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Taking a dive

Fullbacks shine as teams bring back classic run play

Posted: Thursday December 14, 2006 12:27PM; Updated: Thursday December 14, 2006 4:06PM
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The Saints' Mike Karney scored the three touchdowns -- the first three of his career -- in a win over Dallas last week.
The Saints' Mike Karney scored the three touchdowns -- the first three of his career -- in a win over Dallas last week.
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When I was in high school we made our own playbooks. We wrote down every play. The first two that I entered in my book were Dive Left and Dive Right. The dive play was the staple of the Clark Shaughnessy T-formation that was introduced in 1940, the play you simply had to stop if you wanted to play defense.

If you live long enough, you will see everything come around a second time. The dive play has returned to the NFL. It's slightly different now, basically in the contours of the people who are running it. It has been turned over to the big guys, the 250-pound monsters, the blockers, the people who prompt the announcers to say, "Well, that's his one carry this season, haw haw haw."

Among the many innovations Shaughnessy brought in when he revolutionized offensive football in 1940 was the idea of wider splits on the line. The hole was already created. The linemen didn't have to get down and dig their guys out. They could get away with brush-blocking them. Sometimes they'd run a quick trap or a crossblock, hitting the defenders at angles, and then the back, who was set close to the line, was through in a heartbeat, whoosh! Gone.

Old line coaches in the NFL laughed at Shaughnessy. "You run that back through there without a blocking back in front of him, you'll get him killed," the Packers' Curley Lambeau said. But it worked. It dazzled people. Shaughnessy ran it at Stanford and won the Rose Bowl with it. Pete Kmetovic and Hugh Gallarneau hitting the hole so quickly ... how do you stop them? The Bears, who had installed the scheme, under Shaughnessy's tutelage, won the NFL championship in '40 with guys like Ray Nolting and Hall of Famer George McAfee supplying the burst.

People caught up with it. Defensive linemen learned to fight the pressure. Linebackers were plugged in to fill the holes. But for some reason ... maybe it's because of the overall erosion of run-stopping skills, with everyone tuned in to rushing the passer ... the dive play has returned, and with quite interesting results.

Saints vs. Cowboys last Sunday night. The Saints, down 7-0 in the first quarter, have a second and one on their own 21. They're in an I-formation with Mike Karney, a 258-pound fullback, set in front of Reggie Bush. Karney gets the handoff on a quickie off right guard. He bursts through for eight yards. "Maybe that was his first run of the year," John Madden says on TV. It's the old dive play, but with a guy almost the size of two George McAfees carrying the ball.

Coming into the game Karney had carried six times for 10 yards this season, nine for 19 in his previous two years in New Orleans. But it's a different ballgame now.

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