The wishbone is also the name of a type of American football offensive formation in which plays are run based on the way the defense is aligned and reacts to the play.

The wishbone formation features a fullback lined up several steps directly behind the quarterback. On both sides of the fullback, a few steps back from him, are halfbacks. The formation got its name because the backs are aligned in the shape of a wishbone.

At the snap of the ball, the quarterback can hand the ball off to the fullback, who would try to go up the middle for yardage. However, the quarterback could also fake giving the ball to the fullback, and run with the ball laterally down the line of scrimmage, towards either sideline.

At this point, the quarterback can turn upfield with the ball himself if he sees an opening, or pitch it backwards to one of the halfbacks who had been following him down the line.

The ability of the quarterback to react and make decisions on-the-fly is of extreme importance in the wishbone. If the defense is stacked in the middle, awaiting the fullback, the quarterback needs to be able to see that and take the ball down the line. Similarly, he needs to be on the lookout for any openings for him to run the ball himself. If he's about to get hit, he still needs to be able to toss the ball to the halfback.

While the wishbone is mostly a running scheme, wishbone teams do occasionally pass the ball, catching defenses by surprise.

The credit for inventing and popularizing the wishbone offense is generally given to Texas head coach Darrell Royal and his assistant Emory Bellard, who used the formation as a high school coach years earlier. Texas started using the wishbone in 1968.

Bear Bryant at Alabama (in the 1970s) and Barry Switzer at Oklahoma (in the '70s and '80s) followed Royal's lead and led their teams to great success using the wishbone.

Currently, the wishbone's less common in college football, but a few teams (such as the military academies) still use the wishbone or a variation of it. The wishbone is also still used frequently in high school football.