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Today's Tidbit... The Automated T-Formation Snapper
Some of my favorite football history stories involve inventions and innovations people dream up to solve problems. Some inventions solve problems and gain popularity, while others fail to move the needle. Today's Tidbit falls more along the lines of the latter.
This story centers on Felton "Pooch" Wright, who was born and raised in central Texas before attending Howard Payne College in 1919. Although he had not played previously played football, he started in the line during his freshmen year. As a senior, he was the team captain, during which Howard Payne upset the Dana Bible-led Texas A&M squad 13-7 in the season opener.
Wright assisted at Howard Payne in 1923 before starting a high school teaching and coaching career at a few small schools, regularly winning championships.
While at Ballinger High School in 1940, Wright gained publicity for inventing the Ballinger Board. As a former lineman, he wanted to recognize all eleven players on the field for their successes and failures, so he devised a scoreboard displaying the silhouettes of eleven players. He then had eleven operators watch individual players on each play and grade their success. (The qualifications of the operators are unknown.) Those who successfully executed their assignments had a green bulb light over their silhouette, while those failing the grade earned a red light. Although several college coaches came to see the invention, a lack of interest and WWII meant the Ballinger Board was never adopted elsewhere.
After the war, Wright became an assistant coach at Howard Payne before taking over the head job in 1948, a position he held for three years and earned a .500 record.
Wright left Howard Payne to manage his range but soon returned to coaching as a high school assistant. The popularity of the T formation in the 1940s and 1950s got Wright's problem-solving brain going again. Once again, thinking about lineman, Wright wanted to relieve centers of the need to snap for the quarterback during drills when he could otherwise be working on his blocking.
The result was an automated snapping device that consisted of a tripod with one leg in front and two in back. The quarterback or a coach placed the ball at the end of the arm, cocked the spring-loaded mechanism, and the quarterback then triggered the snap by pressing a button with his top hand, much as he might, to signal a quarterback sneak. Without needing a center to snap the ball, quarterbacks could drill to their hearts' content while centers headed elsewhere to work on their blocking technique.
A 1954 article indicated that 55 colleges and high schools used the snapping machines, though little else is known about how the product fared after the initial surge.
As for Wright, he coached for a few more years before returning to Howard Payne as their Dean of Students, a role he held for five years before retiring.
If other devices came on the market that simulated taking snaps under center, I did not locate them. However, there are products on the market today that simulate shotgun snaps, so while Pooch Wright's invention did not match that of the Brothers, it appears to have tapped into a longstanding need among some quarterbacks and coaches.
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