This section is from the book "A Scientific And Practical Treatise On American Football For Schools And Colleges", by A. Alonzo Stagg, Henry L. Williams. Don't miss: The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game.
And this leads us to consider the moral effect of certain tactics. The three most effective styles of plays when successfully used are: a kicking game when there are weak catchers behind the opposing line (or when the latter are poorly positioned); end plays; and dashes through the center in mass or quick wedge plays. These three plays, in the order named, have the most disheartening effect on the opposing team, when the side having the ball has a long, accurate, and scientific kicker who is able to place his punts well, and also to regulate the height and twist which the ball shall take.
Every football player knows the chances for a fatal misplay which hang on a kicked ball : first, because of the difficulty of judging it accurately if it be twisting in certain ways; second, because of its exceeding susceptibility to currents of air which make its gyrations and deviations excessively perplexing; third, because of the nicety of final judgment required, even when the player is well under the ball, since its shape and elasticity make it necessary to allow for its full length and its smallest dimension at the same time, also for a quick rebound from the arm or hands. The catcher must attend to all this in the face of a fierce line of rushers coming down on him at full speed, eager to tackle him or to seize the ball if he muffs or fumbles it.
The moral effect of having uncertain catchers behind the line is very telling on the team. If all the hard, wearying work of the rushers and half-backs to advance the ball forty or fifty yards is to be spoiled over and over by muffed punts, even though the ball is not lost to the other side (as it is likely sometimes to be in such cases), there is sure to be a diminution in effort in a short time on the part of the whole team. This comes imperceptibly at first, but comes just as surely, and ere long evinces itself in the more determined and successful efforts of the other team.
Almost equally disheartening, if not fully so, is it to have runs made repeatedly around the ends; because the runs in that locality, if successful, are usually for long gains often resulting in touch-downs, and they arouse the greatest fears in the minds of all the players from a feeling of inability to stop them. The result is that every effort is centered on anticipating these end plays, and the rushers, instead of going through the line, wait to see if it is an end play, in which case they run out to the side to stop it. That very moment in which there is a hesitancy on the part of the guards and tackles in going through the line, is a moment of triumph for the team with the ball; for it immediately gives them a decided advantage, in that, while perhaps unable before to make progress through the center part of the line, they will now have two strong points of attack. The chances now are that the defense will grow weaker and weaker as the game advances, for unless the end runs are well stopped the players will decrease their efforts somewhat and the tackling will become less and less daring and effective.
It is hard to say which of these two styles of play really has the more discouraging effect on the opposite team. If the eleven which has the poor catchers back of their forwards are successful in making advance by rushing the ball, they have a vast deal to encourage them, even though now and then they lose it all through the muffing of their backs. The period in which they have the ball is one in which their minds are not conscious of the weakness of their own defense but are completely taken up with the good work they are doing, and they are unanimous and bouyant in it. That period of success does much to keep up their spirits during the time when the other side has the ball and their fears are so all-powerful.
When a team is able to make frequent runs around the opponent's end, there is perhaps less to actually dishearten them than in the preceding case, for there is less fear of losing the ball. It can be gotten only through a failure to advance the five yards in its three trials; through a fumble; through a penalty imposed by the umpire; or through a kick. The latter will be tried probably only under extreme conditions where there has been a loss of yards, while in the kicking game mentioned above, the side not in possession of the ball always has the hope of securing it.
That captain is not a good general who follows out the same tactics in each game; who, having perhaps worked out a system of plays which his men could best execute, attempts to apply this system in every game, regardless of the composition of the opposing eleven and their systems of defense and offense. The captain, in truth, has learned a good deal when he has learned what plays his team can best execute, and he has most valuable, though far from complete, information for conducting a wise campaign against the opposing eleven. He still has much need to exercise his generalship as to whether this point of attack should be assailed three or fifteen times; this place a few times; and this place not at all, or perhaps only once or twice for the sake of trial or strategy.
Oftentimes, the rusher can give invaluable information to the captain as to his own ability to handle his opponent, where for example the opponent so places himself constantly as to render it an easy matter to get him out of the way for certain plays, although it is impossible to 16 move him on other plays. This is especially true in handling a large man who stands constantly in the same way; as for instance, well over to the side of his opponent. It would be comparatively easy to block such a man for opening up a hole in one direction, but almost impossible to shove him in the opposite way. Such information would furnish the captain valuable data on which to base certain tactics, and would inform him that he could doubtless make plays to one side of this man and seldom if ever on the other side.