First things first. You cannot hurt yourselves much by buying Doug Farrar’s new book “The Genius of Desperation”. I have only one complaint about it. It does mangle the history of the one gap 4-3 when it discusses the Miami 4-3 that Jimmy Johnson helped introduce into the pros. From the beginning there were one gap 4-3s. Just, the 4-3s of Tom Landry were about gap control, not hard core pursuit. Otherwise it’s a very good book. Oh yes, the first edition has some issues in the diagrams, but if he gets a second edition, perhaps those will be fixed.

Dr Z’s classic now has a Kindle edition. If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can get the book for free (for now).

Also, for a limited time, Coach Paul Alexander has a video of the back and forth of Super Bowl LIII, of the 5 UP defense the Patriots used, the tricks the Rams used, and how both teams adapted to defeat the respective defenses. Just, its now unlisted
(can’t be searched for) and it may disappear in time. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Amazon.com, if you guys don’t know, is a  terrific source of penny books, books that third parties sell through Amazon for a penny. I’ve picked up a slew of books that way, and I’m reading quite a few of them. Of them, the most promising is “Education of a Coach” by David Halberstam, but I’m not going to talk about it until I finish some film study of the 1990 Super Bowl. David Halberstam has said some things about that game that absolutely deserve video study, so I’m in the middle of doing that. In  the meantime, I’ll mention a book I picked up for sentimental reasons, my father’s only football book when I was young, the book “Championship Football”, by Dana X. Bible.

Originally copyrighted in 1947, and a fifth printing from 1949, the book is old. The book is musty, and it’s a library copy from a junior high near Texarkana Texas. For all I know, this book was held by H Ross Perot some time in the past.

My first impression was how relevant the material was. Not the bits on strategy, but other things, like plays, like tips on playing, tips on blocking technique, tips on tackling a quarterback higher, so that you pin his arms to his body. Photographs, such as Bobby Lane showing people how to pass the ball, and players in 2, 3, and 4 point stances, are useful. Someone needs to resurrect this book, at least in PDF form, if nothing else.

The late 40s were a period when the T formation was coming into common use, but the older formations, such as the single and double wing, long and short punt formations, were still around. Dana talks knowledgeably about spinning backs, or spinners.

Dr Z: Vick as back 4, Duckett as 3, Dunn as 1, Koslowski as 2.

Spinners? You are a Dr Z fan, aren’t you? Can’t you remember Dr Z, Paul Zimmerman, trying to convince Dan Reeves to use Michael Vick as a single wing tailback, and growing sentimental about spinners?

In my dream, I lined up Vick at the run-pass tailback spot. T.J. Duckett was my spinning fullback. Warrick Dunn was the wingback, and Brian Kozlowski, normally the second tight end, was the blocking back. I just couldn’t shake the vision. Finally I called Dan Reeves, who was the Falcons’ coach at the time. Of all the loony calls he’s ever gotten, this must have ranked right up there. Anyway, I laid it all out for him, ending with Duckett as the old Michigan-style spinning fullback.

“What’s a spinning fullback?” Reeves said, and I realized that I was either real old or just dopier than usual. The idea never got any further, but I still think something like that would light up the sky.

Well, Dana has a whole page (or more) on spinners, and not just spinners, he offers a variety of formations on those pages.

Zone defenses, 1940s style. The 5-4 is what we'd call a 34 today.

Curious about the origins of scouting? Wonder how it was done before Steve Belichick came out with his scouting book? I found it interesting to compare pages between the older and the newer book. Seem familiar?

Scouting tips from Steve's book

Scouting tips from Dana's book.

Of course, strategy in those days was incredibly conservative, as offenses were not really well developed in  those days.This is a strategy chart from Dana’s book.

That chart did more to throw me for a loop than anything else, though when teams would quick kick here and there, I was at least ready for the tactic.

Upshot? Terrific book. It probably needs to be preserved in a PDF version, one that won’t age over time. These library copies won’t be around forever.

Update: Google Books has a scan of this book.

This book is a classic, and it’s a shame that it hasn’t been reprinted. Dr Z, Paul Zimmerman, was the original video wonk, the guy who charted football games, who got his head into the trenches and tried to give the fans the deeper view of the game. A college football player and minor leaguer, it was when he was a sports writer for the New York Post that he wrote the first version of this book. Revised in the 1980s, just before the heydey of the Chicago Bears, you get plenty of quotes from people like Don Shula, but also quite a bit of text from Bill Walsh.

Anyway, his chapter on running backs is an etch-onto-your-body all time must read. His two page diagram on the progression of defenses through history a total delight (one page of that is shown below).

Now, one thing I’ll warn you is that Dr Z has a tendency to really love his older football. His hope that somehow the single  wing would reemerge in football was second to none. There is some serious irony in the fact his stroke happened before he could really talk about things like the modern Wildcat. He wasn’t all that fond of modern spread football and all this passing that was happening in the 1980s.

Back to the running back chapter. These two paragraphs set the framework for a great great read.

They come into pro football all instinct and nerve, without the surgical scars on the knees or the knowledge of what it’s like to get hit by a 230-pound linebacker. They burn brightly, and by the time they’re 30 or so they might still be around, but they’re different players. They know how to pass-block, and they can run their pass routes without making any mistakes; they can block in front of a ballcarrier, and they run just well enough to be considered runners. They dive – and survive.

Running back is a position governed by instinct, and many of the great ballcarriers were never better than they were as freshman pros. It’s the most instinctive position in football, the only one in which a rookie can step in with a total lack of knowledge of everything except running the football, and be a success.

This guy was a great sports writer. I’m not the only one who thinks so. Peter King wrote this homage on the SI site, which, once again, I’d consider a must read.

Before I get too sentimental – his stroke was a crying shame – let’s just say the paperback can be purchased through third parties on Amazon and it’s a beg borrow or steal kind of book for the hard core fan.