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The true origin story of the football huddle
It was first invented by deaf players
 
Gallaudet College's deaf football players huddle, circa 1940.
Gallaudet College's deaf football players huddle, circa 1940. (Douglas Grundy/Three Lions/Getty Images)

The football huddle was still unusual enough in the 1920s that it made fans at college games wonder what was going on and led to complaints about the game being slowed down. There are a few different stories about how it originated (in 1918 at Oregon State, in 1921 at the University of Illinois, in 1924 at Lafayette College), but it had first been used in the 1890s when Paul Hubbard, the quarterback for Gallaudet — a deaf college in Washington, D.C., and now a university — had his offense form a tight circle so they could discuss plays without the other team seeing what they were signing.

Another Gallaudet football innovation was the giant drum on the sidelines that would be used for the snap count (the players could feel the vibrations), but these days they use a "silent count system, which relies on the sense of touch and a good ol' hand-to-buttocks tap." They also did away with the huddle, instead just signing their plays out in the open, since the teams they play now don't know sign language anyway. As current coach Chuck Goldstein says, "My philosophy is if you're going to take the time to learn sign language and be able to interpret what we're doing in 25 seconds, then more power to you."

His philosophy seems to be working. The Gallaudet Bison had a great season this year, making it to the NCAA Division III playoffs for the first time ever.

Let the McFeely and Johnson family help you get ready for the big game today with this adorable tutorial on American Sign Language football vocabulary:

 
Arika Okrent is editor-at-large at TheWeek.com and a frequent contributor to Mental Floss. She is the author of In the Land of Invented Languages, a history of the attempt to build a better language. She holds a doctorate in linguistics and a first-level certification in Klingon.

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