Single Wing Turns 100 in 2006

February 20th, 2006

The following message was sent to Coach Grant Teaff, president of the American Football Coaches’ Association (AFCA) November 8, 2005:

Coach Teaff: Please see the attached article from the Washington Post of October 28, 1906, and the piece by Coach Claude “Tiny” Thornhill of Stanford from the Fitchburg Sentinel in 1935.

The 1906 description of the Princeton Tigers versus the Cornell Indians, coached by Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner, states the following:

“The Cornell backs grouped for the attack in two different formations. In one they were spread out, and in the other raised like steps, one behind the other.”

1906 Cornell

If you will now turn to the article by Coach Thornhill, who played for Warner at Pitt in 1915, you will see two diagrams, one of the “Original Carlisle Formation Early 1900’s; Single Wingback Tandem,” and the other of the “Modified Carlisle Single Wingback Tandem.”


As Thornhill states about the earlier version of the formation, “Warner’s tandem operated behind an unbalanced line, forming an acute angle with the close-up back directly behind the right end.”

He then adds: “Later on it was modified so that the close-up back flanked the right end. The other three backs were moved up closer to the line of scrimmage but each was stationed a bit deeper than the other.”

I believe the description given by the reporter covering the 1906 Cornell-Princeton game of the formation “raised like steps” is identical with the “Single Wingback Tandem” which Coach Thornhill dates to “the early 1900’s at Carlisle.” Coach Warner was at Cornell through the 1906 season, then moved to Carlisle to coach at the Indian Industrial School starting in 1907.

I believe, therefore, that the Post article pinpoints the 1906 season as the first where Pop Warner deployed the Single Wingback Tandem formation in a game. The Post article also comments about the effects the rules changes for 1906 had on the play of the game, with “the ball…exposed to the stands by the open play.” I see this as further evidence that the Cornell Single Wingback Tandem was something new and different for 1906.

I hope this will suffice as evidence that the Single Wing offense turns 100 in 2006. The above research was conducted by Russell Farley, proprietor of the Football Booklist website, and a student of the game of high repute for many years now.

The aftermath is that Single Wing Historian Ed Racely attended the AFCA convention in January, where no mention was made of the 100th anniversary of the single wing…so who has a good idea for an appropriate commemoration? The NCAA itself is celebrating its centennial in 2006, for exactly the same reasons the single wing is.

It’s the Spin That Wins!
Ted Seay
seayee at hotmail dot com

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