A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from February 23, 2019
Statue of Liberty Play (football)

The Statue of Liberty play—usually called “the old Statue of Liberty Play”—is a trick football play that fakes a pass, but is really a handoff to someone just behind the passer. The quarterback with a football in his outstretched armed resembles New York City’s Statue of Liberty holding her torch. The “Statue of Liberty” play is sometimes called “cherry picker.”

“The Beaver Falls aggregation then tried the old ‘Statue of Liberty’ play” was printed in The Evening Republican (Meadville, PA) on November 24, 1913. “The Whittier State worked the old ‘Statue of Liberty’ play” was printed in the Los Angeles (CA) Daily Times on October 12, 2014.

The origin of the “Statue of Liberty” play has frequently been credited to Fielding H. Yost (1871-1946), who coached at the University of Michigan from 1901-1923 and 1925-1926. However, a detailed story in the Knoxville (TN) News-Sentinel on October 16, 1934, states that Dan McGugin (1879-1936)—Yost’s brother-in-law and the Vanderbilt University football coach—might have learned the play from student quarterback Ray Morrison in 1907.

The New York (NY) Times, on July 4, 1986, printed that “Statue of Liberty” was mentioned in the Chicago (IL) Inter-Ocean newspaper on November 15, 1908. However, no such mention of “Statue of Liberty” appears on a check of this newspaper on the Newspapers.com database.


Wikipedia: Statue of Liberty play
The Statue of Liberty is a trick play in American football named after the Statue of Liberty.

Execution of the play
Although many variations of the play exist, the most common involves the quarterback taking the snap from the center, dropping back, and gripping the ball with two hands as if he were to throw. He then places the ball behind his back with his non-throwing hand, while pump-faking a throw to one side of the field. While his arm is still in motion during the fake throw, he hands the ball off behind his back to a running back or a wide receiver in motion, who runs the football to the opposite side of the field. The objective is to trick the defense out of position, leaving them unable to catch up with the runner as he moves in the direction opposite to the fake.

The play is named after the positioning of the quarterback as he hands the ball off. If done correctly, he should have one hand in the air and the other at his side, resembling the pose of the Statue of Liberty. When executed properly, the Statue of Liberty is a very deceptive and high-yardage play. However, the coordination of motions required is difficult, and failure may lead to a fumble, sack, or lost yardage. Additionally, disciplined defenses may be able to spot the fake.

History of the play
Amos Alonzo Stagg was the first to call the play, and Stagg credited Clarence Herschberger with being the first player to run the play. The play was made popular by Fielding H. Yost during his tenure as head coach of the football team at the University of Michigan.

Wikipedia: Fielding H. Yost
Fielding Harris Yost (April 30, 1871 – August 20, 1946) was an American football player, coach and college athletics administrator. He served as the head football coach at: Ohio Wesleyan University, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, the University of Kansas, Stanford University, San Jose State University, and the University of Michigan, compiling a college football career record of 198–35–12. During his 25 seasons as the head football coach at Ann Arbor, Yost’s Michigan Wolverines won six national championships, captured ten Big Ten Conference titles, and amassed a record of 165–29–10.
(...)
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1897 Ohio Wesleyan
1898 Nebraska
1899 Kansas
1900 Stanford
1900 San Jose State
1901–1923 Michigan
1925–1926 Michigan

Wiki8pedia: Dan McGugin
Daniel Earle McGugin (July 29, 1879 – January 23, 1936) was an American football player and coach, as well as a lawyer. He served as the head football coach at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee from 1904 to 1917 and again from 1919 to 1934, compiling a record of 197–55–19. He is the winningest head coach in the history of the university. McGugin was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1951 as part of its inaugural class. He was the brother-in-law of University of Michigan coach Fielding H. Yost.

Wikipedia: Ray Morrison
J. Ray Morrison (February 28, 1885 – November 19, 1982) was an American football and baseball player and a coach of football, basketball, and baseball.

24 November 1913, The Evening Republican (Meadville, PA), “Allegheny Defeats Geneva in The Hardest Game of the Season,” pg. 5, col. 3:
The Beaver Falls aggregation then tried the old “Statue of Liberty” play but seemingly balled up the signals.

12 October 1914, Los Angeles (CA) Daily Times, “Football Dope Clear as Mud” by Howard W. Angus, pt. 3, pg. 2:
The Whittier State worked the old “Statue of Liberty” play against Whittier for a touchdown in the 27-to-7 game.

