"A single-wing tailback," he said in his book, "has the ideal running posture. He's in the middle of the formation, directly behind the center, and back far enough to get the best running angles. But more important, he can see what's going on—because he's almost upright. He's not scrunched over in a three-point stance, his hands are on his knees. He has to be that way in order to do all the things required of a single-wing tailback.
"The T formation was great, but as a T-formation halfback, the view I got was mostly somebody's rear end. That kind of thing can leave an impression on you, especially when you're on a bad team and every time you run where the hole is supposed to be there's nothing but trouser seams. I liked it better in the single wing."
In effect, McKay's scheme was to make' a single-wing tailback out of the deep, back in the I (now sometimes called the "I back"). He would have all the responsibilities of the position save for having to take the center snap. He would become as much the focal point of the offense as the quarterback. He would have to be a thinking runner, responsible for-knowing not only where a play was headed, but also where the alternate routes might be if the way was closed.
As a simple example, say the tailback comes out of the huddle with a play' called. Upright, he sees that the defensive tackle at the point of attack has shifted over and is on the inside shoulder of the man who is supposed to block him to the outside. The tailback knows immediately that the block can't be made. The blocker knows it, too. But the play is not doomed. They both adjust, each knowing what has to be done. The target hole shifts to the outside, and the blocker will now take his man to the inside. As the play unfolds, and linebackers start stunting, or doing something, other than what they were supposed to do, the blocking rules might change again on the fly. The tailback's options open again. The same play might break at three or four different spots. It is "run to daylight" in its most sophisticated form.
Dave Levy remembers McKay's day-to-day—and season-to-season—enthusiasm as the I formation's potential unfolded. Now an assistant athletic director at USC, Levy was one of McKay's assistant coaches. "We'd be in that film room for hours. We never went home. He'd say, 'Watch this. If we stand this guy up, and this guy moves a step here, the tailback will know right away that the hole is back here.' The more we looked, the more we saw. It was simply a matter of programming the tailbacks. Get them to see what was happening be—fore the snap, get them to realize what could happen as the play developed. Then practice it, over and over."
Robinson, himself a onetime McKay assistant, says McKay's genius in those formative times was in his patience. "He'd say, 'Be patient, it'll come. Don't question the offense.' We'd run a play, and whomp, eight men would tackle the tailback. Whomp, whomp, whomp! No gain. But it was like Rocky Marciano hitting you in the arm, in the elbow, anyplace. Pretty soon it starts taking a toll. Pretty soon the holes were there."
The real job, says Fertig, was to convince the tailback. Fertig, too, was a USC assistant coach after his playing days, and is himself a believer. "Coach McKay was right there with that tailback every day, telling him, 'You can't lose faith. It'll go, it'll go,' and making him run the play again. He coached hell out of those tailbacks."
Time would prove how closely the power I resembled the single wing. Not only did the tailback have to be a smart runner, but he also had to be a willing and enduring one—the legs of the offense. In his down stance ahead of the tailback, the fullback was in no position to do much else but block. "The only way the tailback can return the favor," says McKay, "is to have 8.5 speed and hop around the fullback fast." As time went by, the fullback's running opportunities would vary (Sam Cunningham and Mosi Tatupu and lately Lynn Cain, for example, got more chances) but it was a role made to order for sufferers in silence. Line blocking in the I called for sustaining individual blocks as long as possible, and being alert to pick up the backside pursuit. Downfield blocking was less a factor. Eventually, McKay began bringing in larger offensive linemen for this reason.
McKay did not take a vacation that third summer, the summer of '62. The power I was not really off the launch pad, and he was not sure how much he could entrust to the tailback. That fall he alternated the two best runners he had: Willie Brown (now one of his assistants at Tampa Bay) and Ken Del Conte (now a filmmaker). At 5'11", 172 pounds, Brown was built more along the lines of a flanker—he was, in fact, switched there the following year. Although the leading rusher for the '62 season, he carried only 88 times. The position at that point, says. McKay, simply was not defined.
"We shifted, we used motion, we did many of the things the Cowboys are doing right now—just feeling our way. I'd heard so many things about the I. Everything I heard proved false. Coaches said, 'You can't run outside.' We ran outside. They said, 'you can't run to the short side of the field.' We ran to the short side. They said, 'You can't make this block or that block.' They were wrong."