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1884-1894: Mass Momentum Plays And Brutality Bring Football to Edge of Extinction

The Flying Wedge was just one of a number of momentum plays that were lethal to players.

Football Flying Wedge Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Summary: The video discusses the earliest football plays, formations, and rule changes between 1884 to 1894 in American football. It starts by explaining the state of American football in 1890, highlighting how rule changes made it different from rugby, such as the establishment of the system of downs and the concept of possession. Two more rules were established in 1890: tackling below the waist and blocking in front of a ball carrier.

The V Trick, the original wedge play and forerunner of mass plays, was introduced in 1884, which formed a V-shaped mass with the ball carrier at the Apex forward. The play was successful, and it became the standard opening play for every football team in the country.

The flying wedge was introduced in 1892, which was considered the most spectacular play in the history of football. The play was introduced by Harvard against Yale, and it involved two sections converging toward the ball carrier to create a mass of momentum to overpower the defense.

The video explains how men were moving before the ball was put in play or snapped, as there were no rules that stated players had to be set on the line. The video also mentions how the introduction of these plays led to the formal establishment of blocking rules, disregarding the “offsides” play. Finally, the video points out that despite the still photo of the flying wedge appearing to be goofy, it was a formidable play when executed in motion.

At the end of 1894, football was in chaos. It was under attack because of its brutality and because people didn’t like the mass plays. Critics like Harvard President Charles Eliot wanted football abolished while Walter Camp, the father of American football, put out a propaganda book defending the sport. The rules aren’t unified between the schools. Everything is a mess. It’s very possible that football will cease to exist.

(BTW, the first part of this summary was generated by ChatGPT from the script I used to create the video. The last paragraph is mine. What do you think?)