flea-flicker (1911)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Jan 10 21:11:08 UTC 2005

At 4:47 AM -0500 1/9/05, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
>     On the Jets' second possession, their offensive coordinator,
>     Paul Hackett, called a flea flicker.
>     http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/09/sports/football/09jets.html
>A flea-flicker is "any of various deceptive football plays in which the
>ball is quickly transferred between players (as by a lateral) before or
>after a forward pass" (W10).  HDAS relies on W10 for a first cited date of

I believe this term has narrowed to denote a play in which the ball
is eventually lateraled back to the quarterback (typically after a
handoff to a running back, who indeed attempts to deceive the defense
by running with the ball for a short period, with the intention of
leaving a receiver uncovered deep) who passes the ball.  A halfback
option pass, while satisfying the above definition, no longer counts
as a flea-flicker.  Certainly three passes (as in the 1913 entry)
before the long forward passes are no longer required; the ball just
has to leave the QB's possession before re-entering it for the long


>The HDAS cites, Proquest, and Google all suggest that the "flea-flicker"
>was invented by Bob Zuppke, who coached Chicago's Oak Park High School
>team before becoming head coach at the University of Illinois in 1913.
>     http://www.coachz.net/B.Zuppke.htm
>     Zuppke will always be known for having one of football's greatest
>     minds. He invented the huddle, the flea-flicker, the screen pass,
>     the pass-block, the long snap and a new defensive position now
>     known as the 'linebacker.'
>Earliest cites from the Trib:
>1911 _Chicago Daily Tribune_ 19 Nov. C1/6 All the intricate formations
>Coach Zuppkee [sic] ever evolved were used with effect. The famous "flea
>flicker," "whoa-back," and other uncanny formations worked with much
>1911 _Chicago Daily Tribune_ 3 Dec. B2/1 A famous "flea flicker" went bad
>but Oak Park recovered.
>1913 _Chicago Daily Tribune_ 2 Nov. B3/5 Oak Park's "Ghee Haw," "Flea
>Flicker," and "Flying Dutchman" plays were a revelation to the effete east
>and Everett was beaten 32 to 14. The "Ghee Haw," which received its name
>as a pun because originally it centered around Ghee, present quarterback
>at Dartmouth, was a double pass and then a forward pass, while the "Flea
>Flicker" called for three passes before the long forward pass.
>--Ben Zimmer

More information about the Ads-l mailing list