Understanding UCLA Single Wing Football – The Positions

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It is very important to note that while virtually all college and professional football teams in the 1930s used either the standard Carlisle Single Wing formation or something rather closely related to Pop Warner’s revolutionary concept, different teams definitely used different terms when referencing the four backfield players.

The UCLA BRUINS of the 1930s typically lined up in the standard Carlisle Single Wing formation as shown above but, in the contemporary offensive terminology then in use by the Bruins, the “Tailback” was known as the Left Halfback and the “Wingback” was called the Right Halfback while the “Quarterback” as shown in the above diagram was sometimes designated as the Blocking Back, a massive hint at the player’s main role in the offensive scheme.

Now, the cross-town rival USC TROJANS of the 1930s typically operated out of an offensive formation that bore a striking resemblance to what the UCLA Bruins also just so happened to be using. The Bruins’ lethal run/pass weapon at the end of the decade, KENNY WASHINGTON, was always listed in the game programs, newspapers, etc., as a Left Halfback as were his UCLA predecessors but, by comparison, the Trojans’ chief handler/distributor of the football during that same time period, GRENVILLE LANSDELL, was said to be a Quarterback, as was always the case in the USC vernacular of the Single Wing Era. The significant point here to remember is that both Washington and Lansdell were, for all intents and purposes, occupying the same position designated as “Tailback” in the diagram shown above.

There is another fundamental flaw (at least as far as the UCLA Bruins and the USC Trojans of the 1930s are concerned) with the diagram of the standard Carlisle Single Wing formation shown at the top of this article — it was NOT the two Tackles who were positioned right next to one another in a formation using an “unbalanced line”.

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A proper diagram of the standard Carlisle Single Wing formation as used by the UCLA Bruins of the 1930s shows it is the two Guards who are stationed side by side on the “strong” side of the unbalanced line.
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As a very good general rule of thumb, particularly when dealing with the UCLA Bruins of the 1930s, it is very safe to say that Tackles were almost always the heaviest linemen on the Single Wing Era football roster.

In the modern era of football, specifically because of the ever-increasing amount of forward passing that has developed over the years, it is the Left Tackle, that heroic and selfless guardian who sacrifices his very own body to shield and protect the defenseless and unsuspecting blind, who is oftentimes the highest paid offensive lineman on any given professional team.

Although the offensive tactic of the forward pass was not used during the 1930s anywhere near as much as it is in contemporary times some eighty years later, it certainly was still very important for any given Single Wing Era football team to fortify its “weak” side when using an unbalanced line. For starters, even though Single Wing passers did not really try and set up shop in a specified “pocket” the way that modern day quarterbacks are wont to do, every Single Wing passer (either left or right-handed players) always had a “back side” and hard-charging defenders to be sincerely concerned about. Also, every ball carrier heading for the strong side of the line, particularly on a slowly developing rushing play, inherited the possible risk of being chased down by a pursuing tackler coming from the back side.

And, it must be prominently remembered that the Single Wing formation, itself, was heavily predicated on the use of deception and trickery — thus, the classic “reverse” play, a maneuver where the blockers appear to set up for a sweep to the strong side of the line but the Wingback (Right Halfback) loops back around in order to suddenly take the ball on an “end run” heading for the opposite side of the line (the weak side), was a commonly used tactic … (particularly by the UCLA Bruins during the 1939 NCAA campaign).

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The four backfield players are completely out of position in this deliberately staged “Press Photo” of the UCLA BRUINS first string taken during pre-season practice in September of 1937 but the useful picture on exhibit here does much to confirm the very important point to remember — it is, in fact, the two Guards (# 39 – GEORGE PFEIFFER and # 14 – JACK COHEN in this case) who are positioned next to one another in the unbalanced line.
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Aside from the fact that the two Ends are stationed on either side of the two Tackles and not split out wide the same way that they would be in today’s contemporary game, one other very important facet about the players’ positions in the standard Carlisle Single Wing football formation to remember is the role of the Quarterback.

Nowadays, the modern quarterback spends all his time on the playing field either a) immediately handing the football off to another teammate and and then getting out of the way of everybody else or b) passing the pigskin to a receiver who is somewhere else (perhaps even far away) and/or getting out of the way of defensive players who are trying to physically punish him.

Things certainly were just a little bit different for the contemporary positional prima donna in the Single Wing formation, though, at least as far as the UCLA Bruins of the 1930s were concerned. Although it was the Quarterback who was the player that always lined up closest to the Center behind all the rest of the offensive linemen, the snap of the football was usually aimed with either the Left Halfback or the Fullback as the intended receiver and initial ball handler for any given play. The primary functions of the Quarterback (who, ironically enough, was normally not as big as a Fullback) were to act as a lead blocker on running plays as well as be an effective pass receiver.

Because the Quarterback was the backfield player closest to the Center (to speak nothing of all the other linemen), it was QB who barked out the snap count — this is exactly where that time-honored term, “signal-caller”, originates from. On many but not all Single Wing teams, it was the Quarterback who decided what offensive plays would be selected in the huddle, as well. This, indeed, was the case with the UCLA Bruins of the 1930s.

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