Library vol. 3

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pop Warner's Enduring Influence

I really enjoyed this WSJ article about the origins of today's Wildcat formation. The article traces the Wildcat's origins back to the single wing formation and Pitt's legendary coach, Pop Warner.

Still, for all the talk of the Wildcat representing football's future, it is, in fact, a direct derivative (some would say a near carbon copy) of an early offense formation known as the "Single-wing," which might well have faded into extinction if not for a few high school coaches who kept it percolating in their playbooks. One of the game's very first attempts to fly its own inherent confines, the "Single-wing" was the brainchild of the University of Pittsburgh's Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner, the father of modern football, and it was advanced by football inventors like Notre Dame's Knute Rockne, and Warner's protégé at Pitt, Jock Sutherland.

The idea of the Wildcat's historic origins has been visited before, notably in this article on where they also list Warner as the inventor of the single wing formation.

Warner himself never took credit for inventing the single wing offense, and different sources list different starting dates for the offense. I will suggest that the Single Wing formation itself was covered in Walter Camp's 1896 book: Football. This illustration from Camp's book shows a formation with the characteristic unbalanced line and strongside wedge formation that defines the single wing.

Compare Camp's formation with the more recent single wing of Warner and you will find that the two formations are nearly identical. Camp's formation places the QB under center, but the principle is the same. In my estimation if you can term the wildcat formation "single wing" then Camp's off-tackle series are the clear origin of the offense.

Despite the murky beginnings of the single wing, Pop Warner was definitely an innovator. His creations include tackling dummies, blocking sleds, numbered uniforms, thigh pads, shoulder pads and a litany of other football mainstays - most of which remain to this day. This 1931 article examines some of Coach Warner's lasting innovations on the practice field.

The latest submission to the Unbalanced Line Library is Warner's book: A Course in Football for Players and Coaches. c. 1912

Note some of Warner's plays at the end of the book and the noted lack of single wing formations listed therein.

Another essential book for the college football history library.


It is the mission of The Unbalanced Line Online Library to present important and interesting historical texts to college football fans. Items will be added regularly as blog postings and can be easily indexed in the Library button on the site bar.

Copyrighted material is used expressly under the fair use guidelines of U.S. Code 17 #107 through #118 stating that the criticism, comment, news reporting, educational use or research of copyrighted material is not held in violation of copyright laws.

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