What were the seminal offenses/defenses of each decade?

Inspired by this post, remember the definition of “seminal” when answering. Think of it (as it was in the original post) as The Great Gatsby was to books in the 1920s as X was to offensive/defensive schemes in Y.

Here are my picks. Add your own:

1900s – 1910s: Single-wing.

1920s: Notre Dame Box.

1930s: I’d like to choose the TCU/Dutch Meyer/Sammy Baugh spread offense but I’m not sure this counts as seminal. I leave this one for the readers.

1940s: T formation.

1950s: “Pro-style” offensive schemes of Paul Brown (Cleveland Browns), Weeb Ewbank (Baltimore Colts), and Vince Lombardi (Packers), and the 4-3 defense developed by, among others, Tom Landry as defensive coordinator of the New York Giants. Almost everything in the current NFL is merely a footnote to the 1950s.

1960s: Veer.

1970s: Wishbone.

1980s: West Coast Offense and Zone Blitzes.

1990s: Zone blocking and multiple-eight man front defenses.

2000s: Run-first spread offense and, to a lesser extent (though incredibly important on the lower levels), the Airraid.

  • Anonymous

    Ted: I knew I wanted your input. When did more modern coverage concepts come into play? I know that wasn’t until fairly late. And while the 3-stack was big during the 2000s, I’m not sure it’s the “seminal” D given how few still use it, just a few years later. I agree that defenses have “expanded” (to use Homer Smith’s term) into 3-3 and 4-2 looks, but not sure if the 3-stack achieved that same status. But it’s a good debate.

  • Dan

    Thank you for this. Lots of fun. I have two questions. The first is, “When exactly was the bump n’ run introduced?” I know Hank Stram perfected it and it is still a part of all situational defenses to this day. The second question is, “Where does the single back offense fit into this?” It seems like there was a time when every pro offense ran this and all the teams kind of looked alike. Now this too seems more situational.

  • Dan

    Oops. I forgot one other thought. Please explain your understanding of which came first, the veer or the wishbone. I have seen conflicting documentaries on this. I associate the true veer with the Univ. of Houston but I know there were options that looked like the veer back in the early 50’s.

  • J.Schnauzer

    1890s: Flying Wedge
    1950s: The myriad “platoon” substitution schemes

  • Anonymous

    My understanding — and someone else can chime in — is that the veer came first and the wishbone was a spin on the veer with the idea being to add a lead blocker and run it to either side.

    On the other questions, I agree that the development of bump and run, the one-back, the run and shoot, the no-huddle (or even just the huddle itself!) and other innovations were important, but either because they weren’t “seminal” enough or because the innovations were more gradual, I didn’t include them above.

  • Anonymous

    The 60’s also brought the rise of the I Back Formation and the Oklahoma 52 Defense

  • Edmond Seay

    Chris: Offense of the 30’s had to be the Warner direct-snap Double Wing. For defense in the 50’s, I could make a pretty good argument for the Oklahoma 5-2. For the 2000s, make the D the 3-Stack.

  • Squigglers

    Great concept. The changes I would make for offense would be

    1950s – split-t / wing-t
    1960s – pro-style
    1970s – wishbone/veer

  • Stan Brown

    zone blocking came out in the 80s

  • Sonofchains

    I think of the wing T during the 1960s. Veer during the 70s. Houston was running it, Auburn,……

  • BusterBrown

    Quarters coverage with the extremely athletic OLB, every school runs this nowadays on first down, and if they don’t their DC just got fired.

  • Rafael

    I would agree about the I formation being snubbed. You also had the 46 or Bear Defense in the 80s that was left out. And with the way two no-huddle teams make it to the national championship game how can that be left out? Yea it’s been around since the 80s but both Oregon and Auburn run the “hurry up” no huddle which I think will be the seminal offense of this decade.

  • Brad

    I would include the Cover Two defense for the 70s. People forget, but the Steelers defense that dominated the 1970s was essentially a Cover Two, play zone, keep ’em in front of you defense.

  • Thinking about offenses in Houston in the ’80s, there was the Run ‘n’ Shoot that produced huge numbers at U of H (Andre Ware & David Klingler), and then it migrated to the NFL via the Oilers and Falcons. I believe Spurrier’s Fun ‘n’ Gun was a variation of this in the ’90s.

  • NMLSooner

    The veer – beautifully simplistic. The wishbone – God’s hand reaching down and touching football with a bit of heaven.

  • Tpropson77

    Absolutely right. Bellard got the idea (and some help) from Yeoman at Houston, who had already developed his veer approach. Two brilliant, innovative offenses.

  • Tpropson77

    The “I” and the Oklahoma 52 were the two I thought of, also.

  • Bcherry168

    One should be aware that the Wikipedia item on the T-Formation is in error about some things. For one, Dana X. Bible at the University of Texas always ran the single wing formation there.

    In 1947, Blair Cherry took over as head coach. He went to George Halas and learned about the T-Formation from him, and installed it at Texas in 1947. His quarterback was Bobby Layne.

  • Nathan Oyler

    Kansas City with Hank Stram in the 1960s-70s

    The moving pocket (rolling a QB out)
    Double TE sets
    Iform Sets
    Triple Stack