A few questions about the trick play
When the Redskins' ran their glorious trix play at the end of the first half Monday night, I was sitting with the people. I had wandered down to take photos of various signs and shirts making fun of Vinny Cerrato, and so I stood there amongst the commoners and watched. Then I booed. Sure, there's no cheering, or booing, in the press box, but everyone around me out in the stands was booing, so I figured why not. Immersion journalism.
Anyhow, that play wasn't the lasting image of the game for me -- I'd say the first quarter was much more memorable -- and yet the play turned into something of a big thing. It was the lead story on Yahoo!'s front page, for one thing, and apparently led Google Trends at some point Tuesday. Slow news day.
A day of Tuesday child care responsibilities prevented me from posting about the play previously, but something that gained such national renown cannot pass by without mention, so I'll just ask some questions.
1) What was the most charitable interpretation of the playcall?
I'll hand it to the notion put forward by both John Riggins and Mike Wise: that the play was Zorn's way of spitting in ownership's eye. I happen to find this an absurd interpretation, but hey, maybe it helps you sleep better at night.
"Now there was a great moment I thought on Monday night, which was the attempted field goal, whatever that was supposed to be," Riggins said in his latest video. "Jim, I love you, you're great, because that was your Andrew Dice Clay moment, when you looked up at the owner's box and you went 'Oh, oh yeah, did I tell you, did I tell you?' That was just a beautiful formation. I thought it was well-played. You had eight weeks to hatch that out, to plan it, I thought it was staged perfectly. The Giants called a timeout. Does that deter you in the least? No way. You run it again. That's my man, and that was your sign to the guy up in the owner's box, 'Hey hey, I got this, right here. I got it right here, Mr. Snyder.' "
And with that, Riggins made a rude gesture toward the camera. Wise wrote much the same, at great length:
That absurd call Monday night was the only way Zorn could exact some revenge on his meddlesome bosses, the only way he could get back at a splintered organization he will almost certainly cease to be a part of by the first week of January. And if that's the case, well, it's about time.
I mean, I guess we all have space to fill. I'd just wonder how Zorn's master plan for revenge would have been carried out had the Redskins not been trailing, 24-0, with a field goal opportunity just before halftime. And what the deal was with his other punter-driven fake plays earlier in the year, before all was lost. Trust me, this guy's just weird.
2) What was the most ridiculous thing written about the play?
David Schoenfield, writing for ESPN.com, called it the worst moment in Redskins history, "*Not including the team's insistence on keeping a racially insensitive nickname and mascot or becoming the last professional team to integrate, which they did only under pressure of legal action from the Kennedy administration." I guess he was trying to be funny with this:
That excruciatingly awful fake/trick field goal attempt Monday night that will go down as the worst designed play in NFL history. Even Richard Nixon had a better playbook.
I mean, if one bad play during a blowout during a meaningless season is the worst moment in your franchise's history, you've had it pretty good. I would personally argue that it wasn't close to the worst moment of this season; the Suisham missed field goal against the Saints was worse, the DeAngelo Hall missed tackle in Carolina was worse, the Cowboys game-winning drive was worse, and several moments in the losses to Detroit and Kansas City were worse. To say nothing of, for example, Sean Taylor, but I guess that wasn't funny.
3) What to call the formation?
Golly, so many choices. Joseph White of the AP immediately tweeted three choices:
Redskins try to run fake FG "washbucket" (or "waterbucket" or "picket fence", depending on where you're from).
With Leather's Monday Morning Punter was outraged that more people didn't recognize this for what it was: the Polecat:
It's not a terrible football play, but it's a horrible, horrible NFL play. Even with a real quarterback, this play doesn't work against the Giants. But the Redskins coaching staff thought that the polecat was ready for prime time, which explains a lot about their woeful season.
Another e-mailer insisted it's properly called the "Lonesome Polecat," while others referred to it as the Swinging Gate. As for the play's successful execution, I'll refer to Wikipedia:
The best-known example of the play can be found in the closing scenes of Adam Sandler's remake of the movie "The Longest Yard," where Sandler's team executes the play successfully.
So it can be done.
