Vince Lombardi’s “Packers’ Sweep” is probably the single most famous play in football. And, if it is not the most famous play on the field, it is undoubtedly the most famous play to have ever been diagrammed. Very few football fans cannot recall the famous “seal here, and a seal here and he runs…. in the alley,” even if they don’t even know what was actually being described; such was the magic of Lombardi:
Whether or not you understood the play itself, you certainly understood the import: A tough runningback turning the corner with a couple of offensive linemen as his personal bodyguards. But, of course, as Vince Lombardi himself explains, a play is just a play; there’s nothing magical to it. It’s about attitude and execution, and, as he also explains in the videos below, the right play comes to personify the heart and soul of an entire team; it makes the whole enterprise go.
But that was then, the common refrain goes. Whether because of the speed of the game, the evolution of offense, or simply the death of the fullback position (which you can see in the diagrams and video had probably the most crucial block in the whole play), the play is simply no longer relevant, having been replaced by zone blocking. Indeed, Bill Walsh’s 49ers, shown in a photo from 1986, was one of the last major NFL teams to run this play.
And it is kind of true that the play is not nearly as popular as it once was, but it — or at least some very similar concepts — have been making a bit of a comeback. The source of the modern “Lombardi Sweep” is the Wing-T “buck-sweep,” maybe the most important play in the entire Wing-T family. (H/t for the image.)
As you can see from the diagram, the concept is very similar: down blocking on the playside with the guards pulling to create an alley for the runner. The main difference between the bucksweep and the Lombardi sweep is the bucksweep has the added element of misdirection with the fullback up the middle.
Since he was at Springdale, [Auburn's Gus] Malzahn has been running a version of the old Wing-T “buck sweep” (also sometimes called the “truck sweep”) from the shotgun. Most teams don’t use this because it’s a kind of slow-developing play to the outside, but Herb Hand once mentioned that it averaged more than 10 yards an attempt at Tulsa for a full season. The play is classic Wing-T: The line, tight ends, and receivers all block “down,” or step to their inside to get an angle to cut off defenders’ pursuit, while both guards pull and lead to the outside. Meanwhile, the quarterback executes a fake, causing the defense to hesitate for just a moment, and off the runner goes. And if the generic buck sweep is classic Wing-T, the Auburn version is classic Malzahn, an age-old concept combined not just with the shotgun but with a funky formation and receiver motion. He can use a variety of sets and looks, but against Mississippi State running back Ben Tate scored on a long touchdown run on this play where Malzahn brought the receiver in a sweep motion and the quarterback, after handing it to Tate, faked giving the ball on the reverse, then faked again as if he was setting up for a play-action pass, all of which is possible in this system.
Below is a simple example from Tulsa (h/t ShakintheSouthland):
The beauty of this concept is that, once the blocking is in place, the sky is essentially the limit for additional adjustments. Indeed, even the NFL guys have been running something similar for some time, calling it “truck sweep.” The blocking on this varies, but a good place to start is with the crack sweep concept I have previously discussed.
There’s no magic here, and it’s important to remember Lombardi’s dictum: It’s more important to do a few things well than a bunch of clever things poorly. But, given the prevalence of the zone running game today, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the old Wing-T concepts — and, indeed, the old Vince Lombardi man blocked concepts as well — making a resurgence. Some things just never get old.