Why Is The Flying Wedge Illegal In American Football? (Explained!)

Last Updated on March 17, 2022 by

The NFL banned the flying wedge formation in 2009, and the decision to ban this offensive formation was due to the dangers it posed to defensive players attempting to stop the ball.

A flying wedge is also known as a V formation and it is used by football teams to create a sense of intimidation. The V formation uses at least seven players and looks like the head of an arrow. One player is designated as the captain of the team, followed by three forwards, three backs, and one other player who is normally positioned in front of the captain. You might have seen this formation being used in American football where it’s designed for short or medium-distance plays.

The players on a wedge were not only leaning in close together but they were bonded to each other through the use of leather handles sewn into their uniforms. These handles would allow them to tighten their formation and keep them more closely combined as well as keep track of their teammates.

Why Is The Wedge Illegal In Football?

Wedge Illegal In Football

A wedge block takes place on a kickoff when the two outermost players lunge into each other before one of them breaks and another player runs through the hole to fend off any possible tacklers from getting in the way. In 2009, the wedge formation was banned in football due to its potential for causing injuries if players were to collide with each other while running. Any illegal wedge penalty results in a 15-yard loss by the offending team.

Also, know that with the changes in the way teams kick and catch, there is no longer a need for the wedge block to be utilized. Since there are specific rules related to how players must line up before and during kick-offs, it’s no longer necessary for certain members of the kicking team to form an alliance before getting back to their respective routes because they’re typically on their own when returning the ball. Furthermore, now that kickoffs can either go out of bounds or due to a fair-catch signal, there is less of a risk when it comes down to high impact collisions where a team member or one from another would collide with someone standing perfectly still and waiting for information rather than jockeying for proper position along the sidelines as was done before now that teams do not have full reign over where they stand.

History Of The Flying Wedge In American Football

Although the exact origin of the flying wedge maneuver is uncertain, its traceable roots can be found in ancient Greece. Historians and scholars of warfare realize that Alexander the Great and other war chiefs often used this military tactic to win their battles. The flying wedge was appreciated by more armies around the world, leading it to evolve into a more enhanced version with time.

In the field of rugby, the flying wedge is a brutal but nonetheless effective technique. The technique was famously employed during a Harvard-Yale football game in 1892. It involves players running forward tightly grouped together with the aim of breaking through opposing defense lines and gaining ground ahead. While it was considered very effective at first, it was later banned across America and the United Kingdom due to its inherently aggressive nature.

Death And The Fall Of The Flying Wedge

Death And The Fall Of The Flying Wedge

While the play was incredibly popular, a dark cloud soon began to develop. Quite simply, the play was too effective. The massive amount of weight and momentum it brought to bear caused tremendous injuries, and even deaths. Issues began to develop even though the technique was quite effective and exceptionally famous. While it achieved huge success with some teams, it also lead to many injuries and even death among the players during matches and practices. 

It’s not uncommon for an innovation to become the very thing it was designed to replace. Harvard coach Lorin F. Deland’s forward pass became a dominant force that changed the game of American football entirely. It opened up spaces on the field that previously had been too risky for players to venture into, thereby revolutionizing tactics and strategy in the process. 

As innovative as such changes may seem, there’s always risk involved; in this case, it took just one season for radical rule changes to follow. After several high-profile paralyzing injuries and countless deaths due to collisions with opposing players – forward passes were ultimately banned from college football during the 1896 season! Presidents began calling for a ban on the entire sport until university administrators worked out safer alternatives.

What Was President Theodore V. “Teddy” Roosevelt impact? 

In response to the public outcry due to the carnage, President Theodore V. “Teddy” Roosevelt called a summit of influential people in football. A big football fan and an avid player himself, Teddy was determined to save the game and its tattered reputation. His involvement made this meeting of sportswriters and coaches definitive for the sport. A new rule disallowed all forms of the now-banned Flying Wedge formation as well as any other variations found in practice. The end result was that football teams could no longer converge upon a point like a flying wedge or make any quick lateral line movements on purpose before quickly moving forward in the play.

Last Gasp Of The Forward Pass

Kicking play is the type of wedge formation that used to exist in American football. Today, it usually takes place when an offensive player catches the ball. Three or four blockers from behind them in a tight wedge and then run down the field, clearing a path for the ball carrier.

In 2009, the NFL got rid of the dangerous kickoff play called the wedge busters. Basically, it was a subset of the flying wedge in which blockers formed mass around a ball carrier that became so strong and intimidating that teams would be forced to fall back or risk having players injured. While Deland’s handling of his original flying wedge tactic was officially banned in 1986, this attack by kicking off with a squad of men running side-by-side across the field while attempting to slam into foes was finally outlawed only within the last decade.


The Flying Wedge had a great influence on modern football. It was first used in by Harvard’s football team in 1892, and it has made an enormous impact on the popularity of the sport ever since. The formation is so important because of how its success has resulted in rule changes about the legality of such formations along with some limitations to what kind of tactics teams are allowed to use.

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