1921

Notre Dame Box

Knute Rockne

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E-< V) THE MO~ERN NOTRE DN~E FORrATION

The Notre Dame Box football formation, according to Knute Rockne, was the brain child of Antos Alonzo stagg coach at the university of Chicago from 1892 when the school first opened its doors until he reached retirement age in 1933.

Mr. stagg made many contributions to the game in the way of new formations ;nd plays, In the early 30' 5 he originated the short flanker which was added to the Notre Dame fOl'lllation. Mr. stagg's theory with the flanker was to place the slotback in a flanking position outside of the defensive end or. as he used to say, "Under his Eaves." From this position he could block the end in on the end run, pass him up and block the fullback on the off tackle play. or catch passes.

Notre Dame Formation-1913

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Jesse Harper, substitute for" th9 immortQ Walter Eckersall at the University of Chicago,came to Notre Dame as Head Coach of football, Director of Athletics and many other things in 1913 and he brought lIith him the formation he got from his old coach Mr. stagg. It became the only formation at Notre Dame and it gradually assumed the name of the school. I played under this system for three years with Harper as Head Coach and Knute Rockne as assistant. Rockne succeeded Harper in 1918 and used it successfully until his tragic death in March 1931 during which he created one of the finest coaching records of football history. All the years that I coached college football I used the formation as did the Notre Dame graduates and many others in the coaching rield •

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Knute Rockne joined the faculty or Notre Dame in 1914 as an assistant in cheMistry under Father Nieuwland, who invented synthetic rubber. He was also an assistant coach in football and also acquired the title of Head Coach of Track. Having been a 12-4 pole vaulter with a bamboo pole-a good performance in his dar"anda' 52 second quarter ",iler he

knew the value of speed, and he was forever talking and preaching speed in football. FrQ1l 1914 the Not,re Dame shift vas performed by backs

who could block, run and think." The shift as employed by Notre Dame teal'1S was a thing of beauty~({One nevspapel'llian in his enthusiaSlll said that Notre Dame backs worked under a ballroaIt director to give thEllll their smooth, eye catching rhythM. Of course this :was nonsense. At first the shift was rast and it involved only the backs and the ends.

It wasn't longbeforecoachEls"playing.~sttelllfts using our formation began cQIlplainingaboUt;T:the"sPe.ed()ffourshirt;:.Pop Warner. inventor of the single wing: fc:mnation:an(Fatcthat:t1me'football coach at the Carlisle Indian School,'''asSUDl&d the head" of the IIIOVe!llent to slow

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/,1't8), 1.05:;nr" to })otre Dame, 25 to 2, Bill Roper, coach of the

':;'l[',",):"s s2.id: "'''hon yo:; play NOt,l-S Dame fori!,st the shift, but look out "or th:: strone: s i.do end." PHI was right. This end on the fast shift ;,.)uld ,'sh, cut ,.'ith thE> outside foot to draw the defensive tackle out

on the 'i n s ide of tackle play, then step back in leaving himself in his or:igj:c"l pos i t i on with B.,!')od a'wle to block the tackle out. On the offt.ack Le pJB.Y, the end st sppcd out Hith the outside foot, then hopped

to a position outsjde the d()f,c.nsiv8 t.ackl.e , The theory behind the

ends' maneuvers were the same as they are today--run the inside of

t.ackl o play to put in~ide pressure on the tackle, then go to the outside to block hi m in. On the off-tackle play Rockne, who vs s an end and a f,ood one, spent many hour-s workinPc; with his ends teaching them head fakes, shoulder rolls and movements to get under the hands of those big tackles ,,*00 stood ready to ,iab those hands. forward aiming to hit the

end on U:,.' !wrnet with the heels of the hand and elbows that locked on co"t"ct. VanflUvers to avoid those hands were 'important in blocking

and also in getting 0122" ends free of the tacldes for passes.

In the o:rtginaJ. Notre Dame forma.tion the players lined up in the Regular or T formation from which a few plays were run with the quarterback handling the ball for the quack opening dive plays. From this formation, the backs shifted to the right or left on a quick rhythm shift which involved the backs and both ends. (The backs concentrated on one side of center definitely made a strong side.)

Hith this concentration of strength on one side of center it became a rule that the defensive line had to move one half position in the direction of the shift. The defensive formation generally used was

the 7-1 with the def~nsive linemen playing in a semi-crouch position and hitting their opponents with their hands, the~ sliding in the direction of the ball carrier. Notre Dame coaches used the 7-2 defense we, picked up from Gil Dobie who at the time was the football coach at the Naval Academy at Annapolis. Both of these defenses were strong against running plays, especially the 7-2 which was almost a 9 man line. As long as teams were not passing very much these defenses were satisfactory, but later teams began throwing the ball and with such success that, a change in the defense became mandatory.

The first move was to take the defensive center out of the line and to place him in a position one yard behind the line and inside his defensive tackle. The fullback moved over from in front of the quarterback and lined up one yard back and inside his tackle. The guards and tackles divided the space between themselves and now played low and covered territory.

