SALT LAKE CITY — I once covered a game in which a quarterback completed a pass to himself. Two Saturdays ago, I watched an offensive tackle catch a pass while lying on his back in the end zone. I’ve also seen quarterbacks pass for 600 yards in a game, and running backs rush for 300.
In the sideshow category, I saw a cheerleader and a fan get into a fistfight, and a streaker preempt the pregame show.
Strange and extraordinary events, one and all.
But what I haven’t seen is what occurred last weekend in Colorado Springs: a team won a football game without throwing a single pass.
If only Bronko Nagurski were still around to enjoy it.
Saturday at Falcon Stadium, Army beat Air Force 21-0. The Black Knights nearly doubled AFA’s total offense and had roughly 50 percent more possession time. Basically the game was over in three minutes, after Army turned the first drive into a touchdown. It culminated in a 21-yard run by quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, who on the day carried 23 times for 265 yards.
No disrespect intended, but calling Bradshaw a quarterback is like calling a donut a bagel. They’re related, but only distantly. Bradshaw is like any other quarterback, except he doesn’t, you know, pass.
He’s a lot closer to Gale Sayers than to John Elway, having thrown just 35 passes this year.
Back in the leather helmet era, nobody threw passes. They didn’t call it smash-mouth football; it was football, period. But then coaches started getting fancy and next thing you know, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, Jerry Rice and Randy Moss happened, along with Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, etc.
The pass was the most popular play in the game.
As for run-only football, this much is on the record: the Green Bay Packers beat the Portsmouth Spartans 17-0 in 1933, in pouring rain. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, no passes were attempted, except one on a conversion try.
By comparison, Washington State’s Connor Halliday attempted 89 passes in a 2013 game.
Army has thrown only 56 times in nine games this season, which caused me to think about Robbie Bosco, the former BYU quarterback who threw 997 passes as a collegian. I had to ask: How would he have handled being a non-throwing quarterback?
“I wouldn’t have survived,” he said.
This predicament isn’t Bradshaw’s fault. He just works there. The ground approach is a favorite of coach Jeff Monken, who never met a handoff/pitch he didn’t like. Air travel? I’m guessing he takes his vacations in a Winnebago.
A former assistant at Georgia Tech — where the run game is king — Monken directs the triple option to perfection. It’s not a new concept, though nowadays it’s almost exclusively a service academy function. Air Force has existed for decades using an option-based “flexbone” attack. Navy and Air Force are averaging just 10 passes per game this year, compared to Army’s 6.8. (Army’s numbers are skewed by a 18-pass game against Temple.)
Pick a year and you’ll find the three service academies at the bottom of the passes-attempted list. This is a natural process. Service academies can’t recruit NFL-level talent so they offset a shortage of speed and size by employing the deception an option attack affords.
You don’t need a rocket arm to play QB at Army, just a rocket scientist’s brain and a gift for misdirection.
Harry Houdini would have been a wonderful option quarterback.
But that offense is continents away from Bosco, who in 1984 had more pass attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns than anyone in the country. So I asked him what it might feel like to be a quarterback who doesn’t pass.
“That,” Bosco said, “would be very difficult.”
Yet even he is entertained by Army’s no-frills approach.
“It’s fun to watch,” he said. “I almost like watching it as much as a team that throws the ball well.”
Apparently opposites really do attract.