difficult to imagine, the spiral was not an obvious concept then. Two men seem
to have hit on it at about the same time: Warner, who realized that throwing
the ball point-first would present less surface to the air and make a pass
travel farther, and coach Eddie Cochems at Saint Louis University, who saw that
holding the ball by the laces offered the most secure grip.
downfield overhand spiral was completed on Sept. 5, 1906, when Saint Louis
quarterback Bradbury Robinson threw to teammate Jack Schneider in a
little-noticed game against Carroll College. A more notable pass was completed
against Yale, by Wesleyan on Oct. 3, but Carlisle may deserve partial credit
for that throw: Wesleyan's coach, Howard R. Reiter, claimed he learned how to
throw a spiral from a Carlisle Indian in 1903 when Reiter coached the semipro
Philadelphia Football Athletics and the Indian was on the team.
The Carlisle squad
that gathered on the practice field in September 1907 was the school's most
talented ever, so rich in ability that Warner considered it "about as
perfect a football machine as I ever sent on the field." The quarterback
was Frank Mount Pleasant, a 19-year-old Tuscarora-Iroquois chief's son from
just outside of Niagara Falls, N.Y. He wasn't the only member of the team who
could throw the ball. So could Pete Hauser, a burly 21-year-old Cheyenne from
Oklahoma, who lined up at fullback.
To take advantage
of the Indians' versatility Warner drew up a new offense. Camp would dub it
"the Carlisle formation," but later it would be known as the single
wing. It was predicated on one small move: Warner shifted a halfback out wide,
to outflank the opposing tackle, forming something that looked like a wing. It
opened up a world of possibilities. The Indians could line up as if to
punt--and then throw. No one would know whether they were going to run, pass or
kick. For added measure Warner taught his quarterbacks to sprint out a few
yards to their left or their right, buying more time to throw. The rest of the
players flooded downfield and knocked down any opponent who might be able to
intercept or bat away the pass.
Indians did take to it!" Warner remembered. "Light on their feet as
professional dancers, and every one amazingly skillful with his hands, the
redskins pirouetted in and out until the receiver was well down the field, and
then they shot the ball like a bullet." Carlisle roared off to a 6--0
start. On Oct. 26 they went to Philadelphia to face unbeaten Penn, ranked
fourth in the nation, before a crowd of 22,800. No team all season had crossed
the Quakers' goal line. But on just the second play of the game Hauser whipped
a 40-yard pass over the middle that William Gardner caught on a dead run to set
up a touchdown.
There are a few
signal moments in the evolution of football, and this was one of them. Imagine
the confusion of the defenders. Suddenly the center snapped the ball three
yards deep to a man who was a powerful runner, a deadeye passer and a great
kicker. Hauser's pass to Gardner must have felt like an electric charge.
"It will be talked of often this year," the Philadelphia North American
said. "A lordly throw, a hurl that went farther than many a kick." It
was the sporting equivalent of the Wright brothers' taking off at Kitty Hawk.
From that moment on, Carlisle threw all over the field.
pass was child's play," the New York Herald reported. The Indians
"tried it on the first down, on the second down, on the third down--any
down and in any emergency--and it was seldom that they did not make something
fullback, William (Big Bill) Hollenback, said, "I'd see the ball sailing in
my direction. And at the same time came the thundering of what appeared to be a
tribe of Indians racing full tilt in my direction. When this gang hit you, they
just simply wiped you out."
There was one
other significant event that day: Jim Thorpe's debut. In the first half the
Indians' veteran starter at halfback, Albert Payne, wrenched his knee. Thorpe
finally had his chance, and he was so excited that the first time Carlisle
called his number he ran away from his blockers and was buried under a pile of
tacklers. On the next play he gained 45 yards.
outgained Penn 402 yards to 76. Carlisle's fakes and feints so confused the
Quakers that they "finally reached a point where the players ran in circles
emitting wild yawps," Warner remembered. Carlisle won 26--6.