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.
There are two methods followed in snapping the ball: one, in which the ball is held on the small end and sent back swiftly, with little effort, in such a way that the quarter-back catches it in the air all ready to pass; the other, where the ball is laid on its side and rolled along the ground to the point where it is stopped by the quarterback and then picked up in very good position for passing. This latter method is more generally used because it does not require as delicate work on the part of the center in giving the snap; but speed is sacrificed by it and there is greater liability that the ball shall be deflected from its course by touching the legs. It would be well for the center to learn to use either hand in snapping, for it will often prove an advantage. The center-rusher will do well to make a study of snapping the ball by both methods of standing, and by both ways of holding it until he settles on the one best suited to him. He should then practice this against an opponent until he is able to stand firmly on his feet and send the ball back accurately, at a uniform rate of speed each time. In case the ball is placed on end, it is better to have it lean toward the opposing center at an angle of about sixty degrees. It can be held more firmly in this position and can also be sent back more swiftly, with a bound into the air. Care must be taken not to send the ball too swiftly. While the center is practising to secure steadiness, accuracy, and uniformity in snapping the ball, he should likewise practise getting his opponent out of the way.
In putting the ball in play, the center has the advantage of being able to select the time to snap and he can choose it to meet his own purpose. Besides, he knows the exact instant when he intends to send the ball back and can get the start of his opponent. The center, therefore, is master of the situation when he has the ball. It is for these reasons that he can frequently be down the field on a kick as soon as the ends, and yet not expose the full-back to great danger in having the ball stopped.
There are various ways for the center to handle his man and get him out of his way. He may plunge forward at the instant he snaps the ball, carrying his opponent before him; he may lift him to one side or the other, according to the play called for and the position of the opponent; he may fall on him if he is down too low; or he may get under him and lift him in the air, if his opponent reaches over him.
In any one of these methods, the opportune moment must be seized like a flash and the action be quick and powerful. A slow, strong movement will never succeed. Long and faithful practice is necessary before the center can acquire this quickness and power. In his eagerness to take advantage of his opponent, he must never fail to wait for the quarter-back's signal before snapping the ball. A little forgetfulness on this point might prove disastrous.
The center can be a most valuable man in defensive play if he understands his position. By giving his opponents a quick pull forward or to one side at the instant the latter snaps the ball; by lifting him suddenly backward; or by grasping his arm, the center can frequently break through more quickly than either guard or tackle. Whenever he succeeds in getting through, he will be a strong obstacle to all dashes between himself and the guards, and he will sometimes be able to interfere with the quarter-back's pass. Another way in which the center may play on the defense is to spend all his energy for a moment in getting his opponent out of his way and then spring at the runner. In this case the center must throw off his opponent quickly, and not allow himself to be carried backward. At the same time he must not attempt to break through the line.
When the play is around the end, or even at the tackle, the center should move quickly from his position and pass around behind his own line to meet and tackle the runner. When the opposite side is about to kick, the center should do his utmost to break through the line and stop it; but sometimes it may be better instead to make an opening for the quarter-back. He is helped in doing this, by the opposite center himself, as he plunges forward to block him. In such a case a good opening can be made for the quarter-back, if the center will place himself in front of his opponent a little to one side, and then pull the latter forward to the right or left. The guard at the side on which the opening is made should know of this plan so that he may not spoil it, either by pushing his opponent in the path or by getting in the way himself. If there is danger of his doing this, it will be better for him to help enlarge the opening for the quarter-back.
On the defensive the center may play a little to one side or the other of his opponent, or directly in front, to suit the situation. It is most unwise for the center to assume the same position every time, for by so doing he gives the opposite center only one problem to work out and that one probably the same each time. Where the center takes an extreme side position, unless he does it just before the ball is snapped, he gives the captain of the other eleven a fine chance to call for a play which will take advantage of the situation.
There is abundant opportunity for the display of head-work in outwitting the opposing center in breaking through the line. The line is so compact at this point that it is not an easy task to slip by, especially as the opposing center is watching to take his man at a disadvantage Various methods are resorted to in breaking through the line. Sometimes the center, acting on the defense, is thrown head foremost to the ground by a quick, hard pull, the attacking center stepping aside or over him as he falls. He may also be turned sidewise just enough to slip past him, or he may be lifted back perhaps into the face of the runner. The most common method employed by the center in getting through is to catch the arm of the opponent on the side on which it is desired to go through, give it a jerk, and dash into the opening.
The center in defense must insist on the ball being down where it belongs. Some center-rushers have a way of moving the ball forward several inches further than it should be. There is no occasion for generosity under such circumstances, and the center must feel that it is his duty to stand up for the rights of his team by constantly guarding against any infringement of this kind. On the other hand, a constant bickering over an inch or two of ground may be made of such importance that the game is interfered with and delayed to such an extent that a much greater gain would have resulted were the ball put in play the instant the signal called for it.
A good referee will see to it that the ball is snapped each time from the proper spot.
It is always the duty of the center-rusher to keep close to the opponent who brings the ball in from the side line, in order to protect the rights of his team. Likewise, it is well to "pace in" the opponent who brings the ball to the twenty-five yard line, in order to prevent a quick play being made when his own side are not in position. The guards assist him in this.