12 November 1914, Santa Ana (CA) Daily Evening Register, “Walt Reeves of Santa Ana Plays a Wonderful End,”
Twice Pomona made long gains with Reeves carrying the ball on the time-worn “statue of liberty” play, where the half-back fakes a forward pass and the end steals the ball from his hand for a long end run.

18 November 1914, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Tigers Have to Open Up” by William M. Henry, pt. 3, pg. 1, col. 3:
When they want to spring something really sensational they trot out the frayed “statue of Liberty” plays, which is so ancient that it almost invariably works.

26 November 1916, Los Angeles (CA) Sunday Times, “Statue of Liberty Play is Again Turned Loose with Telling Effect,” pt. 6, pg. 10. col. 6:
POMONA, Nov. 25—Older than the pyramids of Cheops, even so old that it was new, the time honored Statue of Liberty play which was famed in football nearly a quarter of a century ago was responsible for the defeat of the San Bernardino High School football team on the Pomona High School field this afternoon.

5 November 1922, New York (NY) Times, pg. 25:
Paves Way for Second Tally by “Statue of Liberty” Play (...)
In fact, this particular piece of trickery, which they called the “Statue of Liberty” play out in the wilds of Pennsylvania, is so hoary that it is almost moss-bound, like the old oaken bucket. Glenn Warner used it away back in the days of the Carlisle Indians, and it still goes on fooling the best defenses.
(It was used by Lafayette College in this article—ed.)

1 December 1922, Buffalo (NY) Evening Times, “Bob’s Comment” by Robert C. Stedler, pg. 22, cols. 3-4:
This play is one of the oldest in football. It was invented by Fielding H. Yost, Michigan’s great coach, and used by him when he coached football in California before he ever came to Michigan.
(...)
The play has for more than 20 years been known as the “Statue of Liberty.” It is worked from punt formation. The alleged kicker takes the pass from center. The opposing ends and linemen are permitted to sift through. All rush for the alleged kicker. He hands the ball to one of his mates in the back field as the tacklers swarm down on him and the runner, as you see, has an excellent chance of getting through.

When the forward pass was written into the football rules the play became a finer weapon for Yost. Instead of faking a punt a forward pass was faked. The alleged passer drew back his arm as if to throw and, after the defense sifted through and he was about to be tackled, one of his mates grabbed the ball and ran. Until he took the ball this mate was apparently intent only on protecting the passer by blocking.
(...)
As Mr. Yost remarked once upon a time: “The old ones generally go best. The older they are the better, for the older a play is the less an opposing team ever expects to see it worked.”

6 November 1927, New York (NY) Times, pg. 52:
It was the ancient “Statue of Liberty” play, with McPhail faking a pass and Marsters coming around to take the ball from his over-stretched hand and continuing on around left end for the score.

17 October 1930, Dayton (OH) Daily News, pg. O-18, cols. 3-4:
FIELDING YOST EXPLAINS OLD NO. 83
PLAY WHICH SCORED AGAINST PURDUE
BY FRANCIS J. POWERS
(...)
“You know, I (Fielding Yost—ed.) first used that play 33 years ago. It’s a great scoring play, for it has both deception and power.”

“Well, just what is No. 83? There have been many diagrams made of it and many explanations, but they all seem to vary,” asked the writer.

You’re right about the many explanations of the play and here is the real one. To make it plain I will use definite positions in the explanation.

“It is run from a semipunt formation. The quarterback handles the ball from center and fakes it to the right end coming around behind the line and to a halfback bucking through. Then he feeds it to the player in the back position on the formation, and he, in turn, goes around right end. Of course the play can be worked to the left end, but I used the right end, to illustrate the idea.

“When used at the proper time it’s just as good a scoring play as it was when the point-a-minute team executed it for touchdowns. There’s still a good punch in many of the old plays, and even the Statue of Liberty fake kick that used to be a part of the Michigan tricks can occasionally be used for gains.”

21 October 1930, The Evening Journal (Wilmington, DE), “Yost Tells Right Time to Spring Trick Plays” by Fielding H. Yost (AP), pg. 24, col. 6:
The “Statue of Liberty” is used against a team which is pressing the passer, in fact against the best ends. Michigan used this play to score a touchdown around O’Hearn, Cornell star flanker in 1912.

16 October 1934, Knoxville (TN) News-Sentinel, “Birth of Grid Plays: Coaches Often Take Credit, But Players Usually Discover Them; Colonel McGugin Tells How Statue of Liberty Was Born at Vanderbilt” by Joe Williams, pg. 10, cols. 5-6:
SOME days ago in the South I was talking to Dan McGugin, retiring Vanderbilt football coach, about freak football plays.

