Spurrier’s Spread Goes Back to ’49 Burley Bowl
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ Conley Snidow had cooked up a formation he knew no team could defend, a formation he would save for special occasions such as the Burley Bowl.
It propelled Emory & Henry College to spectacular victories in those games, played in Johnson City, Tenn., between the best two small colleges.
And it left a lasting impression on a 6-year-old boy in the stands named Steve Spurrier.
Snidow had the tackles line up wide next to the ends on both sides of the ball, with a back behind each set. That left only the center, two guards, the quarterback and a halfback in the middle of the field.
Snidow, an innovative risk taker, first deployed the funky spread in the 1949 Burley Bowl, a 32-0 victory over a Hanover team that had given up only 33 points all season.
As far as Spurrier is concerned, it still works today.
``I think we must be a lot alike,″ Snidow, who retired from coaching in 1972, said from his home in Spartanburg, S.C. ``We had a lot of fun with it, and he seems to be having a lot of fun with it.″
Spurrier said he first saw it used by Tennessee Wesleyan, but he knows its roots _ that’s why he gamely refers to the spread as the ``Emory & Henry.″
And just like Snidow, he’s not afraid to use it at pivotal times in the most crucial games.
In the 1994 SEC championship game against Alabama, he used it twice on late drive that gave Florida a 24-23 victory. First, it gained 9 yards on a pass when Florida was deep in its own territory. Later, Danny Wuerffel threw a lateral to Chris Doering, who threw a 20-yard pass to Aubrey Hill to the 2-yard line.
The Gators pulled it off again last week in a 35-29 victory over Tennessee, a game that put them in control of the Southeastern Conference East division and helped vault them to No. 1 in the polls.
Florida was leading 35-22 late in the fourth quarter as it tried to run down the clock. Facing fourth-and-1 from its own 46, Spurrier decided to go for it.
The Gators broke the huddle and quickly shifted into the Emory & Henry. Tennessee scrambled to adjust, but it was too late _ Wuerffel took the snap and picked up 2 yards.
``When we shifted, they were looking around like they didn’t know how to line up,″ said receiver Reidel Anthony.
Three plays later, the Vols still couldn’t figure it out. On third-and-5 from the 47, the Gators went back to Emory & Henry. This time, Wuerffel check off at the line and handed off to Terry Jackson, who cut through the right side for 15 yards, effectively ending the Vols’ hopes.
``We sort of keep it available a lot,″ Spurrier said. ``There’s no rhyme or reason when it goes in. We practice it every week, just about. The tackles like to be out there wide so their girlfriends can see them. Everyone feels real good about it.″
Snidow feels good about it to this day. So does Chick Davis, the quarterback at Emory & Henry from 1948 to 1952. He hadn’t seen the spread formation in years until Spurrier called it against Alabama.
``I saw it and recognized it immediately,″ said Davis, who recently retired as chairman of the music department at Emory & Henry. ``I said, `Hey, that’s our spread!′ It was quite a thrill.″
Davis recalls Emory & Henry going to the spread formation almost immediately against Hanover, a team he described as the ``Notre Dame of small colleges.″
``We opened up with the spread and it completely baffled them,″ Davis said. ``We used it three or four plays, moved to the 20 and they called time out. Then we went back to the regular split-T, and I threw a pass in the end zone.
``From then on, they were just discombobulated. It knocked them off balance,″ he said. ``Coach Snidow was innovative, like Spurrier. He liked to try new things.″
Spurrier is a little more selective when he uses Emory & Henry. Still, simply using it every few years is enough to make opponents waste practice time trying to solve it _ or pay the price when they don’t.
As Snidow says, ``The more time a team spends on the spread, the less time they have to work on the formation I’m going to beat them with.″
Spurrier sees other advantages.
``At least you know the other team will have just one defense for it,″ he said. ``They don’t work on, `OK, on first down against Emory & Henry, we’ll run this; second-and-long, we’ll run this.′ You can predict the defense they’ll play in a certain situation.″
Wuerffel was a believer even before he got to Florida. He recalled seeing a high school team fall behind 25 points in the fourth quarter before going to what looked like the Emory & Henry, and rallying to win.
``The first time he called it, I said, `Hey, I know that can work. I’ve seen it,‴ Wuerffel said.
Snidow is not even sure how he came up with the formation. He figured it came out of a book written by Alonzo Stagg, but when he went back to check, it wasn’t in there.
``A lot of times, plays just evolve from studying football,″ he said. ``We coaches tend to copy each other.″