Bills prove there's no need to huddle up

John Steadman

January 23, 1992|By John Steadman

MINNEAPOLIS -- Playing football without a huddle is a "new-old" concept that has enabled the Buffalo Bills to maximize their offense while creating and compounding defensive problems. Result: a plus for them, a major distraction for the opposition.

It has brought the man who introduced the idea to the National Football League, one Ted Marchibroda, increased attention and applause. But, in truth, there's nothing that hasn't been tried before, going back to when a football was stuffed rather than inflated.

When the game was invented, it was played without a huddle. And Bill Dudley, a member of both the college and pro football halls of fame, remembers his high school coach in Bluefield, Va., utilized a similar plan. And what about Gallaudet and other deaf institutions with football teams? They don't need a huddle.

Ten years ago, Archie Cooley, then coach at Mississippi Valley State, had his team calling signals at the line of scrimmage. But Cooley is remembered more for the long pink Cadillac he drove when visiting the homes of impressionable young players he was trying to recruit.

Marchibroda remembers riding in a car-pool to practice in the early 1960s when he was a Washington Redskins assistant, with three other coaches -- the late Bill McPeak, Abe Gibron and Chuck Cherundolo. A comment was made that "someday an offense would work without a huddle."

He can't remember whom to credit with the suggestion, but it intrigued him at the time and this became the genesis for Marchibroda's instituting the no-huddle concept with the Bills. Since then they have won 20 games, lost three and have been in the last two Super Bowls.

With a statement that will go unchallenged, he put the matter in perspective when he said, "The beauty of the no-huddle offense is winning."

And that, indeed, is irrefutable. No longer does a quarterback have to go into a huddle to enumerate each play. It happens before the snap of the ball and increases the movement of the game.

"The thought was too many words were being used in the huddle by the quarterback," he pointed out. "In fact, the first player who told me that was Sonny Jurgensen when he was with the Redskins. We were putting in a new play. He remarked it required 13 words.

"We tried to condense it after that, but we weren't thinking no-huddle at that stage. Then, in 1990, playing the Philadelphia Eagles, we needed a surprise element and went to it. We also won, 30-23, and it told us we had something that was good."

Marchibroda was asked to describe how a play was called before he minimized the verbiage to increase the play-count. He complied by offering the following example:

"Split right. . .flare. . .866. . . f. . .flat-in. . .on 2. . .ready. . .break." Now that same play has been reduced so Bills quarterback Jim Kelly needs only four words to convey the same message.

From the standpoint of time, it takes from 18 to 20 seconds to get the play under way in going without a huddle. Meanwhile, the defensive players are trying to expedite their positioning to keep up with the Bills coming at them.

Marchibroda was asked if in the era of Clark Shaughnessy, who had a complex offense, if it would have been possible to have achieved the same thing.

"I doubt it," he replied. "Shaughnessy put an enormous load on the quarterback and what we have done with the no-huddle would have been virtually impossible in his system."

Marchibroda says the Bills are getting more plays per game than any team in the NFL and, during the course of a season, it probably adds up to 120 to 150 more than the next highest offense.

"Overall, that's like having the ball for more than two full games. I made a study and concluded the number of plays is more important than time of possession."

Washington coach Joe Gibbs doesn't look on the no-huddle approach as a gimmick.

"I like it because it has some great principles," he said. "You need a quarterback who is comfortable with it. You can check them out on film, but to feel the tempo you have to face them on the field."

Marchibroda, who spent five of his 30 NFL years in Baltimore as head coach of the Colts, is now hearing he's considered for the head job in Indianapolis. He doesn't say so but he wants another opportunity, at age 60, to try it again, preferably without a huddle.

He took what used to be the "two-minute offense" and spread it out for the entire game.

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