In the last game of the season, the Carlisle Indians (9-1) took on the Big Ten champs, the heavily favored University of Chicago. Worse, the Indians had lost their star quarterback, Frank Mt. Pleasant, to a broken thumb. Over 27,000 Chicago fans (below) were eager for a “massacre at Marshall Field.”
Chicago’s coach, Amos Alonzo Stagg, was Pop Warner’s rival in trick plays and experimenting with the new passing game. To shut down the Indians’ air attack, Stagg had a new trick: the first “pass defense.” It was simple. When the ball’s snapped, knock down the Indians go-to receivers, Exendine and Gardner. If they get up and run, knock ‘em down again. It was all legal.
During the game, it worked well into the 2nd half, limiting the Indians to two field goals (worth 4 pts.) for an 8-0 lead. Then the Indians fought knockdowns with a knockdown for the ages. On a 1st down, Exendine let the Chicago defenders knock him out of bounds. While the Chicago boys returned to the play, Exendine ran down the sideline behind the Carlisle bench and the photographers. Exendine (right) came back on the field 25 yards downfield, all alone.
Carlisle’s fullback, Hauser, having scrambled behind the line, launched a pass. It spiraled high and true against a blue sky: a 40-yard bomb. The crowd gasped, Chicago players wheeled, and the ball fell into Exendine’s arms. He trotted, untouched, across the goal line.
The play would never happen again. After Chicago’s 18-4 loss to the Indians, Stagg forced a rule change: any player going out of bounds was out of the play.
Carlisle’s trick plays and the ways they rewrote the rulebook rest in the shadow of history. But the next time you see a spiraling pass, sailing high and true, look for the ghosts, the pioneers of the pass, who first gave it flight.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brian Meehl has published four novels with Random House: Out of Patience, Suck It Up, Suck It Up and Die,and You Don’t Know About Me. His books have garnered a Junior Library Guild Selection, a Blue Ribbon from the Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books and starred reviews in Publishers Weekly. In a former incarnation, Meehl was a puppeteer on “Sesame Street” and in Jim Henson films, including “The Dark Crystal.” His transition from puppets to pen included writing for television shows such as “The Magic School Bus” and “Between the Lions,” for which he won three Emmys. Meehl lives in Connecticut and is writing Blowback ’63 and Blowback ’94. For more information about this author and his exciting books, please visit www.brianmeehl.com and/or www.blowbacktrilogy.com.