The Ol' Playbook: The wisdom of trick plays
After watching Boise St. take on, and out-fox, Oklahoma in a thriller that everyone is calling one of the best games in college football history (the Sooners and the Broncos combined for 22 points in the final 86 seconds of regulation), it made me wonder why old school trick plays are not put into game plans more often. After all, Boise St. used a hook and ladder, had its wide receiver throw a touchdown pass on a critical fourth down, and won the game with a Statue of Liberty play. Holy Bob Zuppke! The Sooners, all of whom were born when Reagan was president, looked completely fooled by this leather helmet era trickery, and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said they were expecting a gimmick play when Boise St. ran the Statue of Liberty.
Sometimes imaginative play-calling seems like a lost art. The best play-calling college coaches (Notre Dame's Charlie Weis, USC's Pete Carroll and Chris Petersen of Boise State) win games through their creativity, and the same is true in the NFL (Bill Cowher last season, the suddenly ingenious Chargers' Marty Schottenheimer and the Saints' boy wonder Sean Payton this season). Of course, gadget plays only work if you have a good team and you don't use them all of the time, such as the case with Mike Martz, who when he was left alone in St. Louis, was so tricky that his own team seemed confused. But the Boise St. win in the Fiesta Bowl begs the question: why can't coaches be a little crazier? Coaches are a conservative lot--college headset-wearers more than most--but I don't understand why these guys don't take a calculated chance here or there: it can create big yardage and it pumps up your team and the fans. A gutsy, well-timed roll of the dice is what separates the good coaches from the great ones. (It's also entertaining to watch a great strategist setup an opponent and then--boom!--strike them with something unexpected; many fans simply concentrate on each play, forgetting the totality of game strategy.) And, need I say, it's fun, and funny, to watch your opponents hold their collective jockstraps when one works. It could be argued that the Denver Broncos' Mike Shanahan, the Sean Payton of ten years ago, has lost a little bit of his play-calling flair because he has become more conservative--the element of surprise used to be a staple of the Broncos attack. The Shanahan-led Broncos were a play-off contender (perhaps one Statue of Liberty away from a win on Sunday?), but what's the excuse of Art Shell's Oakland Raiders? The Silver and Black seemed to run a grand total of four different plays each game this season. You would think that Shell would be bored watching Andrew Walter drop back and...get sacked about every other play. How about a double-reverse? How about a flea flicker? Something! Anything!
As for the rest of the coaches, I'm not saying put every throwback play onto your laminated play sheets, I mean, c'mon, the drop kick! The drop kick...and...yet....Doug Flutie did make one in 2006...