"Who's the more foolish: the fool, or the fool who follows him?" is one of my favorite lines from the entire "Star Wars" series. And it's especially applicable on this annual day of mischief, April Fool's Day. In honor of that, I was tasked with taking a look at some of the best trick plays in NFL history. What follows are my favorite plays that have made defenses look foolish for years and years. Below is the list, with the name of the trick play followed by a game when the play was used to perfection. Some are the original instance of the play, others are just prime examples. If you feel I've acted foolishly by leaving a trick play off the list, send your complaints to @AlexGelhar to keep the conversation going.
By now, a number of quarterbacks have tried to pull off this move, including Matthew Stafford just last year, but Marino's gutsy ruse is the shining example. Marino had been leading a furious comeback for the Dolphins after being down 24-6 late in the third quarter. With just 30 seconds remaining in the game, and one timeout, the Dolphins trailed as they lined up at the Jets' 8-yard line. The clock was ticking and Marino motioned to the ground while yelling "Clock! Clock! Clock!" signifying he'd be spiking the ball. He also shot a subtle glance at wide receiver Mark Ingram before taking the snap. Expecting a spike, the Jets defense relaxed and lazily went through the motions. That was until Marino stood up and delivered a strike to Ingram near the pylon for the game-winning score.
"The Reverse Option" -- Antwaan Randle El to Hines Ward, Super Bowl XL
Calling a trick play in an NFL game is a move that takes some guts. To call a trick play in the Super Bowl verges on insanity. Yet that's just what the Pittsburgh Steelers did in Super Bowl XL when they called "Fake-39 Toss X-Reverse Pass," where wide receiver Antwaan Randle El would fake like he's running a reverse, only to pull up and chuck the ball deep to Hines Ward. Granted, this wasn't the first time this play had been called. Pittsburgh scored on it earlier in the season against the Cleveland Browns. But this was the Super Bowl, and this was the play that put the game on ice for the Steel City and sent Jerome Bettis away from the NFL as a champion.
The Dolphins were losing 24-10, with the clock ticking down in the first half. They needed to make something happen, so they flipped the script back to a schoolyard play they couldn't even make work in practice -- the Hook and Lateral. Quarterback Don Strock took the snap, dropped back, and hit Duriel Harris on a pretty standard curl route. The Chargers converged on Harris, only to watch him lateral the ball at the perfect time to a streaking Tony Nathan, who had slipped out of the backfield and was now on his way, unopposed, to the end zone. That brought the Dolphins and the crowd back into a game they had feared might be over in the first half. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, this game is remembered for a different reason than the hook and ladder. This was the 41-38 overtime thriller known as "The Epic in Miami," during which Kellen Winslow caught 13 passes for 166 yards and had to be carried off the field by his teammates after the Chargers had emerged victorious.
Note: I previously had this listed as the "Hook and Ladder" as it's often mistakenly referred to. Thanks to the adamant and thorough @Jonathan_RHC on Twitter, I now have seen the error in my ways. Need proof? Hear it from Strock and Don Shula themselves.
Frank Wycheck laterals to Kevin Dyson on a kick return as time expires and Dyson takes it to the house for the game-winning score. Everybody knows this play, and if you are too young to have experienced it then check out the video above because it truly is miraculous. It's even more miraculous when you consider that a) the 1999 Bills had the No. 1 defense in the NFL and one of the top special teams units (allowing zero return touchdowns all season) and b) the entire Bills special teams bites toward Wycheck, a tight end not known for blazing speed, instead of keeping their lane integrity and respecting the possibility of some sort of reverse. Whether you believe it was a legal lateral or a forward pass doesn't matter -- the fact that the play worked only adds to the significance of its historical trickery.
If any Bills fans stuck with this article after enduring the Music City Miracle highlight again, this is your reward. Not too long ago, the Bills had a penchant for special teams stunts. They'd run typical fake field goals, but then they'd also bust out flimflams like the one above. During their substitution to swap in the field-goal unit, defensive lineman Ryan Denney lingered by the sideline still on the field but away from the action and out of the minds of the entire Seahawks team. At the snap, holder Brian Moorman stands up and lobs an easy touchdown to Denney, setting up a painful film session for the Seahawks once they started their preparation for the following game.
Football lost a good one last October when Bum Phillips died. In addition to being one of the great characters and innovators in defensive football, Bum also helped institute an offensive trick play that was later dubbed the "Bumerooski" in his honor. In addition to sounding like an expression of sadness by overly fratty frat guys, the Bumerooski is also a classic case of football shenanigans. The play is a legal version of the "Fumblerooski" (made famous in the 1984 Orange Bowl, and immortalized in the film "Little Giants") but instead of the quarterback placing the ball on the ground (considered an illegal forward fumble in the NFL), he hands it off to a running back between his legs and continues the play-fake the opposite direction while the running back scampers into the end zone, usually without incident as the Chargers display in the video above. The Panthers ran a version of the Bumerooski as recently as 2011, showing that a little old-fashioned chicanery never goes out of style.
OK, so this one isn't as tricky as some of the others on the list, but whose heart doesn't start beating a little faster when they see a running back turn and toss the football back to the quarterback? When this trick play goes wrong, it can go wrong in a hurry with a disastrous sack, fumble or tackle for loss. But when it is executed properly and called at the right time, my goodness, it's like poetry in motion. That's still the case when the flea flicker involves a Mike Glennon heave to Tiquan Underwood, as in the video above. Yup, even those two can make this play look pretty.
- Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGelhar and keep the discussion going on the NFL's trickiest plays.