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Single-wing offense takes flight in Miami

It's one of those opinionated Sundays . . .

There aren't any legitimate graybeards on the Buffalo Bills' defensive coaching staff, but any student of the history of football strategy should know all about the old single-wing offense. Basically that is what the Miami Dolphins' "new" Wildcat offense, which Buffalo will face today, is about.

In the Wildcat attack, the Dolphins line up in a widened spread formation. The ball is then snapped to either the quarterback or a running back. If it's a running back the play can develop into a run or sometimes a pass. That's what happened early this season when running back Ronnie Brown ended up with four rushing touchdowns and threw a surprise pass in Miami's surprise victory over New England.

A few other teams have used a variation of the Wildcat since then. It's further evidence that nothing in football is really new. In the leather-helmet era of the NFL most teams used some style of the single-wing. The last team to use the formation was the Pittsburgh Steelers of the '50s.

The single wing was familiar to viewers of the old Dumont TV network in the early '50s when it televised Eastern college football on Saturdays. The most entertaining version was that of the Princeton Tigers, whose coach, Charlie Caldwell, introduced his "buck-lateral series," with the ball moving from one back to the next since there was a tailback, blocking back, fullback and wing back in the single wing setup. Princeton tailback Dick Kazmaier was the last Ivy Leaguer to win the Heisman trophy. His blocking back was George Stevens, a Nichols School graduate.

The Miami version of the single wing is nowhere near as sophisticated as Caldwell's strategy nor could it be considering the speed and quickness of today's NFL defenders. The way to stop the Dolphins' Wildcat is disciplined defense. Considering all the new veterans Buffalo added to its defense this season, discipline should be probable today.


Speaking of the Bills' defense, Kyle Williams, their third-year tackle, has become one of the league's most underrated defenders.


Has overtime become part of the Sabres' regulation package? A fan can't take time to visit his refrigerator for a quick refreshment without something wild coming out of this breathtaking team. The players themselves don't get to catch their breath until election-day week when they finally have three consecutive days off.


Is this the season of football's elder statesmen? Ralph Wilson at 90 is enjoying his Bills more than he has in a decade while Joe Paterno, now coaching from the press box in his ninth decade, has his best Penn State team in years.


Have we reached a time in major-league sports where Nero is fiddling while Rome burns? The Tampa Bay Rays are the feel-good story of the year in baseball, but now it turns out the team is battling to survive financially. The problem is that Florida is full of retirees on fixed incomes and frequent visits to Tropicana Park are not in their budgets. The baseball red-hots in Florida are snow birds who roost in that part of the state only during the winter months.

Meanwhile in Dallas, the Cowboys are awash in money, but the owners trying to keep up with Jerry Jones' luxury-box lifestyle are faced with the doomsday season of 2010 when there will be no salary cap and ticket prices and players' salaries may produce a jock version of the last days of the Roman Empire.

Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.

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