Thursday, December 01, 2005 | Reggie Bush, the Helix High alum and now a Heisman Trophy candidate at USC, did a behind-the-back thing with the football a couple of weeks ago that will make all of the season’s highlight reels.
I first saw that move 50 years ago in my Texas home town, as it was executed routinely by David Bourland, quarterback of the Abilene High School Eagles. The Eagles in the fall of 1955 were not yet at the halfway point of a winning streak that would carry them through 49 straight games, from 1954 to 1957, without a loss.
Bourland was the 1955 quarterback, and one day the Eagles’ coach, Chuck Moser, called Bourland into his office on the second floor of the high school gym. On Moser’s desk was a deflated football. He asked Bourland, who was an excellent athlete, to pick the ball up and pass it from one hand to the other behind his back. Bourland did it easily. “Can you do that with a real ball?” Moser asked. “Sure,” Bourland said.
Coaches in the 1950s were constantly looking for new ways to make the football disappear. Very few teams, high school or college, ran the old single wing anymore, in which the ball disappeared routinely in a series of spins and fakes, because the tailback actually turned his back to the defense and shielded the ball with his body. The T-formation took away that option. Faking was still crucial in the T, and inspired the basic belly option offense so popular in the 1950s and ’60s, before the arrival of the I-formation.
The Abilene version began with an option by the quarterback of giving the ball to the fullback plunging straight ahead, or faking to the FB and pulling the ball back, to give to a halfback slanting off-tackle, or keeping the ball again and sprinting wide. The Eagles were routinely scoring 40-plus points a game with this basic offense.
But Moser, who now is in the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame, always wanted the extra advantage. The rest of the week, in practice and off the field, Bourland practiced passing the ball behind his back. That Saturday, he used it in a game for the first time, against Lubbock. The score there was 62-7.
Abilene continued undefeated through the rest of the regular season and the playoffs, into the 1955 Class AAAA state championship game against the unbeaten Tyler Lions, who had allowed only 87 points in 12 games. Before Monday’s practice, Moser spoke to Bourland again, saying that new white jerseys had arrived and asking if the team should wear them against Tyler. Bourland voted for gold jerseys, because it helped hide the ball.
Bourland used the behind-the-back move four or five times in the game. Abilene built a 33-0 lead and won, 33-13.
Deception was not Reggie Bush’s intention. He was out of room at the right sideline and needed a way to get the ball from his left arm to his right as he cut back across the field. He passed it behind his back because it was actually less awkward, in that dynamic situation, than switching it across the front. You can try it yourself, with car keys or a book. I use the move all the time, almost automatically, in all kinds of situations.
Yesterday’s New York Times ran a feature about Bush’s Helix High highlight film. A sample paragraph: “Bush’s college highlights have made him a national phenomenon, but his pre-college highlights are the grainy stuff of prep legend.”
The film, edited from Helix High game films, is eight minutes long, according to The Times, and possesses the aura of “an underground treasure in Southern California.” Apparently you can watch it on the Web at www.nytimes.com/sports. I might watch it, and see if he does a behind-the-backer as slick as David Bourland.
Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at www.michaelgrant.com.