The origins of the football huddle

delanceyplace.com 12/17/09 – the huddle

In today’s encore excerpt – the
football huddle is invented at a college for
the deaf – Gallaudet University in
Washington, DC – as a means of hiding signals
from other deaf teams. It is
institutionalized at the University of
Chicago as a means of bringing control and
Christian fellowship to the game:

“When Gallaudet played nondeaf clubs or
schools, Hubbard merely used hand signals –
American Sign Language – to call a play at
the line of scrimmage, imitating what was
done in football from Harvard to Michigan.
Both teams approached the line of scrimmage.
The signal caller – whether it was the left
halfback or quarterback – barked out the
plays at the line of scrimmage. Nothing was
hidden from the defense. There was no
huddle.

“Hand signals against nondeaf schools gave
Gallaudet an advantage. But other deaf
schools could read [quarterback Paul]
Hubbard’s sign language. So, beginning in
1894, Hubbard came up with a plan. He decided
to conceal the signals by gathering his
offensive players in a huddle prior to the
snap of the ball. … Hubbard’s innovation in
1894 worked brilliantly. ‘From that point on,
the huddle became a habit during regular
season games,’ cites a school history of the
football program. …

“In 1896, the huddle started showing up on
other college campuses, particularly the
University of Georgia and the University of
Chicago. At Chicago, it was Amos Alonzo
Stagg, the man credited with nurturing
American football into the modern age and
barnstorming across the country to sell the
game, who popularized the use of the huddle
and made the best case for it. …

“At the time, coaches were not permitted to
send in plays from the sideline. So, while
Stagg clearly understood the benefit of
concealing the signals from the opposition,
he was more interested in the huddle as a way
of introducing far more reaching reforms to
the game. Before becoming a coach, Stagg
wanted to be a minister. At Yale, he was a
divinity student from 1885 to 1889.

“Thoughtful, pious, and righteous, Stagg
brought innovations football as an attempt to
bring a Christian fellowship to the game. He
wanted his players to play under control, to
control the pace, the course, and the conduct
of what had been a game of mass movement that
often broke out into fisticuffs. Stagg viewed
the huddle as a vital aspect of helping to
teach sportsmanship. He viewed the huddle as
a kind of religious congregation on the
field, a place where the players could, if
you will, minister to each other, make a
plan, and promise to keep faith in that plan
and one another.”

Sal Palantonio, How Football Explains
America, Triumph, Copyright 2008 by Sal
Palantonio, pp. 38-41.

posted by delanceyplace at 3:34 AM

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