The Unbeatable T
Daly, Dan, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Strategems come and strategems go in the NFL, but the T-formation lives on. It moves into its second century this season, looking remarkably spry for an offense that, in its modern form, dates back to the early '30s. The T is so entrenched, so seemingly eternal, that we tend to forget the single wing was the formation of choice for the first 25 years of pro football's existence. Had the Bears not beaten the Redskins, 73-0, in the 1940 championship game - and changed the course of football history - we might still have unbalanced lines and spinner plays and tailbacks receiving the snap several yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Or maybe not. Maybe the T would have conquered pro football, anyway. But it's fun to think about. And it certainly isn't hard to imagine that '40 title game turning out much differently - differently enough so that the Redskins' conventional attack (single wing, with some double wing) didn't seem quite so outdated.
For instance, contrary to popular belief, the Chicago offense didn't rack up 73 points that day - or anything close. It was on the other side of the ball, in fact, that the Bears flirted with perfection. Their defense returned three interceptions for touchdowns, recovered a fumble at the Washington 2 and set up three other scores with a variety of big plays. Total contribution: 46 points (three PATs being unsuccessful).
As Sammy Baugh put it years later, "A lot of people don't realize [the Bears] were closer to scoring when we had the ball than when they had it."
But that final score, well, it got your attention. It's still the record for most points by a team in an NFL game. And since there was no TV then, how many fans even knew how the Bears had come by their touchdowns? In the days that followed, all they read in the papers was "T-formation" and "73-0."
"I saw the perfect football team yesterday in the Chicago Bears," Catholic University coach Dutch Bergman wrote in the Washington Times-Herald. ". . . This T-formation of the Bears' is going to revolutionize modern day football. There were a horde of college coaches and pro coaches in the stands yesterday, and they received an education in offensive football. . . . The Bears' great attack is not predicated on power. The basic factor of their offense is deception, faking, the way linemen slide and the timing of the backs."
Thirteen years later, in "The Story of Pro Football," Howard Roberts said the effects of the 73-0 game were "so far-reaching . . . that by the start of the next season nearly every team in the land, both college and pro, had adopted the Bears' T-formation with man in motion." But that's not the way it happened at all. In fact, only one other NFL team switched to the T the next season - the Philadelphia Eagles. And as late as 1944, both clubs that played
in the championship game, the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants, used the single wing or some variation.
This is a story that has never really been told - about the clash of offensive ideologies, T and single wing, and the making of the modern game. It actually begins a lot farther back than 1940. It begins in the late 1800s, when football more closely resembled a soccer riot. . . .
George Halas - Papa Bear - is the man most closely associated with the T-formation, but it's coaching legend Amos Alonzo Stagg who is credited with inventing it (at Yale in 1880s). Everybody used the T in the early days; there was no other offense. In the original formation, the quarterback was positioned a yard back of center, and the fullback and two halfbacks lined up in a straight line behind him, forming a T.
The T's limitations became clear as it evolved over the next 40 years. It was an OK, if predictable, offense for running between the tackles, but it wasn't so great for passing or running outside. The single and double wing formations …
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Publication information: Article title: The Unbeatable T. Contributors: Daly, Dan - Author. Newspaper title: The Washington Times (Washington, DC). Publication date: August 31, 2000. Page number: 16. © 2009 The Washington Times LLC. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.