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BANG GOES THE SHOTGUN

Oct. 16, 1961
Oct. 16, 1961

Table of Contents
Oct. 16, 1961

Golf Results
IBM And The Tiger
Yesterday
Cassius Clay
  • Cassius Clay, the heavyweight prodigy who is called Cautious by his trainer, was anything but in Louisville last week. He knocked out Alex Miteff and showed he can fight almost as much as he can talk

The Shotgun
Redskins' Marshall
Grapesmanship
Terry Baker
Horse Racing
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over
Pat On The Back

BANG GOES THE SHOTGUN

The San Francisco 49ers 'new' wide-open offense, blasting away for the second straight week, beat the Los Angeles Rams 35-0 and added a dynamic element to an old formula

The San Francisco 49ers' shotgun offense went off with a loud bang last Sunday for the second time in eight days and blew the Los Angeles Rams into a heap of confusion, 35-0. Only the Sunday before it had done the same thing to the league-leading Detroit Lions, and it is getting harder and harder for the most stubborn dissenter to deny that coach Red Hickey is generating a serious revolution in professional football.

This is an article from the Oct. 16, 1961 issue Original Layout

The way the 49ers started off on Sunday at Kezar Stadium was typical of how the shotgun operates. After returning the kickoff to their own 19-yard line, the team lined up in its shotgun formation. On the first play Quarterback John Brodie rolled out for a pass, was thrown for a two-yard loss and was replaced by Bobby Waters. From the same formation, Waters handed off on a reverse to Wingback C. R. Roberts, who went 28 yards down the middle. Waters was immediately replaced by Quarterback Bill Kilmer, who faked a pass and ran five yards over right guard.

Alternating the three quarterbacks on every play, the team moved 81 yards in 10 plays to score. The next time they got the ball they went 80 yards in 11 plays for a second touchdown. The Rams, who were facing the shotgun for the third time in less than a year, were thoroughly bamboozled, not so much by the shotgun itself as by the problem of trying to adjust on the spur of the moment to the different techniques of each quarterback. By the time the first half ended, the 49ers had scored three touchdowns and missed a 12-yard field goal, but the 21-0 score didn't tell half the story. The 49ers had picked up 18 first downs, seven rushing and 11 passing, to the Rams' three. They had gained 317 yards, 130 rushing and 187 passing, to the Rams' 42—39 of them passing. Brodie, Waters and Kilmer, shuttling in and out in that order, had completed 14 out of 17 passes. Not once in the entire game were the 49ers forced to fall back on the orthodox slot-T formation used by every other NFL club but the St. Louis Cardinals, who run their T from a double wing.

Coach Red Hickey's shotgun was first fired late last season in an upset victory over the Baltimore Colts, but it didn't really start everyone buzzing until a week ago Sunday when Hickey started shuttling his quarterbacks. The 49ers rang up 49 points against the confused Lions and kept them so far off balance that their offensive unit was held scoreless for the first time in 115 games.

Each of the three 49er quarterbacks is on the San Francisco payroll this year specifically because he can operate out of the shotgun as well as the standard T. Yet each is different from the others. Brodie is a splendid passer and can run a little if he has to. Kilmer is a wonderfully brave and deceptive runner but completely unpredictable and an uncertain passer. Waters is fast enough to be used as a defensive back. He can also throw a good pass and is self-assured enough to have earned the nickname "Cool" Waters.

"Red [Hickey] shuffled them in and out so fast that they mixed up our defensive keys," Detroit Coach George Wilson complained later. "Brodie ran once and passed 12 times. Kilmer passed seven times and ran 16. Waters ran seven and passed once."

Joe Schmidt, the Lions' superb linebacker who calls the signals for the defensive unit, explained, "When you are going against one quarterback, you can begin to follow his thinking and get a line on him. Bill Kilmer hurt us most with his roll-out running. So you start to get that figured out, and another guy comes in who does something else."

The shotgun has been likened to the old Pop Warner double wing that was introduced at Stanford more than 30 years ago, but it has one major variation: there is no blocking back. Actually, it looks more like the short punt formation from a spread that numerous teams have used through the years when they were behind and thinking only of trying a pass for a desperation touchdown. George Halas, the founder of the Chicago Bears, used an approximation of the shotgun a generation ago, but it is Red Hickey's shuttling quarterbacks who have given the shotgun the added charge it needed to be a success in the sophisticated ranks of the pros.

The 49ers line up for the shotgun with the quarterback five yards behind the center. The guards and tackles are spaced a little more widely than for the regular slot T, and both ends are split out—one three to five yards, the other end 10 to 15 yards. The flanker halfback is another 10 to 15 yards outside the tight end. The fullback and one halfback line up as wingbacks just outside the two tackles.

The several alternatives

The center spirals the ball directly to the quarterback, who then proceeds with one of a number of choices. He can send all three of his backs and his two ends into the secondary as pass receivers with his five linemen dropping back to form a protective pocket for him to throw out of. He can take a step forward, fake a handoff to one of the wingbacks crossing behind him and give the ball to the other wingback on a reverse inside or outside tackle. He can fake the reverse to both wingbacks and throw to one of the two ends or the flanker. If the defense retreats to cover his receivers and he sees running room ahead, he must be prepared to foot it on his own. He must even be able to run straight up the middle in an old-fashioned line plunge. And he must know how to quick-kick.

When Red Hickey first decided to experiment with the shotgun against Baltimore last year, the 49ers seemed hopelessly out of the running, with a 4-4 record, and the Colts were leading the Western Conference. Five days before the game, Hickey gathered the team together at their Washington, D.C. practice grounds and gave the players the new formation. "Gentlemen," he said, "this is the new offense we will use to beat Baltimore." He called it shotgun because, he says, "spread doesn't say much. A shotgun is a thing you can swing in any direction and fire when ready."

