The Single Wing: Quarterbacking for Fullbacks

Decades before the quarterback position would be redefined and dominated by the likes of Dan Marino or Peyton Manning, a successful quarterback in a single wing offense needed to excel at two things, neither of which was throwing the football.

He had to be able to run and block. Like a fullback.

A good quarterback in a single wing offense runs the ball between the tackles and blocks defensive lineman and linebackers. A great single wing quarterback chops down defensive lineman at the knees, turning them into falling trees, using his upper body as a battering ram to put linebackers on the ground, willing the football across the first down marker on 3rd and 1.

1947 AAFC Championship Game New York Yankees line up in the single wing against the Cleveland Browns Photo: Golden Rankings

For anyone with dreams of playing like Tom Brady, don’t worry; it’s unlikely you will be quarterbacking this offense today. This isn’t even an offense you would have quarterbacked 40 years ago. In fact, the last NFL team to use the single wing offense was the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1951. Currently, this old-time offense usually only rears its head at the high school and youth levels.

The Single Wing produces the kind of football that puts fans to sleep but keeps defenses up at night because even if you stop the single wing, you won’t leave the game as healthy as you walked into it. Offensive linemen rumble and crash into unsuspecting defensive ends and climb to the second level targeting linebackers who helplessly brace for impact.

But why has this prehistoric playbook gone extinct at the pro level? The answer to that is evolution. The game of football has evolved into a track meet that is cultivated inside a weight room. Yes, the players are getting bigger, but they are getting even faster. Smart coaches tailor their offenses to give their speedsters room to run, rendering useless an unbalanced line, double tight end formations with essentially two fullbacks. As the game has grown, coaches and players have gotten smarter. Experienced defensive lineman control multiple gaps while executing techniques to keep their linebackers untouched by ascending linemen. Disciplined linebackers aren’t as easily fooled by dummy motions and multiple pulling linemen.

Because of this, the last of the dinosaurs walk the earth over high school and youth fields where play recognition isn’t on par with the pros. Kids who have only known Marcus Mariota and Odell Beckham Jr. don’t expect to walk onto their high school’s field seeing the lasting legacy of the great coach Pop Warner. But yet they do.

American high schools like New Haven, Xavier (NY), and Apopka (Florida) have made their mark on their respective leagues by taking advantage of this unique, old-school offense. Like these successful programs, the international game could benefit from opening the history books. The ability to control the ball, chew the clock, and impose your will on a defense is invaluable. For a team lacking a prolific passer, they may want to consider this offense which is predicated on intricate blocking schemes, the downhill running game, and a lot of heart.


Raphael Chierchio is from New York and a college student at Cornell University. He has played football all his life and currently plays on the lightweight football team at Cornell. He is also involved in sports media at Cornell.