Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Superbowl: Fort Worth & The Spread Offense

The Spread Offense, which we'll see Sunday in the Superbowl, originated with the team of mighty orphans in Fort Worth at The Masonic Home, an invention of Rusty Russell (Jim Dent writes about them in his book Twelve Mighty Orphans). It's exciting to think of this strategy being used all these years later by professional teams and watched by millions.

Fort Worth is buzzing with football excitement. The Superbowl will be played just 11 miles east of downtown in the new Cowboy Stadium. The Steelers are set up in the new Omni Hotel and practicing at TCU's stadium, ESPN is set up and running in downtown's Sundance Square. Some say this town has gone football crazy like it was in the '30s when the scraggly scrawny Mighty Mites, using new play strategies to beat bigger teams, were drawing sell-out crowds at Farrington Field (above) and TCU had undefeated teams and won two national championships.

When TCU won in the inaugural Cotton Bowl game in 1937, their starting backfield consisted of future Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh and three former Mighty Mites: Harold McClure, Glen "Donkey" Roberts, and Scott McCall. Former Mighty Mite Allie White also played on that TCU team. TCU won the National Championship the next year in 1938. The Masonic Home football alumni had learned the spread offense under Rusty Russell before they went on to play at TCU.

In fact, says Russell's grandson, Russell Morton, who is involved in developing the movie based on Dent's book, from the time Russell arrived in the late 1920s at the Masonic Home, "Mr. and Mrs. Russell enjoyed a very close friendship with TCU coaching legend Leo "Dutch" Meyer and his wife, playing bridge on a regular basis as couples and sharing their love of football and strategy." In 1952 Meyer wrote a book detailing his ideas about football formations entitled Spread Formation Football, in which the first sentence was, "Spread formations are not new to football," and they certainly weren't to Meyer who had benefited from a steady flow of Mighty Mites who had been running Russell's spread offense since the late 1920s. Meyer had been an assistant coach at TCU when Russell first came to Fort Worth and Meyer became TCU's head coach in 1934.

Fort Worth has been feverishly lovin' the TCU Frogs like they loved their winning teams in the 30s and remembering the city's football sports history. Some say the spread offense has created parity among college football teams. As just one of the strategies for the little Davids at the Masonic Home playing against Big Goliath teams, the spread offense has had a long life from its beginnings at the orphanage in Fort Worth.


Mighty Mights at Farrington Field photo

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