Notre Dame Box

Last updated
Diagram of the Notre Dame Box Notre Dame Box.svg
Diagram of the Notre Dame Box

The Notre Dame Box is a variation of the single-wing formation used in American football, with great success by Notre Dame in college football and the Green Bay Packers of the 1920s and 1930s in the NFL. Green Bay's coach, Curly Lambeau, learned the Notre Dame Box while playing for Knute Rockne in the late 1910s. Rockne learned it from Jesse Harper, who learned it from coach Amos Alonzo Stagg. [1] It contained two ends, and four backs. The formation often featured an unbalanced line where the center (that is, the player who snapped the ball) was not strictly in the center of the line, but close to the weakside.


Players line up in T formation then shift to a box formation. [2] The Notre Dame Box differed from the traditional single-wing formation in that the line was balanced and the halfback who normally played the "wing" in the single-wing was brought in more tightly, with the option of shifting out to the wing. These two changes made the backs' formation resemble a square (hence "box") and made the formation less predictable, allowing offenses to run more easily to the "weak" side. Additionally, the halfback became a more viable runner than in the single-wing and the quarterback, normally just a blocking back in the single-wing, could become a passer since the center could snap the ball directly to him. The Notre Dame Box relied on a great deal of deception, caused by backs shifting frequently, rather than the pure power of the single-wing. Teams would often adopt the Notre Dame Box if they lacked a true "triple threat" tailback, necessary for effective single-wing use. Rockne's innovations with this formation involved using complicated backfield shifts and motion to confuse defenses, and adapting it as a passing formation. The formation was originally designed as a brute-force running formation, since it had seven players to one side of the center and only two on the other.

Although modern use of this offensive formation is largely defunct and exterminated among college and professional teams, several high school football teams across the United States have revived the Notre Dame Box offense and have been highly efficient and successful. Three notable high schools that successfully implemented the Notre Dame Box offense extensively are Western Harnett High School in Lillington, North Carolina, Nauset Regional High School in Eastham, Massachusetts, and Isabella High School in Maplesville, Alabama.[ citation needed ]

Professional use

The Packers, using the Notre Dame Box almost exclusively, won three straight NFL titles from 1929–1931. From 1936 through 1945, Green Bay made use of the Notre Dame Box to exploit Don Hutson's receiving ability. Bringing the halfback in tight allowed Hutson to split out from the line, making him an even more potent threat. Hutson, impossible to cover one-on-one by any defensive back of his day, averaged a touchdown every five times he caught the ball, a mark that no receiver has rivaled in NFL history. Green Bay added three more championships employing the Notre Dame Box after 1933 (when official championship games began), beating the Boston Redskins 21-6 in 1936, defeating the New York Giants 27-0 in 1939, and beating the Giants again in 1944 by a score of 14-7. Green Bay tailbacks of those years were among the first NFL passers to post "modern" numbers. Arnie Herber was the first NFL player to pass for over 1,000 yards in 1936, throwing for 1239 yards and 11 touchdowns. Of that, 526 yards and 8 touchdowns were to Hutson. In 1939, Herber and Cecil Isbell combined for 1856 yards passing and 14 touchdowns. In 1941, Isbell broke Herber's single season record with 1470 yards passing and 15 touchdowns; he bettered his own marks in 1942 with 2021 yards passing and 24 touchdowns. 1942 was also the year Don Hutson shattered his own NFL records with 1211 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns, all in 11 games. [3]

The Chicago Bears's and Clark Shaughnessy's Stanford Indians success with a modernized version of the T-formation in the 1940s eventually led to the demise of the Notre Dame Box, as well as all single-wing variants. The Packers finally switched to the T-formation, after Don Hutson had retired, in 1947. No major NCAA or NFL team has used this formation since and much of the knowledge (i.e. playbooks and, if it ever existed, film) associated with this formation is no longer available.

Modern use of the Notre Dame Box

Use of the Notre Dame Box in modern times has been limited in part due to changes in football rulebooks regarding motion. The frequent shifts in the backfield that are employed by the system are still legal, but teams must now set themselves in a formation for at least one second before snapping the ball or sending a player into motion. This motion player must be moving backward or laterally. Canadian football never adopted these changes, and (even though it is not used in that variant of the sport) the original version of the system is still legal.

