Modern day defensive football involves players constantly shifting from side to side, jumping a step forward or two paces backward, anything to confuse the offense as it comes to the line of scrimmage. Many old-timers insist such sophisticated maneuvers had their beginnings more than six decades ago when a sensational 252-lb tackle, William Roy "Link" Lyman, pioneered a sliding, shifting style of defensive line play that confused his opponents and made him one of the most respected players of his time.
Steve Owen, an opponent who later coached the New York Giants, was one of the first to fall foul of Lyman's tactics. "Link was the first lineman I ever saw who moved from the assigned defensive position before the ball was snapped," Owen said. "It was difficult to play against him because he would vary his moves and no matter how you reacted, you could be wrong."
Lyman explained he happened on the idea of shifting almost unconsciously as an instinct move to fool a blocker. He had a unique ability to diagnose a play and many times he would make his move just as the ball was snapped.
Link did not play football at McDonald Rural Federated High School in Pawnee County, Nebraska, because only seven boys attended the school. He quickly adjusted to the game, however, when he entered the University of Nebraska in 1917 and eventually became a superstar on the outstanding 1921 Cornhusker team. Another Nebraskan, player-coach Guy Chamberlin of the Canton Bulldogs, lured Link into pro football in 1922. The Bulldogs won championships in Canton in 1922 and 1923 and again in Cleveland in 1924. In January, 1926, Lyman joined the Chicago Bears for their long barnstorming tour and remained with the Bears the rest of his career. He did take two one-year leaves of absence to play semi-pro football in 1929 and to settle business problems in 1932. In his last two seasons, the Bears won the 1933 NFL Championship and the 1934 divisional crown. Link played on just one losing team in 16 seasons of high school, college and professional football and was a contributor to the very end. Bears coach George Halas insisted Lyman was stronger and tougher in those last two seasons than when he first joined the team eight years earlier.
Bears Hall of Fame