Unexpected Findings in the History of the Shotgun Formation

Over the past fifteen years, the NFL has seen an explosion in the frequency the shotgun formation is being used in games. Most football fans know the shotgun started from the old single-wing formation–the base offense for every NFL team in the 1930’s. The single wing soon got phased out over the course of the 1940’s, starting with the Chicago Bears’ T-formation, led by the strong right arm of Sid Luckman.  The last play ran in the NFL by the single-wing offense was a touchdown pass by Pittsburgh’s Jim Finks in the 1951 season finale.

The shotgun formation was then extinct for the next twenty years, only to be picked back up by Joe Namath’s cartilage-less kneecaps and Roger Staubach. Right?

Wrong.

As NFL historians and well-versed Frisco fanatics know, the Shotgun was briefly revived by the 49ers in 1960 by their coach, Red Hickey. He was the one who coined the phrase, “Shotgun Formation.” His version, had an empty backfield with a player coming in motion. The plays were usually roll-outs and required a mobile quarterback to run the new formation. The formation helped the team finish the 1960 season on a high note but the results were not as good for the next season. The Bears helped end the formation by sending double A-gap blitzes into the backfield for sacks repeatedly (The Hecker Shotgun was almost an exclusive passing formation). Thus, the shotgun formation fell back into dormancy once again. No team used it in the ten years before or after. Right.

Right.

Wrong again!

(Writer’s note: this is where the “Unexpected Findings” part of the title comes into play) In the past two years of looking at old football film, I have come across a few interesting films that made me do a double-take as I then frantically hit the rewind button over and over.

The reclusive shotgun formation had briefly showed itself in it’s supposed extinction period

The JD Salinger-like formation was seen on two occasions on film. The first came in the 1956 NFL Championship Game. It was deployed in the second half by the Chicago Bears for quarterbacks Ed Brown and George Blanda. They were getting murdered under center by the heavy pass rush of the New York Giants. In order to decrease time wasted dropping back, the bears shotgunned the ball in passing situations. Nothing seemed to work as the Giants took the Bears to the proverbial slaughterhouse, 47-7.

So the evoluti0n of the Shotgun formation was not a total resurrection from a long extinction. In between, it would make super brief guest appearances that most did not notice. The Shotgun has come a long way in the landscape of the NFL.

And no research is needed to find that out.

-Luke

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