Fremont is the home of the California School For the Deaf, which made this excerpt from How Football Explains America by Sal Paolantonio catch my eye. The football huddle was invented at a college for the deaf–Gallaudet University in Washington DC–as a means of hiding signals from other deaf teams. it was then institutionalized at the University of Chicago as a means of bringing control and Christian fellowship to the game.
“When Gallaudet played nondeaf clubs or schools Hubbard merely used hand signals–American Sign Language–to call a play at the line of scrimmage, imitating what was done in football from Harvard to Michigan. Both teams approached the line of scrimmage. The signal caller–whether it was the left halfback or quarterback–barked out the plays at the line of scrimmage. Nothing was hidden from the defense. There was no huddle.
“Hand signals against nondeaf schools gave Gallaudet an advantage. But other deaf schools could read quarterback Paul Hubbard’s sign language. So, beginning in 1894, Hubbard came up with a plan. He decided to conceal the signals by gathering his offensive players in a huddle prior to the snap of the ball,.–Hubbard’s innovation in 1894 worked brilliantly. ‘From that point on, the huddle became a habit during regular season games.’ states a school history of the football program.
“In 1896, the huddle started showing up on other college campuses, particularly the University of Georgia and the University of Chicago. At Chicago, it was Amos Alonzo Stagg, the man credited with nurturing American football into the modern age and barnstorming across the country to sell the same, who popularized the use of the huddle and made the best case for it.
“At the time, coaches were not permitted to send in plays from the sideline. So, while Stagg clearly understood the benefit of concealing the signals from the opposition, he was more interested in the huddle as a way of introducing far more reaching reforms to the game.
“Before becoming a coach, Stagg wanted to be a minister. At Yale, he was a divinity student from 1885 to 1889. Thoughtful, pious and righteous, Stagg brought innovations to football as an attempt to bring a Christian fellowship to the game. He wanted his players to play under control, to control the pace the course, and the conduct of what had been a game of mass movement that often broke out into fisticuffs. Stagg viewed the huddle as a vital aspect of helping to teach sportsmanship. He viewed the huddle as a kind of religious congregation on the field, a place where the players could, if you will, minister to each other, make a plan, and promise to keep faith in that plan and one another.”
Whether the players of today know the origin of the huddle, or whether they adhere to the precepts that Stagg put forth, on occasion, is a moot point. That “mass movement” that often ended in fisticuffs, is still part of the game.