4. What's a sign that the world has too many writers and not enough stuff to write about?
Honestly, I'm stunned how many people wrote about this. Look, it was a dodgy call, but it was a blip in a blowout. The Redskins have still converted two-thirds of their special teams fakes involving Hunter Smith into touchdowns. Those successful calls got maybe 0.000017 percent of the press that this abject failure did. Some snippets:
New York Times: "Let's say you are the Redskins' Dead Coach Walking Jim Zorn. You are about to be thrown onto Dan Snyder's compost heap of discarded coaches. You have already been humiliated by having your play-calling duties stripped and given to a man who was most recently calling Bingo games. Your team is being destroyed by a Giants defense everyone had written off for dead. And you're thinking, how can I really make a mark on this season? Answer: Run the worst play of the year."
Nah. No way. See below.
Gregg Doyel: I'm going to say this, and I'm not going to exaggerate. I'm simply going to make a reasonable observation about genuinely nice Jim Zorn: That guy's an idiot. ... When he's fired after this season -- and Jim Zorn will be fired after this season -- that play will be his epitaph, a multi-colored bird dropping on the tombstone of his head coaching career. ... Maybe -- and this is my eureka moment -- maybe Zorn knew what would happen. Maybe the play came straight from Sherman Lewis, and Zorn let it happen, knowing the likely result, as if to say to Daniel Snyder, This is the guy you want calling plays? Fine. Here he is. This ain't 'B-14,' Danny."
A Bingo joke? Well, that's original.
Shutdown Corner: "The Washington Redskins were being beaten soundly by the New York Giants last night, and had a chance to get on the scoreboard just before halftime. Head coach Jim Zorn opted against the field goal, and instead ran this "trick play." I guess it sort of worked, because it did catch everyone by surprise, but only in the sense that no one ever dreamed it was possible to execute a play that failed this colossally."
Off the top of my head, last year, Dan Orlovsky got a safety by rolling out to pass the ball and unwittingly stepping out of the back of the end zone. Which playcall failed more colossally?
Don Banks: "It was arguably the worst play call in NFL history. Especially since it came after Washington had lined up in the same freaky field-goal formation, only to see Coughlin call a timeout to adjust his defense."
Ok, you could not possibly, with any sort of straight face, argue that was the worst play call in NFL history. You can't possibly argue that it was a worse play call than the stretch play out of the end zone that resulted in a safety against the Panthers, so that makes it no worse than the second-worst playcall of the 2009 Redskins season. Also, as has been said 600 times, the Skins went ahead with trick play madness after they
the Broncos called a timeout earlier in the year, and it still worked to perfection. And everyone stood and cheered.
Wait, am I now defending Jim Zorn? Man, that wasn't the point of this. Look, the play was awful, and certainly embarrassing. It just wasn't historically, eye-gougingly, kidney-rupturingly awful.
5. What was the low moment of the episode?
Try this on for size.
"We're dogging him about the play, and let's be frank, it's pathetic," Matt Millen said during ESPN's post-game show. "But next week, they're gonna play the Dallas Cowboys, and I'm gonna tell you right now, it is gonna be a brutal game here. And Dallas better be ready, because you're gonna get the best that the Redskins have to offer."
Nice of him to throw in the rest of that, but to be clear, Matt Millen just called the Redskins pathetic.
As for his partner, Steve Young, "We honestly need to move on," Young said, after Zorn had tried to explain the play. "I have to move on," Young insisted. "I cannot respond to that."
6. Blah blah blah?
Should I quote the guys from Around the Horn or the guys from PTI? What the heck, home court rules: After introducing it as "one of the most bizarre moments in the 40-year history of Monday Night Football," Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser discussed the play thus.
"As a result of that play, he's not going to be a head coach again," Kornheiser said of Zorn. "Was that a joke play? Didn't you think it was a joke play?"
"It was sad," Wilbon said. "The whole episode was just sad."
7. Jon Gruden's never seen that play?
"I've never seen that play," Jon Gruden said during the broadcast, as the crew piled on. "I hope I never see it again, Jaws!"
Previously in the night, Gruden had said the only team he'd be coaching next year is his 13-year old son's flag football team. He better study up on the Lonesome Polecat, because he's going to see it again.
8. Players? Who cares about the players?
The thing Zorn was ridiculed for above all was calling for the fake after the Giants timeout. Here's what Todd Yoder, one of the smartest Redskins, said when Matt Terl asked if he still wanted to go for the fake.
"Hell, yeah," he said. "If we could've gotten a big touchdown going in there at the half, changes the momentum of the game, maybe puts it in our favor. I applaud the fact that even upon them calling a timeout, we felt very comfortable that, hey, we needed to make a play at that point in the game, so let's run it. Y'know, go for it."
(Terl also explains how the play was supposed to work, so go read it.)
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