Just because you haven’t seen something before doesn’t mean it’s new. Take the option play in the NFL, for instance. The zone-read may be a recent development, but the quarterback either (a.) running the ball himself or (b.) pitching to a trailing back certainly isn’t. Why, Bobby Layne, the Lions Hall of Famer, was doing both — quite effectively — in the early ’50s. And without a facemask, no less.
Here’s some footage from the ’52 title game against the Browns. In this sequence, Layne runs back-to-back option plays — first to the left, then to the right — and keeps the ball for decent gains both times:
Now let’s look at another clip from earlier in the game. From the Cleveland 7, Layne takes the snap, starts right, then pitches underhanded to the trailing Doak Walker, who’s driven out of bounds at the 2. On the next play, Bobby scores on a sneak to give the Lions a 7-0 lead.
More of the same in the ’53 title game:
And two more plays, back to back:
When he retired after the ’62 season, Layne held the NFL career passing records for touchdowns (196), yards (26,768) and, yes, interceptions (243). What tends to be forgotten is that he was also a very good runner. In ’52 he was ninth in the league in rushing with 411 yards — in addition to finishing third in passing yards (1,999) and TD throws (19). And this is in a 12-game season, mind you. In a 16-game season, 411 projects to 564, a total topped last year only by Cam Newton (585) and Terrelle Pryor (576).
The option didn’t take hold in pro football in the ’50s, but it makes sense that some coach — in this case, the Lions’ Buddy Parker — might try it. Layne and many other quarterbacks, such as the Browns’ Otto Graham, had been single wing tailbacks in college and were able runners. Why not take advantage of it? As the T formation spread, though, QBs evolved into Golden Arms rather than pass-run threats. Only now, with the influx of Newton, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, is that starting to change. Whether the change is permanent or just cyclical is another matter.