NFL: The Worst Trick Play in History

One of the most exciting plays in all of sports is the football trick play. Throughout NFL history, it’s been a unique quirk that requires an intimate knowledge of the rules to pull off. In a sport that can be so brutal and predictable, a well-timed trick play can produce a needed jolt of excitement.

However, the Indianapolis Colts’ attempted trick play against the New England Patriots in Week 6 of the 2015 NFL season was not one of those plays.

Examples of trick plays

Teams can use a variety of trick plays on both offense and special teams. Some specific examples include:

  • Reverse: A reverse is when two wide receivers run behind the line of scrimmage in opposite directions. The first receiver accepts a handoff from the QB. He then hands off or flips the ball to the second receiver running in the opposite direction.
  • The Fumblerooski: After pretending to accept the snap from the center, the QB lets the ball drop to the ground in what amounts to an intentional fumble. Both the QB and running back run away from the ball. An offensive lineman picks up the ball and runs away from the QB and running back (for a big gain if the defense isn’t paying attention).
  • Flea flicker: The QB hands the ball off to the running back. After advancing a few steps toward the line of scrimmage, the running back flips the ball back to the QB, who throws a deep pass. The end result draws the defense in to defend the running play, leaving the speedy receiver open down the field.
  • Direct snap: An increasingly popular play, the direct snap involves snapping the ball directly to a running back as opposed to the QB. The defense, expecting a pass to the QB, may take a moment to recover while the running back advances the ball.

The most memorable trick plays

Throughout NFL history, several particularly memorable trick plays have been successful, including:

  • In 2006, the Steelers executed a reverse pass for a touchdown in Super Bowl XL against the Seahawks.
  • During a 1994 game against the New York Jets, Dan Marino faked a spike to stop the clock, only to throw a touchdown pass.
  • In 2000, during an AFC wild-card game, the Titans’ Frank Wycheck threw a lateral across the field to Kevin Dyson. He took the ball all the way to the end zone on the last play to give Tennessee the playoff win over Buffalo. You may know this as the “Music City Miracle.”

The worst trick play ever attempted

During Week 6 of the 2015 NFL season, the Colts attempted a trick play against the New England Patriots. As Rodger Sherman noted in his SB Nation piece: “I have no clue what they were trying to do, and they did not do whatever they were trying to do well.”

It was fourth and three on the 37 for the Colts. They ran the punt team on the field — not surprising based on the down, distance, and location of the ball. But what came next was totally unexpected.

Most of the punt team, including the offensive line and punter, ran to one side. The Colts left two players in the center of the field: wideout Griff Whalen to snap the ball and safety Colt Anderson to receive it. They snapped the ball and the Patriots proceeded to steamroll both men and take over on downs.

Clearly, there was a miscommunication as the outcome wasn’t how the play was designed. Nevertheless, the result turned out to be likely the worst play in NFL history.