Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Runnin', Shootin', Scorin'

I was thumbing through the new Hofstra football media guide the other night (Side note: Is there anything better than the smell of a new media guide? It’s the adult version of inhaling a freshly dittoed test). And my gaze, as it usually does when I’m reading Hofstra media guides, soon turned to the years I was there.

This just in: Hofstra scored a lot of points under Joe Gardi and the run-and-shoot offense. A lot. Five thousand, seven hundred and thirty-four points in 183 games, to be exact.

The funny thing is I don’t remember being all that amazed while we were watching it. Of course, being surprised by the pinball on the Hofstra Stadium scoreboard (old habit, it wasn’t re-named for President Shuart until 2002) would have been like going to a cookout and being shocked that people are eating hamburgers.

Nobody ever went to the concession stands when the Flying Dutchmen had the ball, because you were very likely going to miss a touchdown. Or two. Hofstra averaged more than 30 points a game in 11 of Gardi’s 16 seasons. The record book section of the media guide reads like a Who’s Who of the Gardi Era: Twelve of the 13 individual passing records and nine of the 10 individual receiving records were set by Gardi players.

Hofstra wasn’t alone in bringing Arena Football-sized scores to the traditional gridiron. The run-and-shoot made Terence Mathis, a non-descript receiver with the Jets, into an out-of-nowhere fantasy football stud in 1994 and made Herman Moore, for one year and by one catch, better than Jerry Rice.

Which begs the question: Whatever happened to the run-and-shoot? The elements remain (you’ll see four wide receivers on the field all day and night on Sundays) and the architects continue to find success as coordinators (Kevin Gilbride, offensive coordinator of the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, was the coordinator for the high-octane Oilers of the early ‘90s), but the run-and-shoot itself is dismissed as a fad.

Why was it to football in the ‘90s what the Gin Blossoms or Hootie and the Blowfish were to the music of the decade: All the rage for a little while before the mainstream moved on to something else and relegated the run-and-shoot to the country fair circuit…or, in this case, the lower rungs of Division I and I-AA football.

This Football Outsiders article by noted football blogger Michael David Smith does a great job of explaining why the run-and-shoot remains a phenomenon equal parts cultish and nostalgic. The run-and-shoot didn’t have a Bill Walsh—the west coast offense guru who coached the 49ers to three Super Bowl wins—as its godfather. The three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust Establishment made fun of it (Oilers defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan slugged Gilbride on the sidelines in 1993). And college quarterbacks who were schooled on the run-and-shoot generally failed to make a mark in the NFL—none more (or less) so than Hofstra’s own Giovanni Carmazzi, who never took an NFL snap but will forever be known as one of the guys taken before Tom Brady in the 2000 draft.

But who knows what happens if the Oilers—notorious for their annual playoff el foldos—make or win the Super Bowl at some point in the early ‘90s? Or if the Detroit Lions make or win the Super Bowl following the 1991 season? The NFL’s a league of imitation. One run-and-shoot titlist would have changed everything.

Alas, the run-and-shoot purists will have to be content with its success in the college game. Gardi’s last two teams averaged 36.5 and 30.7 points, respectively. June Jones turned Hawaii games into something worth watching at 3 am EST (and parlayed his success at a non-BCS school into a gig at SMU). And Mouse Davis, credited for inventing the run-and-shoot and bringing it to college football at Portland State in the 1970s, is back there now as the offensive coordinator.

And he’s saying awesome stuff like this that should make you—and me—pine for a return to the good ol’ days of minimal trips to the concession stands: “We probably still need some receivers. It’d be nice to get some flat-ass fliers.”

***

I was planning to blog tomorrow about Hofstra, UConn and the titanic battle between the east coast powers, but I could not wait another 24 hours to answer my so-called friend Icepick’s jabs at the Nutmeg State (well, OK, the Carl Pavano zinger was fine).

This is for you and Publisher Cat, ‘Pick. May it remain in your heads for days and days and days!

1 comment:

Publisher Cat said...

Just watched that Whalers video. There's 31 seconds of my life I won't get back.