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Original 6-2 Def'an se

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! Harry Mehre, one of our Notre Dame men coaching at Georgia, when

Ii 'lan!,:ing from the 7 to the 6 man line, had simple instructions for his .'.-· •. 'l' "terior linemen. He said: "Line up fast and low .. -ith your noses on

, 'e f(round. 'rlhen the ball is snapped, "harge low. After the game we

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\4ith the 7 man line, the defensive tackles usually were the biggest and the best men on the line. They were the key to the defense. The pass defense w~s man for man. The theory of the 6 man line was the guards and t.ackl.e s were supposed to brea.k up the interference while the linebackers tacy~ed the ball carrier. Against the Notre Dame formation, this defense left big holes inside the strong side tackle and between the guards. Our fullbacks were having a holiday. Eventually, the standard defense against our formation was the over shift or odd defense, which tightened up the line and pushed the big line weakness to the space between the weak side tackle and end.

The strongest, most spectacular and most productive play in football is the off-tackle play--a play associated with such names as Jim Thorpe, George Gipp, Red Grange, Tom Harmon and many others. It is a powerful play, especially from the Notre Dame formation, because the ball reaches the line of scrimmage qUickly with a mass of interference ahead of it. It meets Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest's theory of his offensive strategy: "To get there fustest with the mostest."

The Notre Dame system of play was built around the off-tackle play and our offensive strategy was also built on the theory of getting this play to work, then keeping it going. In the football jargon of that day it was called "The perfect play" because when every player completed

his assignment it was a touchdown. Every other play in our repertoire of plays had only one purpose-to keep the off-tackle play going.

With the overshifted defense, we also found, after We introduced the spinner attack, that we also had a strong weak side off-tackle play, which greatly strengthened our attack.

The origina.l design of our off-tackle play called for the end to block the tacy~e alone, the slotback to block the end and the strong side guard to block the fullback. Some fullbacks began keying on the quarterback and then picking up the guard. Many times he met the guard in the hole with usually a loss on the play.

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",very time the rules committee met;

About this tim~GeorgeHalas,owner-~O!!.~h of <the Chicago Bears, and his a ss ist.ant s Ralph'; Jones and Clark Schaunessy began experimenting with a "T" formationfeaturlngamllninmotion;Don F~urot.coach at Misl'otJri, came up with his version of a' "T"'fonnation based' on speedy backs, the dive plays and an end run and end run lateral forward pass to the deep end.

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In the summer of 1929 I was invited to join the teaching staff of the Northwestern University Coaching School.conducted by. Dick Hanley, Northwestern coach. The last day of. the schoolKnUte Rockne appeared on the program in a debate with Hanley on which ,football. offense was the best, the wingback offense or the Notre ,Dame system. It was an interesting hour-, but when it was all aver most coaches still were convinced that the system they were using wasthe best.

Knute invited me to attend a banquet with him that night at which he was the principal speaker at a Motorola Sales meeting and to spend the night at Notre Dame and to talk footbill thenerl day. After we started toward South Bend, Knute told me that he received a check for $100.00 for his talk and a new Motorola radio. I wonder what big corporations would pay Roclme today, one of the great after dinner speakers of his time, for a ,si:nilar talk. He also told me that he

recently turned down the offer of an advertising agency of one of our big tobacco companies who wanted him to recommend their cigarettes.

He said everyone knows I smoke cigars, and all my teaching career I have always preached good sportsmanship by saying one man practicing good sportsmanship is worth more than 10 men merely preaching it.

The next morning in his office he showed me a new spinner attack he planned to introduce that season. He diagrammed the plays for me then took the time to show me the footwork on the single and double spinner plays. This series of plays is just What our Notre Dame offense needed as football teams playing us were beginning to widely avershift us on the strong side and were forcing us to turn back ~o the weak side where We had the 25 play and the old half to half reverse with no Bergmans

to run it. The complete offense had plays for all of the defensive spaces, but the ones to the weak side were "worth their weight in gold". Notre Dame fans may remember this play with Joe Savoldi carrying the ball.

Notre Dame F'ullback Spinner Reverse

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change the play from the sweep to off.taclde when necessary. We made big yardage on this play and many touchdowns.

Notre Dame Reverse Sweep

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Notre Dame Box

Charlie Bachman

Modem Notre Dame Box

Charlie Bachman

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May 18, 1972

Dear Bill::

Enclosed find letter fromI!iU'i1k\\iAndersOrl. He still does not answer your-question about th2 the play between the defe left guard and center or the play outside the weak side tackle.

remmember.

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Dutch Bergman is borne in Hashington D.C. reccovering from a bear t attack. I will contact him again a lit tl e la tel'. He say s he ha s his play book of the plays of the 15-16 era.

Did you use any of the box formation plays last year. The so called triple o~tion- really only one option from this etup is terrific.

Let me know if there is anything else I can do. Best wisheE' for the coming season.

Si~e.lY

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