Single-wing formation

Typical Single Wing set. Note the unbalanced line. "C" will snap the ball, even though he is not strictly in the center. This diagram uses the modern terms. In the original single wing, the primary ball handler was called the "tailback" and "quarterback" was used as a blocking back.

In American and Canadian football, a single-wing formation, created by Glenn "Pop" Warner, was a precursor to the modern spread or shotgun formation.[1] The term usually connotes formations in which the snap is tossed rather than handed—formations with one wingback and a handed snap are commonly called "wing T" or "winged T". The single wing was superior to the T formation in its ability to get an extra eligible receiver down field.[2]


There is no way to improve on football beyond the unbalanced line single-wing

Among coaches, single-wing football denotes a formation using a long snap from center as well as a deceptive scheme that evolved from Glenn "Pop" Warner's offensive style. Traditionally, the single-wing was an offensive formation that featured a core of four backs including a tailback, a fullback, a quarterback (blocking back), and a wingback. Linemen were set "unbalanced", or simply put, there were two linemen on one side and four on the other side of the center. This was done by moving the off-side guard or tackle to the strong side. The single-wing was one of the first formations attempting to trick the defense instead of over-powering it.[5]

Single-wing formation similar to Pop Warner's playbook.

Pop Warner referred to his new offensive scheme as the Carlisle formation because he formulated most of the offense while coaching the Carlisle Indians. The term single-wing came into widespread use after spectators noticed that the formation gave the appearance of a wing-shape. In 1907, Warner coached at Carlisle, a school for Native Americans, where his legacy consisted of at least three significant events. The first was the discovery of Jim Thorpe's raw athletic ability. The second was the use of an extensive passing game that relied on the spiraled ball. Finally, faking backs who started one way, but abruptly headed the opposite way, kept defenses guessing.[6] Because Jim Thorpe had so much raw talent, Coach Warner more than likely designed much of his single-wing offense around this gifted athlete. Thorpe, the proverbial triple threat, was a good runner, passer, and punter.[7]

Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner at the University of Pittsburgh in 1917.

For much of the history of the single-wing formation, players were expected to play on both sides of the ball. Consequently, offensive players often turned around to play a corresponding location on defense. The offensive backs played defensive backs, just as the offensive linemen played defensive linemen. Unlike teams of today, single-wing teams had few specialists who only played on certain downs.

College football playbooks prior to the 1950s were dominated with permutations of the traditional single-wing envisioned by Warner. Two-time All-American Jack Crain's handwritten playbook clearly denotes how the University of Texas ran their version of the single-wing circa 1939–1940. University of Texas Coach Dana X. Bible ran a balanced line, which means that there were the same numbers of linemen on each side of the center. Also, the ends were slightly split.[8]

Slightly splitting offensive ends, called flexing, was in widespread use by Notre Dame's Box variation of the single-wing. Knute Rockne's Notre Dame Box offense employed a balanced line, which had 3 linemen on each side of the center. Another Rockne innovation was a shifting backfield that attempted to confuse the defense by moving backs to alternate positions right before the snap.[9] Another variation of the single-wing saw the quarterback move out as a wingback on the weak side. Besides adding different blocking angles for the quarterback, the double-wing formation facilitated the passing game. Stanford had a variation on the double-wing in which the quarterback stayed right behind the strong side guard, while the tailback became the wingback to the weak side. The fullback, being the only deep back left, took all the snaps and directed the plays.[9]

The advent of the T formation in the 1940s led to a decline in the use of single-wing formations. For example, the single-wing coach Dana X. Bible, upon his retirement in 1946, saw his replacement, Blair Cherry, quickly install the T formation like many other college coaches of the day.[10] Wallace Wade said he was "not convinced that the single wing is not a more potent formation than the T. The single wing we used caused the defense to spread. It called for more intensive coaching on individual assignments."[11][12]

However, from 1949 to 1957 Henry "Red" Sanders elevated a seldom distinguished UCLA football program to an elite level with his precision single-wing system, realizing a National Championship for UCLA in 1954.

The single-wing style of football is still practiced by a small group of teams across the country, almost exclusively at the high school and youth level.[13] The Pittsburgh Steelers were the last NFL team to use the single-wing as their standard formation, finally switching to the T formation in 1952.[14] In 2008, the Miami Dolphins utilized a version of the single-wing offense (calling it the "wildcat") against the New England Patriots on six plays, which produced four touchdowns in a 38-13 upset victory, and again two weeks later defeating the San Diego Chargers.[15] In college football, by the early 1960s the only major teams still relying on the single wing were Tennessee, UCLA, and Princeton; after 1964 only Princeton, which had been particularly known for the single wing under its longtime coach Charlie Caldwell, still used the formation, finally giving it up in 1969 after the retirement of Caldwell's successor Dick Colman.[4][16]

Sutherland single wing

The Sutherland single-wing was a variation of the single-wing used with great success by Coach Jock Sutherland of the 1930s and 1940s. Note that coach Sutherland mastered many forms of the single-wing, but the formation described here is the one he invented and was named for him.

The Sutherland single-wing differs from the traditional single-wing in that the wingback is brought into the backfield as a halfback, flanking the fullback on the other side from the tailback. This allows a more flexible running attack to the weak-side. Both the tailback and halfback are triple threats in this offense. The weakness of this formation is less power than the traditional single-wing and it requires very talented backs to play tailback and halfback effectively.

Sutherland created this formation from the original single-wing he learned from legendary coach Pop Warner at the University of Pittsburgh in the 1910s. Sutherland became the Pitt coach in 1924, where he remained through 1938. Sutherland's Pitt teams were named "National Champions" by various selectors in nine different seasons,[17] including five recognized by the university.[18] Sutherland was the avowed master of the single-wing offense while at Pitt.[19] Sutherland brought his coaching skills to the NFL in 1940 as the coach of the Brooklyn Dodgers. At Brooklyn, he took over a team that had never finished better than second and had only one winning record since 1930. He implemented his offensive ideas and the Dodgers finished with a record of 8–3 and finished only a game back from the Washington Redskins. Sutherland's star was Ace Parker, who played tailback and was NFL MVP. The Dodgers also finished in second in 1941, with a 7–4 mark. Later, Sutherland coached the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1946 and 1947. In 1947, Sutherland and his single-wing pushed the Steelers to their first playoff appearance, for the East Conference crown. They were soundly defeated by Greasy Neale's Philadelphia Eagles, running the T-formation, 21–0. Sutherland died suddenly in 1948, but the Steelers continued to use his single-wing until 1953, when they were the last NFL team to switch to the T.

Double wing

The double-wing is an offensive formation which should not be confused with the Double Wing offense. The double-wing formation is used in many offenses from the youth level through college. The formation was first introduced by Glenn "Pop" Warner around 1912. Just a few offenses that use the formation are the double wing, flexbone and wing T offenses. It was the primary formation used by Ara Parseghian when he ran the wing T at Notre Dame, winning National Championships in 1966 and 1973.

Double Wing Formation

The formation is not necessarily the same in all offenses and is often a broad term to describe any offense with two wingbacks. In the wing T the double-wing formation is used to refer to Red, Blue and Loose Red formations.

The double-wing formation in American football usually includes one wide receiver, two wingbacks, one fullback, and one tight end.

Other Languages