“A 1921 article in the Charlotte Observer previewed a matchup between the North Carolina State Wolfpack and the Davidson Wildcats by noting that ‘the aerial game’ was expected to be ‘used extensively by both teams,’ while ‘a great ground game if successful is also hazardous.’
“It would take another 60 years for the football terms to enter the political field of play. In a 1981 column for the Los Angeles Times, Andrew Young, then between stints as U.N. ambassador and mayor of Atlanta, made the athletic analogy explicit.
” ‘So get ready for the big playoffs in 1982 and the Super Bowl in 1984,’ Mr. Young wrote, alluding to the coming midterm and presidential elections. ‘The far right will take to the air. The opposition will launch a new ground game, which would be helped by an air attack if the money is available.’ ”
— From “How ‘Ground Game’ Moved From the Gridiron to Politics” by Ben Zimmer in the Wall Street Journal (Nov. 5, 2014)