What Was Football's "Flying Wedge"?

I know that the NCAA was founded, at the request of President Teddy Roosevelt, in large part to put an end to “the Flying Wedge,” a play of some kind that had led to numerous deaths and serious injuries in college football.

But while I’ve found many sources that give a cursory description of the Flying Wedge, I’ve never seen a full explanation of what the play was, or what made it so lethal.

So, any football experts or historians who can explain what it was all about?

A pic of the flying wedge



Flying Wedge was harsh in the days of no pads/no helmet. But these days one large linesman with pads and helmet would wreak havok with such a formation, even with equal protective equipment.

If you tried it now, you would be flagged for “interlocked interference”.

No two blockers can interlock their arms and plow up field together.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen it called. It’s one of those on the books that eliminates plays from the early days. Just like “Helping the runner.”

Occasionally you will hear of a special-teams player referred to as a “wedgebuster.” Although flying wedges are illegal, in many cases (particularly on kickoffs) the receiving team will set up a “wall” of three or four players that gang together to block for the ballcarrier. The wedgebuster is a person who will willingly plow into such a formation to break up the “wall” and allow other players to tackle the ballcarrier.

In my mercifully brief carrier as a college football player (three days of drill, one day of contact) I was a wedge buster. It is a little like being the point man in those unarmed hordes that Iran supposedly sent ahead of the main force to clear the minefields during the war with Iraq, minus the prospect of paradise. I think it was the way my alma mater got rid of unwanted walk-ons. “Gelding, I want you to run as hard as you can at the guy in the middle down there. If he doesn’t kill you the rest of your guys running up your back will.” There are some holes in my memory after that.

I think the modern term for the guy who breaks up the wedge is “wedgie.” :smiley:

I seem to recall reading someplace that back in the flying wedge days, players would have straps fitted to their uniforms as handles for wedge-mates to grab hold of - I guess to make “wedge-busting” an even more violent and difficult prospect.

These were outlawed at about the same time, IIRC.

Since I have no cite, I can’t comment on just how widespread this practice was.

From the NFL Rules Digest

    1. Offensive team must have at least seven players on line of scrimmage. *

This was one of the rules put in place to stop the flying wedge. The wedge was formed by concentrating the blockers, rather than spreading them as teams are forced to do now.

I was the wedge buster for my high school football team when I was a senior. Only time I got to play. First game ran over a kid about 6 inches taller and 50 pounds heavier. He had to be taken from the field on a stretcher and learned later I broke his sternum and 3 ribs.

It wasn’t the “flying wedge”, but my college team used to run the wedge. We were probably the last team to run the single-wing formation and basically every lineman blocked (dove) towards the middle, the blocking back and tailback came running into the pileup and then the fullback, who’d received the ball dove over the pile. It was good for 1-3 yards rarely was there a no-gainer. I can remember going to the line and telling the other team we were coming at them. This was when everyone played both offense and defense, so it was many years ago.

There also used to be a move called the flying wedge in rugby that was outlawed a few years ago. I think French teams did it quite often.

When a team got a penalty, the ball runner would take a tap and run at the opposition. Before making contact, the attacking team would set up a maul, with the runner at the front of the wedge, still going at full pace. It was really quite dangerous for the runner, because he would have his back to the opposition while being propelled by his own team at full pace.


In the NCAA rulebook. Rule 9-3-2 © says that “Teammates of the runner or passer may interfere for him by blocking but shall not use interlocked interference by grasping or encircling one another in any manner while contacting an opponent”

This horrible transgression will cost your team five yards.