Modern coaches credit Vince Lombardi’s power sweep, known affectionately as the Lombardi Sweep or Packer Sweep, with advancing the concept now known as the outside zone play. The idea of having a multi-way go on a play, of allowing a running back to read blocks and cut accordingly, are ideas coaches typically associated with “modern” football. However, Lombardi’s power sweep had roots in the single-wing.
In his book Run to Daylight!, written together with W.C. Heinz, Lombardi explained the history of his power sweep:
“It began to be a part of me, this sweep, this pay-off-the-mortgage play they are now calling the Lombardi Sweep, during my days at Fordham. I was impressed playing against the Single-Wing sweep the way those Pittsburgh teams of Jock Sutherland ran it. And I was impressed again in those early days of attending coaching clinics when the Single-Wing was discussed. Today our sweep has a lot of those Sutherland qualities, the same guard-pulling techniques, the same ball-carrier cutback feature, and there’s nothing spectacular about it. It’s just a yard-gainer, and I’ve diagrammed it so many times and coached it so much and watched it evolve so often since I first put it in with the Giants eight years ago that I think I see it in my sleep.”
Lombardi, who was part of the “Seven Blocks of Granite” offensive line at Fordham from 1933-1936, had played against Sutherland’s Pittsburgh teams in their prime; Sutherland took the Panthers to four Rose Bowls and won shares of multiple national titles from 1924-1938.
At his core, John Bain “Jock”Sutherland was a Pop Warner disciple. Sutherland had played for Warner at Pittsburgh from 1915-1917 and had taken over for Warner when he became head coach at Pitt in 1924. His single-wing offense was modeled after that of his mentor, leaning heavily on Formation A, or the traditional unbalanced single-wing set, combined with a smattering of Formation B, Warner’s direct snap double-wing. Later, Sutherland took his offense to the NFL in a short stint with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
During his time at Pittsburgh, Sutherland’s off-tackle power and sweep plays became legendary. A newswire report in 1947 stated that Sutherland had 18 different variations of what appeared from the stands to be a simple off-tackle smash. His end sweeps were similar in their deceptive simplicity. In 1951, Princeton coach Charlie Caldwell gave a nod to Sutherland in his book Modern Single Wing Football when he wrote:
“Let us discuss first the tailback off-tackle which, for years, has been the mark of the Single Wing formation. This is the play made famous by the Pittsburgh power drives off-tackle under Jock Sutherland in the early 1930’s.”
Vince Lombardi, known quite possibly as the greatest coach of all-time, devoted endless hours to studying and teaching his classic power sweep. However, let us not forget the plays that influenced the Lombardi Sweep, Jock Sutherland’s physical off-tackle power and sweep plays. Our look at today’s modern sweep plays, with names like outside zone, pin-and-pull, and the like, may come with a little more perspective. Below is film of Sutherland’s teams running this combination of plays in 1933 and 1937.
Fear The Wing!