“Do you know you are standing just about where the old statue of liberty play was born,” said McGugin. (We were on the campus.)

“I didn’t know you had anything to do with that play,” I commented, having always heard it identified with Hurry Up Yost and Michigan football.

“I didn’t have a whole lot to do with it at that,” recalled McGugin. “One of my quarterbacks—I think it was Ray Morrison who is now coaching at Southern Methodists—worked it first in a practice game against the scrubs.

“I’m not positive it was Morrison but whoever it was put it into the attack without telling me. I thought it was too fantastic to use in a regular game and ruled against it. Meantime one of my backfield men, Sammy Costen, went to Citadel to coach. He used the play there and won a couple of ball games with it. This persuaded me that if it would work against one team it ought to work against another, and so I made it a regular part of our passing game.”

Passed From Formation
“PASSING game?”

“Yes, it wasn’t until some years later that the old statue of liberty became a running play, and there’s a story about that, too. Anyway, one of our backs would drift back and hold the ball as if it were on a tray. One of the ends would come around and fake as if to take the ball and then the back holding the ball would throw a long pass. It was so absurdly simple as to be unbelievable, and for that reason it worked in many a pinch.

“I was telling you that it later became a running play. As you know Yost and myself were brothers-in-law and we frequently exchanged football ideas. I told him about the old statue. He couldn’t see it right off either. Vanderbilt played Michigan in 1911 and the two longest gains we made against Yost’s team stemmed out of the old statue. The next year Yost was using the very same formation but instead of passing from it he was running from it. Michigan teams still use it. It makes a better running play because the requirements are less complicated than in the pass.”

So as a matter of record one of the most famous plays in football, long ascribed to the ingenuity of Yost, belongs to a Vanderbilt undergraduate whose name may or may not be Ray Morrison.

30 October 1934, Chicago (IL) Daily Tribune, “Talking It Over” by Arch Ward, sec. 2, pg. 19, col. 2:
RAY MORRISON, coach at Southern Methodist, originated Michigan’s famous Statue of Liberty play in a scrimmage while playing for Dan McGugin at Vanderbilt...Fielding Yost only borrowed it from McGugin, his brother-in-law.

15 November 1934, New York (NY) Herald Tribune, “Football Here and There” by Harry Cross, pg. 22:
Ray Morrison, coach at Southern Methodist, used to play quarterback at Vandebilt. One day he and Dan McGuigin invented the Statue of Liberty play. Fielding Yost saw it and made it famous.

21 August 1946, New York (NY) Herald Tribune, pg. 20, col. 2:
Fielding H. Yost Dies;
Michigan Football Idol
(...)
“Statue of Liberty” Play
Among the plays that Yost developed perhaps the most famous was “Old 83,” the “Statue of Liberty” play in which a back pretends to pass and another back or an end comes around behind him and takes the ball off his upraised palm. Another was the fake place kick.

New York (NY) Times
PLAYS; FROM THE HARBOR TO THE END ZONE
By THOMAS ROGERS JULY 4, 1986
(...)
The Statue of Liberty play, also called the Cherry Picker, may have originated by accident in 1907 when Ray Morrison of Vanderbilt could not find an open receiver, then had the ball taken from his hand by a teammate who ran for a touchdown.

But Amos Alonzo Stagg made the play part of his offense in 1908 at the University of Chicago, using it first in a 7-7 tie with Cornell. He did not claim to invent it, but said it was based on the Old 83 play designed by Coach Fielding Yost in 1897 at Ohio Wesleyan.

Yost had a player drop back as if to punt, then hand off to a teammate for an end-around play. Stagg used that deceptive backward motion as the principal of what he called ‘’a three-pass play.’’

Walter Steffen, the quarterback for Chicago, faded back and had the ball taken from his hand by H. O. Page, an end, who then passed to J. J. Schommer for a 25-yard gain. The play, described for the first time in print as the ‘’Statue of Liberty’’ by The Chicago Inter-Ocean newspaper on Nov. 15, 1908, worked so successfully that Stagg used it 21 times in an 18-0 victory over Wisconsin.

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Boise State’s legendary Statue of Liberty play vs. Oklahoma needs a deep rewind | 2007 Fiesta Bowl
SB Nation
Published on Sep 24, 2018
In the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, Boise State and Oklahoma played the greatest college football bowl game ever (as voted by SB Nation’s readers). Each team had desperation comebacks, and it was all capped off by one trick play that deserves a deep rewind.

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