On The Subject Of UCLA Punting In Pre-World War II Era Of Single Wing Football

ucla-39-stanford-punt-1aucla-39-stanford-punt-3aucla-39-stanford-punt-5aucla-39-stanford-punt-2aucla-39-stanford-punt-4aucla-39-stanford-punt6a
Football history is always in danger of being forgotten so it is reassuring to know that this delightful photograph capturing the 1939 Pacific Coast Conference match-up between the UCLA BRUINS and the STANFORD INDIANS on the gridironed grass at The Farm in northern California is still available for further inspection by the general public at :

http://collections.stanford.edu/images/bin/search/advanced/process;jsessionid=89565DF0C77D7E3E6223396E8874842F?sort=title&clauseMapped(collectionBrowse)=Stanford+Historical+Photograph+Collection&browse=1&offset=780

It is important to remember that during the pre-World War II era when Single Wing Football reigned supreme, the substitution rules were much different than what modern spectators see now in the contemporary game at the collegiate or professional level. According to the rules in effect at that time, once a player left the field at any point in a given contest, then that same player was not permitted to return to action until the beginning of the next period and if a player departed in the fourth quarter then, of course, that same player was finished for the remaineder of the game. It was specifically for this reason that teams of te pre-World War II era did not simply summon from the bench a specialized player whose only expected task at any point in any given game was to just punt the football — as directly compared to what is standard operating procedure for all college and pro teams today.

As those who have reviewed this blog’s article on the 1939 Stanford vs UCLA game surely have noted, the visiting Bruins had at least three different players (fullback BILL OVERLIN along with right halfbacks DALE GILMORE and JACKIE ROBINSON) punt the football during the Pacific Coast Conference game against the host Indians in Palo Alto. It was certainly not uncommon back then for any given team to have several different players punt the football over the course of any given contest. The explanation for this would be found in the limited substitution rules of that era as well as a punting strategy then commonly put into practice.

Many teams preferred to use the “Quick Kick” tactic — the punting of the football on what today would be considered a ‘non-traditional’ down (i.e., first, second or third down). In order for this move to achieve maximum surprise and catch the defense unprepared with no return man stationed some 30-40 yards away from the line of scrimmage to properly field the football, teams often punted out of what appeared to be a normal offensive formation (a favorable bounce and generous roll of the football could turn an ordinary punt into something rather special in terms of yardage / field position). A natural extension of this particular concept was to have different “Quick Kick” plays with more than one backfield positional player do the actual punting (and, as a result, continue to create general doubt and overall uncertainty in the collective mind of the defense).

UCLA BRUINS punting leaders (1935-1944)
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1935 … Fred FUNK ………………… 67 punts for 39.1 avg
1936 … Fred FUNK ………………… 69 punts for 37.8 avg
1937 … Walt SCHELL …………….. 23 punts for 37.5 avg
1938 … Bill OVERLIN …………….. 36 punts for 33.8 avg
1939 … Leo CANTOR ……………… 21 punts for 36.6 avg
1940 … Noah CURTI ……………… 28 punts for 40.8 avg
1941 … Bob WATERFIELD …….. 49 punts for 37.9 avg
1942 … Bob WATERFIELD …….. 74 punts for 38.0 avg
1943 … Don MALMBERG ……….. 69 punts for 35.1 avg
1944 … Bob WATERFIELD …….. 60 punts for 42.3 avg

The source material used for the above chart would be a UCLA football media guide from 2012 :

http://www.uclabruins.com/fls/30500/old_site/pdf/m-footbl/2012-13/misc_non_event/mem-ind-performances.pdf?DB_OEM_ID=30500

(Note — LEO CANTOR was a three-year letterman at fullback for UCLA from 1939 thru 1941 while IZZY CANTOR was a three-year letterman at left halfback for the Bruins from 1936 thru 1938)

This blog is of the opinion that, for whatever the reason, the criteria used for determining the annual punting leader for the UCLA Bruins is highest number of punts by any one player, as compared to the highest average of yards per punt. Thus, fullback BILL OVERLIN “led” the Westwood warriors with a average of 33.8 yards per kick as a sophomore in 1938 but it is known here that UCLA, as a team, punted the ball more than 36 times that year with a higher average than Overlin’s, as well. Prior to facing the eternal arch-rival USC Trojans, the Bruins (as a team) had punted the football 63 times for an average of 35.0 yards per boot over the course of the first eight games on their 1938 NCAA schedule, according to the article that appeared in the Southern Cal school newspaper, “The Daily Trojan”, on November 23rd, 1938 :

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It is also known that the ’38 UCLA Bruins, who were without an injured Overlin for their final three contests, averaged 36.6 yards per attempt (six punts) against the USC Trojans and 35.0 yards per punt against the Oregon State Beavers although no punting statistics at all are available for the 1939 Poi Bowl game against the hosting University of Hawaii. The total number of punts for UCLA’s last two games on the its 1938 slate are unknown here but it is safe to conclude that the Bruins did not punt so much during the 6-6 tie with Oregon State because the Bruins consistently moved the ball all game, as evidenced by 23 first downs and 378 yards of total offense. As for the Westwood school’s first-ever post-season bowl game, UCLA also probably did not punt very often during a big 32-7 win that saw the Bruins register five rushing touchdowns at the expense of the overmatched Hawaii Rainbows.

The bigger point to be noted here with respect to Single Wing Era Football is that the 1938 UCLA Bruins, as a team, averaged no fewer than 7.667 punts per outing during the first nine games on its 1938 NCAA season schedule.

UCLA BRUINS average punts per game by one player, single season
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1943 … Don MALMBERG ………….. 7.667 ppg ….. 69 punts in 9 games
1980 … Matt MCFARLAND ……….. 7.273 ppg ….. 80 punts in 11 games
1950 … Bob MOORE ………………….. 7.000 ppg …. 63 punts in 9 games
2003 … Chris KLUWE ……………….. 7.000 ppg …. 91 punts in 13 games
2007 … Aaron PEREZ ……………….. 7.000 ppg …. 91 punts in 13 games
1936 …. Fred FUNK …………………… 6.900 ppg …. 69 punts in 10 games
1942 …. Bob WATERFIELD ………. 6.727 ppg …. 74 punts in 11 games
1992 …. Darren SCHAGER …………. 6.727 ppg …. 74 punts in 11 games
1935 …. Fred FUNK …………………… 6.700 ppg …. 67 punts in 10 games
2008 … Aaron PEREZ ……………….. 6.583 ppg …. 79 punts in 12 games
1970 …. Bruce BARNES …………….. 6.364 ppg …. 70 punts in 11 games
2000 … Nate FISKE …………………… 6.250 ppg …. 75 punts in 12 games
1999 …. Nate FISKE …………………… 6.182 ppg ….. 68 punts in 11 games
1971 …. Bruce BARNES ……………… 6.100 ppg ….. 61 punts in 10 games
1944 … Bob WATERFIELD ………… 6.000 ppg …. 60 punts in 10 games
1996 …. Chris SAILER ………………… 6.000 ppg …. 66 punts in 11 games

NOTE — mostly because of manpower difficulties directly resulting from the global conflict that came to be known as World War II, the NCAA radically changed the strict “limited substitution” rule and paved the way for specialized offensive and defensive players with new “unlimited substitution” legislation in 1941 … the substitution rules were once again amended at the beginning of the 1954 NCAA campaign but the edict that allowed for only one substitution per team at the end of each play (which basically meant that, once again, almost all players had to feature on both offense and defense) was revoked before the start of the 1965 season … so, in other words, college football teams really could and did not get serious about specialized punters and placekickers until the late 1960s & early 1970s.

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