LIKE the schemes of mice and men, football plays often go awry. This picture shows players lying on the ground in utter confusion, showing mat the offensive move, though carefully devised, was wrecked by the aggression of the primary line of defense.
Football players as a rule do not fall down unless they are knocked down. It can be readily seen, therefore, that there has been hard bodily contact during the play just ended.
Consider the wear and tear upon the human endurance during the hour's play, when scenes of this nature are repeated from 140 to 160 times. Little wonder that a rugged physique and heroic courage are required of the players, and perhaps now it can be better understood why, toward the close of a bitterly contested game, some of their performances are not quite up to standard.
But if there are skeptics as to the real merits of the sport, let them question the men who have been through the mill and they will find that the game is distinctly worth while.
Centre College vs. Harvard 1920.
The scout who is to observe a given team during a season makes himself known to the proper authorities upon his arrival in town, and before the game begins. He becomes the guest of the team which it is his duty to observe. Not infrequently he actually dines at the rival training-table and is on perfectly harmonious terms with the rival coaches. On his side, he expects and desires to see and hear nothing except what takes place on the field and is open to the observation of every spectator. No matter what the scouts of the olden days may have been, the scouts of to-day are regarded, by those who know the facts, merely as rival coaches carrying out just as honorable and legitimate an assignment as if they were at home teaching their own teams how to tackle or to throw the forward pass.
There are practical as well as theoretical reasons why the scouts seek no information beyond what can be obtained from observing opponents in open play. It is a firmly established popular belief that football games can be won by trick plays and intricate surprises. In the author's opinion, trick plays seldom accomplish what is expected of them, and indeed often act as a boomerang against the side that employs them. Almost never do trick plays justify the time and drill devoted to them. The elements that insure the victory are the inherent strength of a team and the soundness of its fundamental policy. These factors must be in evidence in all public exhibitions; and it is these, rather than the frills and froth, that the scout seeks to observe and evaluate.
The modern game of football is so highly developed that the time available for coaching does not begin to suffice. To offset this lack of time, in part, at least, the head coach organizes his intelligence department. From this department, through the reports of the scouts, he receives his best information as to the type of play to be expected from each successive opponent. He analyzes the situation as disclosed by these reports, discusses it with his assistants, and reaches a conclusion as to the best method of attack and defense to be employed against the next opponent. This conclusion is imparted to the players, who soon learn to rely on the instruction given them concerning the type of play to expect from a particular team, and cease to puzzle their brains as to what possibilities the next contest will bring forth. Relieved of this worry about the unknown, they concentrate more intently on the daily practice, and the team develops so much the faster.
It should be said here that the scouting system is of direct benefit to the game of football in general. The reports of the scouts keep the coaching staff in constant touch with developments and innovations that appear from week to week in various quarters. This stream of accurate information, digested and discussed, has an influence, conscious or unconscious, on the mind of every coach. It creates a certain uniformity of thought which tends perhaps to narrow the scope of the game; but this very limitation helps its progress toward perfection. It stabilizes the form of the game, and eliminates unusual and unsound variations of play. By standardization of the game as a test of skill, football is made much more interesting both to player and to spectator.
Many persons have raised the question why there should be any scouting at all. Enthusiastic followers of college games are constantly sending in voluntary reports concerning the strength and tactics of some future opponent. The desk of every coach is littered with such reports; but the coach has no means of determining their accuracy. He dares not use the information himself or pass it on to his players. The players themselves need some definite instruction about the individual peculiarities of the teams they are to face. In the absence of such instruction, the players feel that the coach is groping in the dark, they begin to lose confidence in him; and the seed of failure is sown. The scout fills this very real need. He is so skilled in the technique of the game that he can select the important facts and disregard the rest. He writes his report in the language of the coach, free from irrelevancies and non-essentials. Finally, he submits his report precisely when it is needed, complete to the last minute but in ample time for use. The scout merely provides a reliable substitute for the rumors and inexact information which always come to the ears of the coach.
There are no hard and fast rules for scouting. The work and the reports vary with the exigencies of the particular case. An expert scout will generally gather far more information than need be imparted to any one man of the coaching staff. In such a case, he tells each coach only what is necessary for his own department. The coach, in turn, passes on to each player only the information which concerns his own position, and keeps his mind free from a mass of irrelevant details.
A contest between two big colleges imposes heavy duties on their respective intelligence departments. The information to be obtained naturally falls under the two main headings of "Offense" and "Defense." Each of these are subdivided into "Mental Possibilities" and "Physical Probabilities." Under these in turn comes an endless mass of minute detail, which changes constantly from day to day.
Some of the more important questions for a scout are as follows: - Is the team well rounded out in all its branches? If not, what are its weaknesses? Are its offensive and defensive formations sound? How many plays have they shown, and what are their types? What are their best plays? What plays will they probably develop? Of what type is the quarterback, and what field tactics does he employ? What is the ability and speed of the kicker with and against the wind? Does he constitute a triple threat? Are any other backs in this category? Which backs are best at running, and which at interference? What players are best at receiving passes? What defensive line methods are used? Does the team as a whole tackle well? What players show weakness in this particular? What is the average weight of line and back-field? How many and what defenses does this team employ? What type of offense and what particular plays will go best against this team?
The scout must also analyze the individual player. If the player is fast, he can move on the field at least seven yards a second. A slower man can move only a part of that distance. An alert man, quick at sizing up a play, is apt to do the correct thing at the proper time. A man who is mentally sluggish starts slowly, and is easily decoyed in the wrong direction. Sometimes a man's slowness may prove of advantage to his team. It happens frequently that a cleverly designed play is stopped by a stupid player who has stood in his tracks, unable to decide what to do while the play is getting under way.
Before the big game arrives, and in time to make use of the knowledge, a head coach wants to know whether he can stop his opponent's attack, and whether his own team's offense is strong enough to win. Teams improve gradually, but with ever-increasing momentum. The scout's opinion on what a team has already done is of small importance. What the scout must furnish to his chief is a forecast; an accurate estimate of what the team can do on the day of the big game with the added incentive of supreme effort which only the big game can develop.
Although he is confronted by all sorts of complicated problems, a scout must never let himself wander far from the path of horse sense. The author recalls one team which had been sweeping all opponents before it, and appeared to have an attack so intricate and so perfectly executed that no defense could be built up against it. Every team which had attempted to analyze it was completely puzzled. Then an experienced scout came forward with a solution that was ridiculously simple. He maintained that in the development of this offense the team had neglected to devote sufficient time to defensive training; and that it was only necessary for its opponent to keep possession of the ball through the medium of a simple, powerful attack. This idea was adopted; and the supposedly invincible offense were so far overbalanced by the weakness of the defense that the opposing team ran up a big score while the offense were starving for an opportunity to "get going."