Hut! Hut! Hike!: The Receivers
A Word On Football
— The Hut! Hut! Hike! series examines the origins of football terminology and how the game's evolution drove changes in its vocabulary. The full article (#9 in the series) is available to paid subscribers only. —
Players or teams to whom the ball was thrown or kicked have been called receivers since the mid-1910s. Pass receivers caught forward passes, punt receivers caught punts, and kicking teams booted the ball to the receiving team. Still, it was not until the early 1950s that wide receivers came to describe players who aligned wide.
Besides the end, the first position for a player aligning wide was the flanker, which Stagg introduced a dozen years before the forward pass became legal. Stagg's original flanker was a halfback positioned fifteen yards outside the tackle and behind the line of scrimmage, who often motioned back to the formation to block the defensive end or tackle, like the crackback block of later years. Flankers also came in handy when running reverses.
Stagg undoubtedly borrowed "flanker" from the military, where "flanking" describes maneuvers around the side of enemy positions. When the forward pass became legal in 1906, Stagg resurfaced the flanker, using them on occasion.
So, flankers were few, and most offensive formations had the ends aligned within a foot or two of the tackles, so they were known simply as the left or right end. Then, in the late 1920s, teams began moving one or both ends one or two yards wider than usual. The tactic became known as the split end, though the players were not because teams sometimes split their left end wide and sometimes the right end; neither specialized as a split end.
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