Friday, April 13, 2012

Frank Thomas Breaks Down the Alabama Crimson Tide

In 1935 Alabama beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, the third victory for the Crimson Tide in Pasadena's New Year's Day classic. The popularity of the team and their head coach Frank Thomas brought unprecedented media attention including a lengthy feature in Sport Story Magazine.

Street & Smith was a New York City publishing house that pioneered pulp fiction and dime magazines. In 1923, they introduced the first sports pulp title, Sport Story Magazine. Twelve years later the bi-weekly magazine was the leading sports publication of its type in the country.

Thomas was featured in a cover article in the first October issue "The Air Route to Victory." Written in the first person, the story is credited "As told to Arthur Grahame." Grahame was a prolific writer for Street & Smith's various titles during the 1930s and had penned a fictional story about Alabama football for the magazine in 1927.

Although ghost written, the 10-page story provides a detailed look into Thomas' approach to coaching as well as his thoughts on Alabama's performance in the 1935 Rose Bowl game. He starts by explaining how he came to Tuscaloosa and his use of the Notre Dame's "simple and elastic" system which he had learned in South Bend under Knute Rockne.

"[The Notre Dame system] is a good system but it isn't the only system," he said. "Like every other successful football system, it is built on a foundation of skill in the game's fundamentals, blocking , tackling and ball handling."

Thomas then goes on to credit Alabama's win in Pasadena to the fact the Crimson Tide had a "triple threat" player in Dixie Howell -- one that could run, pass and kick extremely well -- and that Stanford didn't. Then Thomas explains how the Alabama pass attack worked, breaking down two plays in detail.

In the first (Diagram No. 1) he explained the offense was designed to use two of the backs to provide extra protection for Howell while the third bolted upfield with the two receivers.

"The defense had no way of knowing to which of the three eligible receivers the pass would go," Thomas wrote. It went to Don Hutson -- Alabama's so-called "pass catching, speed merchant end" -- who subsequently scored. (It may be this play.)

The second play (Diagram No. 2) used a similar deception. As Howell dropped back Alabama's "other end" Paul Bryant dashed six yards and then immediately cut across the field.

"The defense figured that the pass would go to Bryant," Thomas explained. "It didn't."

Again Alabama used an array of backs to block for Howell buying time for the play to develop. Hutson ran six yards out and stopped then, instead of blocking the defensive back for Bryant, he turned completely around and waited for the ball. Howell then threw it to him for a long gain.