Many of the players were skeptical of what they regarded as "Pop Warner League" tactics, but their excitement grew as they practiced. "I was convinced that the defenses had caught up with the old standard T," Red Hickey now recalls, "and we figured last year was a good time to bust out with something new."

Although warned of the shotgun by a leak in a Baltimore paper the day before the game, the heavily favored Colts were taken by surprise—and by a score of 30-22. Afterwards, they made light of the shotgun, as did the rest of the league.

Nevertheless, the 49ers won three of their last four games (including another with the Colts) and ended the season in a tie for second place with Detroit. It was only when the 49ers collided with an unyielding Green Bay defense during a gooey downpour on the next-to-last weekend of the season that the shotgun sputtered and misfired. San Francisco lost that game 13-0—and with it a chance to tie Green Bay for the Western Conference championship.

During the off season, Coach Hickey had time to reorganize his personnel with the shotgun in mind. His most significant move was to draft Kilmer, who had been an outstanding tailback in UCLA's single-wing offense but was mildly regarded by most pro scouts because of his wobbly passes and his lack of experience with the T.

Kilmer is not fast and he is not a smooth ball handler. His teammates sometimes shudder when they see this gutty 190-pounder hurl himself into melees with 280-pounders, and they respect the way he bolts through an opening with no thought for personal safety. While his passes are still wobbly, he can fool the defense when he unloads a big one and he already has one 60-yard touchdown pass this year.

Hickey had three other quarterbacks besides Rookie Kilmer at training camp in Redwood City this summer. Foremost among them was 34-year-old Y.A. Tittle, who is almost completely bald after spending 11 years under an NFL football helmet—10 of them with the 49ers—but still is one of the supreme passing quarterbacks. Another was John Brodie, a handsome, cocky product of Stanford who was just shaping up as Tittle's replacement last year. And the third was Waters, who was spotted by 49er scouts at South Carolina's little Presbyterian College, where he was president of the student body and an honor student.

Of these, only Tittle failed to fit into the specifications for a shotgun quarterback, for his aging legs just won't permit him to run effectively. So the 49ers traded him to the Giants.

To help his quarterbacks, Hickey concentrated on speed at the end and halfback positions, since the shotgun has no use for straightaway power. Abe Woodson, a champion hurdler and sprinter at Illinois and one of the best defensive backs in the league, was switched to offense, and Hickey traded off power runners Joe Perry and J.W. Lockett.

The success of Hickey's planning was attested by Detroit's Wilson, who summed up the 49ers and their shotgun this way: "I don't think there are any other teams in the NFL that could use that style of offense. We couldn't because our quarterbacks can't run that well. San Francisco also has a lot of speed at the halfbacks and the quarterbacks can spot receivers much faster, because they're standing still when they get the ball.

"But I don't think it will work forever for the 49ers," Wilson concluded. "The drawback? Well, the day will probably come along when they get to a wet field. If the footing isn't there for those halfbacks, or the ball is too wet to throw, they'll be in trouble."

Red Hickey has already thought of that. He still figures to spend anywhere from a quarter to half of any game moving out of the conventional T. The shotgun is for the moment when he needs a big explosion.

View this article in the original magazine


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FB
QB
HB

AMERICAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE

THE WEEK'S GAMES

Pts.

Yds.
Rush.

Yds.
Pass.

Pass
Comp.

CHARGERS VS.
PATRIOTS

38
27

84
105

315
174

12-25
16-32

BILLS VS.
OILERS

22
12

206
48

176
146

10-26
10-27

TEXANS VS.
BRONCOS

19
12

191
57

44
227

5-17
16-27

TITANS-RAIDERS

NOT SCHEDULED

Won

Lost

Tied

Pct.

EASTERN DIVISION

NEW YORK

3

1

0

.750

BUFFALO

2

3

0

.400

BOSTON

2

3

0

.400

HOUSTON

1

3

0

.250

WESTERN DIVISION

SAN DIEGO

5

0

0

1.000

DALLAS

3

1

0

.750

OAKLAND

1

3

0

.250

DENVER

1

4

0

.200

NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE

THE WEEK'S GAMES

Pts.

Yds.
Rush.

Yds.
Pass.

Pass.
Comp

PACKERS VS.
COLTS

45
7

211
153

157
147

13-29
12-29

EAGLES VS.
STEELERS

21
16

124
141

103
140

11-22
19-29

BROWNS VS.
REDSKINS

31
7

91
44

194
201

17-27
15-29

BEARS VS.
LIONS

31
17

173
165

281
174

13-25
11-30

GIANTS VS.
CARDINALS

24
9

71
28

153
132

16-34
6-21

COWBOYS VS.
VIKINGS

28
0

117
83

180
80

14-27
12-26

49ERS VS.
RAMS

35
0

259
83

262
83

20-26
11-23

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Won

Lost

Tied

Pct

CLEVELAND

3

1

0

.750

PHILADELPHIA

3

1

0

.750

DALLAS

3

1

0

.750

NEW YORK

3

1

0

.750

ST. LOUIS

2

2

0

.500

PITTSBURGH

0

4

0

.000

WASHINGTON

0

4

0

.000

WESTERN CONFERENCE

GREEN BAY

3

1

0

.750

SAN FRANCISCO

3

1

0

.750

DETROIT

2

2

0

.500

BALTIMORE

2

2

0

.500

CHICAGO

2

2

0

.500

MINNESOTA

1

3

0

.250

LOS ANGELES

1

3

0

.250