In the late 1990s, Western Harnett High School of Lillington, North Carolina was featured on ESPN after their program experienced a major turnaround credited to their employment of the Notre Dame Box. [4] The head coach of that team, Travis Conner, later moved on to Jacksonville High School in nearby Jacksonville, North Carolina and installed the Notre Dame Box there, as well. He then moved onto Bunker Hill High School and completely transformed their football program, with the new system Bunker Hill produced 3 top 10 rushers with the leader being Reggie Davis who rushed for a single season near 2,000 yards.

In 2010, Keith Kenyon took over the head coaching duties of the Varsity Football team at Nauset Regional High School in Massachusetts. His single wing offense is largely based on the Notre Dame Box formation.[ citation needed ] Since his arrival, he has taken a downtrodden Nauset team to a playoff contender in his first 2 years.[ citation needed ] Nauset went 6-5 in 2010, 8-3 in 2011, and 9-2 in 2012 due to the success of the Notre Dame Box. Also during the 2011 season, Nauset played in the Atlantic Coast League Championship game on Thanksgiving Day against rival, and eventual undefeated D-II State Champion, Dennis-Yarmouth, for a chance to qualify for the playoffs. In 2012, Nauset once again played for the Atlantic Coast League Championship against Plymouth South. Nauset came into the game undefeated, but ultimately lost 13-12 on a last second hook-and-ladder pass, barely missing out on the MIAA State Playoffs for the second year in a row. Before coach Kenyon arrived at Nauset in 2010, the football team had a combined record of 5-46 since 2005, including back-to-back winless seasons in 2005 and 2006, and also a 27-game losing streak from 2004–2007. Kenyon's single wing Notre Dame Box undoubtedly turned around the Nauset football program and turned them into one of the most dangerous and prolific teams in Eastern Massachusetts.

The formation is very prevalent in the north of England, and is used by many teams in BUAFL due to the lack of talented passers as well at the unpredictable weather conditions.[ citation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

Curly Lambeau American football player, coach, and executive

Earl Louis "Curly" Lambeau was an American professional football player and coach in the National Football League (NFL). Lambeau, along with his friend and fellow Green Bay, Wisconsin native George Whitney Calhoun, founded the Green Bay Packers in 1919, serving as team captain in the team's first year before becoming player-coach in 1920. As a player, Lambeau lined up as a halfback, which in the early years of the NFL was the premier position. He was the team's primary runner and passer, accounting for 35 touchdowns in 77 games. He won his only NFL championship as a player in 1929.

Paul Hornung American football halfback, quarterback, and placekicker

Paul Vernon Hornung, nicknamed "the Golden Boy", was an American professional football player who was a Hall of Fame running back for the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League (NFL) from 1957 to 1966. He played on teams that won four NFL titles and the first Super Bowl. He is the first Heisman Trophy winner to be selected as the first overall selection in the NFL Draft, play pro football, win the NFL most valuable player award, and be inducted into both the professional and college football halls of fame. Packers coach Vince Lombardi stated that Hornung was "the greatest player I ever coached."

Don Hutson American football split end and coach

Donald Montgomery Hutson was an American professional football player and assistant coach in the National Football League (NFL). He played as an end and spent his entire 11-year professional career with the Green Bay Packers. Under head coach Curly Lambeau, Hutson led the Packers to four NFL Championship Games, winning three: 1936, 1939, and 1944.

In American and Canadian football, a single-wing formation was a precursor to the modern spread or shotgun formation. The term usually connotes formations in which the snap is tossed rather than handed—formations with one wingback and a handed snap are commonly called "wing T" or "winged T".

Dorsey Levens American football player (born 1970)

Herbert Dorsey Levens is a former American football running back in the National Football League. He was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth round of the 1994 NFL Draft. He helped the Packers win the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XXXI against the New England Patriots. He played college football at Notre Dame and later Georgia Tech.

Tony Canadeo American football player

Anthony Robert Canadeo was a professional American football player who played halfback in the National Football League (NFL) for the Green Bay Packers from 1941 to 1952, having missed most of the 1944 season and the entire 1945 season while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, he attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, played football for the Bulldogs, and earned the nickname "Gray Ghost of Gonzaga". Selected by the Packers in the 1941 NFL Draft, Canadeo went on to play multiple positions, including running back, quarterback, defensive back, punter, and return specialist.

