Innovation is sometimes simpler than you would think.

On Sports Illustrated today, there’s an interesting excerpt from the book When Saturday Mattered Most by Mark Beech.  It’s about Army Black Knights football coach Red Blaik’s invention of the famous “Lonesome End” formation in 1958:

Blaik[…] began to wonder. What if a team lined up in nothing but unbalanced wide-receiver sets, making them constitute the entirety of the offensive attack? And what if the receiver — in Blaik’s words the “far flanker” — was positioned far wider than was normal?

Unbalancing his offensive line, Blaik knew, would not only give his offense overwhelming force on one side, but it would also compel the defense to make a choice — whether to remain in its normal alignment, conceding the advantage to Army’s running game on the strong side, or to shift players over Army’s extra blockers, leaving itself exposed to a play that went the other way. Splitting the end extremely wide on the strong side would break up the defensive front.

What’s cool about this is how seemingly minor this innovation was.  So he had the end stand a bit further out.  So what?  But sometimes, making minor tweaks can lead to game-changing results, just because no one else thought of it because it seemed so minor.

I remember in Marv Levy’s book Where Else Would You Rather Be?, he mentioned how some American football coaches who went to the Canadian league dealt with the fact that Canadian football is 12 against 12, rather than American-style 11 against 11.  Levy said they simply put the extra player far out near the sideline, forcing one man to cover him.  And then just ignored those players, and played 11-on-11 football.  Not the ideal solution, but still clever.

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