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Terminology... Gang Tackle and Oskie
This is article #14 in a series covering the origins of football’s terminology. All are available under the Terminology tab above. My book, Hut! Hut! Hike! describes the emergence of more than 400 football terms.
Modern English received the word gang from an Old Norse word that described a journey, especially one taken with others. The term was applied later to work groups and tools, especially those involving manual labor.
Gang tackle and gang tackling, which describes two or more defenders involved in tackling the ball carrier, first appeared in 1913 in an article describing Nebraska's defense in recent wins over Kansas and Minnesota. It shows up again in 1922 in a Los Angeles Times article about Washington & Jefferson's defense in their 1922 Rose Bowl tie with California.
While those uses predated Bob Neyland's arrival as head coach at Tennessee in 1926, he was responsible for popularizing the term and underlying approach. Besides winning four national championships and 173 games at Tennessee, Neyland is remembered today for preaching seven maxims he believed to define winning football. He wrote the maxims on blackboards taken on road trips and had his team recite them before games. Tennessee fans recite the maxims before games to this day.
The fifth of Neyland's maxims is:
Ball, oskie, cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle for this is the WINNING EDGE.
Although it is unclear when Neyland first began preaching gang tackling to his Volunteers, a handful of 1928 articles mention Tennessee's gang tackling, and articles using the term in the 1930s commonly referred to Tennessee.
Notably, the second word in the fifth maxim also originated with Neyland and Tennessee. According to Herc Alley, Tennessee's right end in 1928 and long-time Vanderbilt track coach, Neyland insisted that Tennessee defenders yell "Oskie Wow Wow" to alert their teammates after making an interception or causing a fumble. Oskie Wow Wow signaled to teammates the need to hustle to the ball or block a player wearing the opposite colors. A University of Tennessee reference site suggests Neyland borrowed the term from Illinois and their marching band tune, "Oskee Wow Wow," published in 1911.
Oskie Wow Wow remained a Tennessee-only term for several decades. It did not appear in print in the context of football until Volunteer alum and Georgia Tech coach, Bobby Dodd, had his 1950 team yell it after making an interception, though not a fumble. By 1957, Bill Elias, Purdue's secondary coach, applied it to interceptions as well but dropped the "Wow Wow," From that point, Oskie spread and became the go-to post-interception word nationwide.