In American football, the fumblerooski is a trick play. In the fumblerooski, the quarterback deliberately places or leaves the ball on the ground upon receiving it from the center, technically fumbling it. The backs will run to the right, and the right guard will pick up the ball and run to the left. The NCAA banned the play following the 1992 season and the NFL has considered it a "forward fumble" for many years making it illegal. Legal variations of the play's general strategy are still sometimes used.
The origin of the fumblerooski goes back to the early days of football, and its invention has been attributed to pioneering coach John Heisman. An early documented use of the fumblerooski came in 1930, when University of Tennessee quarterback Bobby Dodd called the fumble play in a game against Florida. The play, which Dodd said he had run with his high school team, went for a touchdown in the Volunteers' win. It was also used by Greenville High School during the 1933 Texas High School Football Championship.
In the 1984 Orange Bowl game, #1 ranked Nebraska trailed Miami 17–0 after the first quarter. Early in the second quarter, Nebraska coach Tom Osborne called for the play, whereby Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill effectively "fumbled" the snap from center Mark Traynowicz, by setting it on the turf. The ball was picked up by offensive guard Dean Steinkuhler, who ran the ball 19 yards for a touchdown. This was not the first time that Nebraska ran it, having first tried it twice in a 17–14 loss to Oklahoma in 1979. Reflecting on the game years later, Miami coach Howard Schnellenberger denounced the use of the play:
We had to come up with some good plays at the end there to win it, but we did force them to resort to the fucking fumblerooski. I told them before the game if those bastards have to run the fumblerooski, come to the sidelines and party because they have given up their right of manhood.
The play was used by the Oklahoma Sooners four years later, in 1988, also against the Miami Hurricanes, who fell prey to the fumblerooski in a national championship game a second time. Sooner quarterback Charles Thompson left the ball for offensive guard Mark Hutson, who proceeded to run for a touchdown. Oklahoma, like Nebraska four years earlier, would suffer the same fate that they would eventually lose to Miami 20–14 and cost them their undefeated season and their national championship.
On October 20, 1990 Florida State tried to run the play against Auburn in the 4th quarter while holding a 7-point lead. Auburn recovered the "fumble" before FSU's guard could "recover." Auburn would score the tying touchdown on the ensuing drive and eventually win on a last second field goal by Jim Von Wyl, marking one of the very rare occasions that the play failed.
Tulane appeared to execute the play for a 21-yard touchdown run against Alabama in a game on October 10, 1992; however, guard Andy Abramowicz's knee was on the ground as he picked up the ball, resulting in him being down at the spot.
Like the NFL in the 1960s, the NCAA banned the use of the fumblerooski after the 1992 season, making intentional fumbles illegal. In April 2006, the NFHS followed suit, banning intentional fumbles, according to the Los Angeles Times. However, longtime former NFL referee Jerry Markbreit says the play is still legal, provided the quarterback places the ball on the ground behind himself, rather than in front (the forward fumble was banned as the result of another play, the Holy Roller). Direct handoffs to offensive linemen are still thoroughly legal, meaning that the play can still be executed as originally devised, except the ball must be handed off instead of left on the ground to be picked up. Furthermore, since 2008, the center himself can execute the fumble and the ball will be live once the ball hits the ground.
A form of the fumblerooski was used in the 2004 Peach Bowl by the Clemson Tigers against the Tennessee Volunteers. The quarterback, Charlie Whitehurst, laid the ball at the fullback's feet as he took the snap and ran a fake to the right while the fullback ran left for an 8-yard touchdown run.
The Texas Longhorns tried the same play against Nebraska on October 21, 2006. It failed to score, however, when Husker linebacker Bo Ruud picked up on the trick play and subsequently tackled the runner.
Another variation of the play is known as the Bumerooski. The Bumerooski is named after former NFL head coach Bum Phillips. In this variation a handoff is made to a player between his legs. This play is still legal in the NFL and NCAA as the ball never touches the ground.
On December 10, 2006, the San Diego Chargers ran a successful bumerooski, against the Denver Broncos that resulted in a 4-yard touchdown run for fullback Lorenzo Neal's first touchdown of the season. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson was lined up in the backfield with running back LaDainian Tomlinson. The ball was snapped to quarterback Philip Rivers, who handed the ball to Neal between his legs. After the handoff, Rivers and Tomlinson both sprinted right, with Rivers faking a handoff to Jackson faking an end-around right. At the same time, Neal faked a block, and, with the defense still unaware that he had the ball, sprinted left for the touchdown. This was technically not a fumblerooski as the ball was not set on the ground; instead this was merely a trick handoff, and might be considered a variant of the Statue of Liberty play. Bum Phillips' son Wade was the defensive coordinator for the Chargers.
The Carolina Panthers used a variation of the bumerooski on December 18, 2011 in a regular season game against the Houston Texans which resulted in a touchdown by fullback Richie Brockel. Newton handed off the ball to Brockel through his legs and faked the run to the right, while Brockel went left.
On November 23, 2013, the Fresno State Bulldogs successfully executed a Fumblerooski on their home field against the New Mexico Lobos, scoring on a 26-yard touchdown run by senior wide receiver Isaiah Burse with 10:27 remaining in the second quarter. The Bulldogs would go on to defeat the Lobos 69–28 and clinch the 2013 Western division of the Mountain West Conference.
A variant of the fumblerooski is the "bounce rooski", in which the quarterback throws a pass behind him that bounces along the ground and to a wide receiver, attempting to fool the defense into thinking it was an incomplete pass. Once the defense is relaxed, the wide receiver (or even an ineligible receiver such as an offensive tackle) can then simply throw it to a player downfield, since a backwards incomplete pass counts as a fumble, and not an incomplete pass.
Texas A&M used this play, calling it the "Texas Special", in a 1965 game against the University of Texas, taking a 17–0 lead in what was nearly a big upset before eventually falling 21–17.
During their first game of the 2010 NCAA season, Wake Forest fell for the bounce rooski run by Presbyterian College. Immediately after the snap, Presbyterian quarterback Brandon Miley threw what appeared to be an incomplete short pass to the side, to WR Derrick Overholt. The ball bounced off the ground but into the hands of Overholt, who then feigned disappointment. The Wake Forest defenders fell for Overholt's incomplete-pass theatrics, not realizing the pass was backwards, making it a live ball. Overholt then threw the ball downfield to waiting WR Michael Ruff who was wide open and subsequently ran the ball into the end zone for a 68-yard touchdown. Wake Forest would, however, go on to win the game by a score of 53–13.
In other popular culture
The fumblerooski is featured as a play setting up the climax of the 1994 film Little Giants, in which the Little Giants score on the game's final play. In the film, the play was called "The Annexation of Puerto Rico", though the opposing coach played by Ed O'Neill correctly identifies the play, shouting "Fumblerooski! Fumblerooski!" This scene later served as the inspiration for the aforementioned December 2011 play by the Carolina Panthers.
The fumblerooski was used in the 2005 remake of The Longest Yard to bring the prisoners within one point of the officers on the last play of regulation (pending the two-point conversion).
- American football strategy
- Flea flicker (American football)
- Holy Roller (American football)
- Statue of Liberty play
- Trick play
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