, the end is free because of the defense's preoccupation with the threat of the run, and a well-thrown pass will mean a touchdown. It is seldom that a defense makes so many grievous errors on one play as this one has, but this play, properly executed as it is here, presents an extraordinarily complicated defensive problem, especially when it is implemented by great football players.
Below is the other side of the coin. The two plays started alike with the quarterback (15) sliding down the line of scrimmage, then pitching out to a halfback swinging wide around the end. Here the defense has moved too wide, anticipating another sweep or another pass, and suddenly the flow of the play turns the other way. No. 28 on the defense is set up for a route-clearing block by No. 43; No. 25 is cutting back inside of that block, and the deep safety man (left) has already been erased by the fullback (35). The quarterback might have carried the ball himself had No. 28 stayed in close, but now the better option is the quick toss to the halfback cutting back. Result, again: touchdown, and another victory for the offense in this complex game.