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It also lacked many of the refined mechanical and tactical innovations that are commonplace in modern football. For instance, Reid was surprised to note that wide receivers assumed a three-point stance before the snap of the ball—today they stand upright, which allows them a broader view of the defensive backfield. The pass defenders, meanwhile, stood upright on the old film, with one foot forward, one back, and then just backpedaled to stay with the receivers. In the modern NFL, backfield defenders poise in a forward crouch with their weight evenly balanced on both legs, and retreat by taking short stutter-steps backward, ready to bolt in either direction and avoiding the crossover step, a potentially costly mistake that can offer a receiver the split-second advantage he needs to break away.
Basic positioning along the line of scrimmage has changed as well. A few plays in, Reid noted that the Giants defensive tackles, Dick Modzelewski and Rosey Grier, were “flexed back off the ball”—that is, set up more than a yard away from the Colts linemen. “That’s probably for the run game,” Reid said, explaining that by hanging back from the line of scrimmage, the defenders could get a better look at the direction of the play before attacking.
I asked, “Why wouldn’t you do that today?”
“Well, you give those big guys a head start on you,” Reid said. “At that time I would imagine that the linemen were fairly equal athletically, and now the offensive linemen are so big and the defensive linemen are relatively smaller.” If you’re a defender today, he went on, and you spot a 300-plus-pound blocker a two-step running start, he’ll knock you “right on your ass.”
Reid surmised correctly. I checked the average weight of the starting offensive and defensive linemen in the ’58 game: the Colts’ offensive front five weighed an average of 243 pounds, and the Giants’ defensive front five weighed an average of 244 pounds. Today, offensive lines on average weigh nearly 25 pounds more than defensive fronts.
But while the 4–3 has survived to the present day, the simplicity of the old game often amazed Reid to the point of disbelief. The offensive formations were so basic that many of them are no longer even used in the pro game. The Giants frequently lined up in the T-formation—the quarterback behind the center, and the three running backs lined up horizontally about three yards behind him—and both teams employed the antiquated “single wing,” where one halfback and the fullback line up beside each other, behind the quarterback, while the other halfback splits wide, sometimes all the way out to the flanker position.
The game as it was played in 1958 “is still an entertaining sport to watch, but it’s just not near as complicated,” Reid said. “If I’m calling the plays” on offense, he went on, “I get paid to get into a rhythm with the guy calling the defense” on the other side. When a coach achieves the right “rhythm,” he can sense what his opponent is thinking—and for Reid, grasping the “rhythm” of the classic game was fairly easy. “I can see what the offense is doing,” he said. “You can almost call it offensively and defensively.”
True, but isn't that the case in all sports? It's probably far more pronounced in basketball and football because the level of athleticism has changed so much in the last 50 years,l but if you sent a AAA team back to the 20's in a delorean they'd be able to compete with any of the top teams of that era.
The 2012 14 y.o. Babe Ruth may well already weigh 300 lbs., be pre-diabetic, and be playing Call of Duty all day."
Babe Ruth with Jack Dempsey. Ruth is officially listed at 6'2, Dempsey was usually measured at 6'1 or just a smidge under. I'd guess the Babe was "heightening" but only a wee bit.
Well now here's The Babe with former champ James J Jeffries (R), who was actually slight taller than 6'2 during his championship heyday. This photo is from a 1944 edition of RING magazine. On Babe's left is former top heavyweight contender Sailor Tom Sharkey, who was typically measured at between 5'8 and 5'9.
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