Pop Warner: Football Trickster

Pop Warner is a name associated with youth football throughout the United States. Many, if not most, high school, college and professional football players got their start in a Pop Warner football program. A former lawyer, Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner was a head coach for 44 years, leading schools such as Iowa State, Cornell, Pitt, Stanford, Georgia, and Temple to a combined 319 NCAA victories. He was a noted innovator credited with the development of the three-point stance, the spiral punt, the screen pass, a number of offensive formations, shoulder and thigh pads, and numbered jerseys. He is also well-known for discovering and developing the abundant talents of Jim Thorpe while coaching the Carlisle Indian Industrial School of Carlisle, PA.

Part of what made Warner such a successful coach was his connection to the playful energy and wisdom of the trickster. In the Greek pantheon of gods, the paragon of the trickster was the god Hermes. Jungian psychologist Edward Edinger describes Hermes in this way:

he was the god of boundaries. It is generally agreed that the name Hermes is derived from the word herm, the name for a pile of stones marking a boundary. But as often happens, the god of something is the one who is greater than that thing, the one who transcends it. So, though Hermes is the guarantor of boundaries in the human realm, he is the one who is beyond them. Hermes is the great trespasser, a crosser of boundaries, the god of travelers and the patron saint of merchants, the principal travelers in early days. On the darker side, he was also the patron saint of thieves—on the first day after his birth he stole Apollo’s cattle. The boundary of what is mine and what is yours is one that he crosses. The Hermetic principle can deceive the Apollonian principle: Hermes does not always need to be truthful. He can be ambiguous and false and cunning, and that gets him into places that absolute light and truth and clarity could never enter. [The Eternal Drama: The Inner Meaning of Greek Mythology, p. 29]

Warner coached during the early years of football when the rules of the game were still being refined. In paradoxical, often maddening ways—especially for opposing coaches—he facilitated the rule development process. Warner would find loopholes in the rules of the game, and then utilize them to his team’s advantage. Basically, he would push, bend and turn on end the “boundaries” of the infant sport. For example, on one occasion he had large elbow pads sewn onto the arms of his players’ jerseys. When they crossed their arms over their chests the pads formed the shape of a football, making it difficult for the opposing players to determine which runner had the ball. Another ruse, legal at the time, involved the quarterback deftly inserting the ball under the back of the center’s jersey after the snap. The quarterback would then fake a hand off or pass while the center walked unobtrusively, and unnoticed, into the end zone for a touchdown.

Of course, finding holes in the rules of a game is part of the fun for a coach or strategist. Seeing a well-executed and successful trick play is also great fun for the fans. The trickster breaks the routines of normal thinking. He exposes our false assumptions and mischievously dances around the rules of collective, everyday consciousness. He challenges us to discover and redefine our understanding of right and wrong, good and evil, reality and illusion. He wakes us up, “keeps us on our toes,” makes us laugh and marvel at ourselves and others as we trip over the boundaries we didn’t see or step over the ones that were never there. Although I would like to share with you some videos of Pop Warner’s trick plays, most occurred before games were ever taped. But, fear not, here are some equally good ones from the modern day.

2 thoughts on “Pop Warner: Football Trickster

  1. Great post, Dr. Andy. It’s funny that I found this tonight. I was meditating earlier and the words “I won’t play by anyone else’s rules” came to me. And as a huge football fan, this article is especially apropos. Thanks!

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