Intended to be anecdotal and also suitable for families, I didn’t expect to get a lot from this book.


As many drinking stories as have accumulated with respect to Bobby Layne, I was worried that all I would get would be anecdotes. But no, a careful reading of this small book yields some real information on the history of play in the NFL. For example, this bit from his chapter on defenses (1):

During the early 1950’s, the big years for the Detroit Lions, the defenses were not as complicated as today. The flanker back, who is really an end, revolutionized pro football. Until this innovation, and I don’t know who started it, defenses were mostly the same. Nearly every team played a 5-2 with four guys deep to take care of the passes.

Of course there were adjustments but basically the five men up front were keyed to stop any inside running plays. The two linebackers were responsible for the outside and short passes, while the four men in the backfield played tight to help out with a tackle or be ready for a pass.

Later, in a chapter called “Coaching”, he talks about the difference between the rush coming from a five man versus a four man line(2):

Even in the past five years, play has changed considerably. There used to be nothing but five man lines, with two linebackers, and four deep men. The day of the five man line is gone, simply because the offense introduced a new receiver with the flanker back.

There used to be tough, agile ends – guys like Bill McPeak, now coach of the Redskins; Norm Willey of the Eagles and Ed Sprinkle of the Bears, who could escape the blockers by force and guile. It was the end’s job, in those days, to put pressure on the quarterbacks.

With the coming of the four man line, the ends disappeared altogether. Guys like McPeak, Willey and Sprinkle would be linebackers today. The four man line is made up of the biggest men on the team. Besides being big, today’s four defensive linemen are usually so tall, you’d think they would be playing basketball instead of harassing quarterbacks.

In today’s game, you will see those tall linemen charging up the middle. The toughest job for a quarterback is to see over or under them, so he can spot his receivers.

There are sections where he discusses the increasing specialization of the NFL “no such thing as a triple threat back in professional football” and the single wing “good offense, but it takes as much out of you as the opposition”. He makes it clear he prefers to call plays, talks about the art of play calling, gives his opinions of the GOAT, as far as QBs go (Sammy Baugh. Joe Schmidt is his linebacker GOAT). Overall, not as much coaching info as a coaching guide, but it’s arguable that Bobby Layne was the one of the best QBs of the 1950s, and the opinions of such an expert do carry some weight.

It’s useful on a coaches or fan’s bookshelf. Just enough technique to be useful.

Notes and References

1. Layne and Drum, pp 52-53
2. Layne and Drum, pp 118-119


Bobby Layne and Bob Drum. “Always on Sunday”, Prentice-Hall, New York, 1962.