Trick plays, like them or not, are a major part of football

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, December 9, 2010

Americans claim to love fair play, winning within the rules, etc.

But why is it that we love deception, especially in football?

Drew Brees took advantage of a nervous Cincinnati defense with a ruse so clever that Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tzu would’ve approved.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

With the clocking ticking down and the Saints in range for a tying field goal that wouldd force overtime, Brees barked signals at his offensive linemen like he was checking the play to a new one. He made bird-like motions, frantic in their fluttering energy, with his arms.

He engaged in a snap count longer than Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”

And one of the Bengals jumped into the neutral zone. Gotcha. Brees threw the winning pass to Marques Colston on the next play for a 34-30 victory.

It was another stitch in a fabric of deception that goes way back to the founding of modern football.

There have been some great trick plays, known by distinctive monikers that forever live in football lore. The 2006 Fiesta Bowl had not one, but two of the all-time classics as Boise State emptied out the playbook. The Broncos used a hook and lateral play to tie the game at 35 and used the infamous Statue of Liberty play — where the quarterback fakes a pass and hands off the ball to a runner behind him — on the winning two-point conversion in overtime.

Trickeration gave Boise a chance to even the odds against a more talented foe. Trick plays are an equalizer, much like the 3-point shot was for mid-major basketball programs, that give the underdog a fighting chance.

They can also shift the momentum like tectonic plates in a crucial game. Les Miles, who is fond of fake field goals and punts, used a fake field goal in 2007 against South Carolina, a blind lateral from holder Matt Flynn to kicker Colt David, to power the Tigers to a 28-16 victory.

While most trick plays fall within the rules, some skirt the gray areas of the rule book and are later regulated out of existence.

The infamous “fumblerooski” used so famously by Nebraska in a 31-30 loss to Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl was one that resulted in a rules change that banned deliberate fumbles. Another play banned by a change in the rules was former Oakland Raider quarterback Kenny Stabler’s “Holy Roller.” Stabler deliberately fumbled in a 1978 game against the San Diego Chargers and the ball rolled forward toward the goal line. It was batted and kicked into the end zone by tight end Dave Casper, who fell on it for the winning touchdown.

There are many reasons for the love of trick plays.

Maybe it’s because Americans love a longshot. Trick plays usually have as much chance of success as the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae in resisting the Persian invasion force. They’re the equivalent of betting heavily into someone in poker with a pair of twos, trying to bluff them into thinking that you have a flush. Or maybe it’s the flawless execution required to execute a trick play perfectly. For every trick play that works beautifully and makes it on ESPN’s Sportscenter, there are three that result in a huge loss of yards or a turnover.

Whatever the reason, trick plays are an indelible part of football — even if they aren’t exactly fair.

Steve Wilson is sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. You can follow him on Twitter at vpsportseditor. He can be reached at 601-636-4545, ext. 142 or at