Arnie Herber American football player

Arnold Charles Herber was a professional quarterback in the National Football League (NFL) for the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants. He was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1966.

Richard Franklin Mirer is a former American football quarterback who played in the National Football League (NFL) for 12 seasons. He played college football at Notre Dame and was selected second overall by the Seattle Seahawks in the 1993 NFL Draft. In his first season, Mirer set the rookie records for passing yards, attempts, and completions. Unable to duplicate his success, however, Mirer was traded after four seasons to the Chicago Bears. He spent the remainder of his career with the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, and Detroit Lions, mostly as a backup.

T formation Formation used in American football by the offensive team

In American football, a T formation is a formation used by the offensive team in which three running backs line up in a row about five yards behind the quarterback, forming the shape of a "T".

Francis Dale "Hap" Moran was a collegiate and professional American football player. He played mainly at halfback for Carnegie Tech (1922), Grinnell College (1923–1925), the Frankford Yellow Jackets (1926), the Chicago Cardinals (1927), the Pottsville Maroons (1928), and the New York Giants (1929–1933). When he retired from the NFL in 1933, he held the league records for the longest run from scrimmage and most yards receiving in a single game. His 91-yard run remained a New York Giants record for 75 years until it was broken by Tiki Barber on December 31, 2005.

John Petitbon was an American football player.

In American football, the A formation was a variation of the single-wing formation used with great success by the New York Giants of the 1930s and early 1940s. This formation was masterminded by Giants coach Steve Owen and relied heavily upon Hall of Fame center Mel Hein for its success.

Cecil Isbell American football player and coach

Cecil Frank Isbell was an American football quarterback and coach. He played five years in the National Football League (NFL) with the Green Bay Packers, leading them to the NFL Championship in 1939. He retired after the 1942 season to become an assistant coach at his alma mater, Purdue University, and the following year became its head coach for three seasons.

The 1936 season was the Chicago Bears' 17th in the National Football League and 14th season under head coach George Halas. The team was able to improve on their 6–4–2 record from 1935 and finished with a 9–3 record. The team also finished in second place in the Western Division behind the Green Bay Packers. After week 10, the Bears were tied with the Packers in first place with identical 9–1 records, having split their season series. However, the club swooned at the end of the year, losing their last two games on the road to Detroit and the Cardinals. Green Bay went on to easily defeat the Boston Redskins and win the NFL title.

Ryan Grant (running back) American football player (born 1982)

Ryan Brett Grant is a former American football running back in the National Football League (NFL). Grant played college football at Notre Dame where he rushed for over 1,000 yards in his only year as the starting running back. He originally signed with the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2005, but never played a game for them. Shortly before the 2007 season, Grant was traded to the Green Bay Packers in exchange for a future sixth-round draft pick. He would go on to play for the Packers for six seasons.

Golden Tate American football player (born 1988)

Golden Herman Tate III is an American football wide receiver who is a free agent. He played college football at Notre Dame, where he was recognized as an All-American and won the Fred Biletnikoff Award for Outstanding Receiver at any position in 2009. He was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He later played for the Detroit Lions, with whom he made a Pro Bowl appearance. He also played a season for the Philadelphia Eagles and two seasons for the New York Giants.

Kyle Rudolph American football player (born 1989)

Kyle Daniel Rudolph is an American football tight end who is a free agent. He played college football for the University of Notre Dame, and was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He has been selected to two Pro Bowls. He also played for the New York Giants.

DeShone Kizer American football player (born 1996)

DeShone Allen Kizer is an American football quarterback who is a free agent. He played college football at Notre Dame and was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Kizer served as the Browns' starter during his rookie season, but his tenure lasted only one year after he went winless and led the league in interceptions. Traded to the Green Bay Packers, he spent one season as a backup in 2018 and also held backup roles with the Las Vegas Raiders and Tennessee Titans.

In gridiron football, a shift refers to the movement of an offensive player prior to the snap.


  1. "Football".
  2. [ bare URL PDF ]
  3. "History of the NFL in 95 Objects: Packer Great Don Hutson's Cape". Sports Illustrated. Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 9 August 2019.
  4. Old-Time Football Earns Western Harnett National Attention ::