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Ode To The Fumblerooski: Revisiting College Football’s Lost Play Not Seen In 18 Years

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With all the gadget plays Boise State has pulled out of its bag of tricks the past couple years, there’s one gimmick we still haven’t seen in college football for almost two decades. In fact, the last time most people saw it was in the 1994 movie “Little Giants,” when it was known as the “Annexation of Puerto Rico” (the play was also in “The Longest Yard” remake, but who really saw that?).

But by any other name, the lost play of college football just isn’t as sweet. We’re talking about the “fumblerooski.”

Here’s a quick refresher: When the ball is hiked, the quarterback intentionally fumbles the ball and leaves it on the ground completely unprotected. The offense sprints to one side of the field in what appears to be a stretch play. Then an offensive guard that stayed at home scoops up the ball and sprints the other way like a charging wildebeest.

Created by John Heisman himself, the fumblerooski first gained national recognition when Nebraska coach Tom Osborne called for it down 17-0 to Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl with the national championship on the line. Guard Dean Steinkuhler picked up the ball and rumbled for a 19-yard touchdown and changed the momentum of the whole game, although the Huskers eventually lost 31-30 on a failed two-point conversion.

After its success on national television, the fumblerooski became common over the next decade. Oklahoma ran it successfully in the 1988 Orange Bowl – also against the Hurricanes – Bobby Bowden ran a “puntrooski” vs. Clemson the following season and Nebraska pulled it out again in a 1992 romp over Colorado.

An incredibly risky call, the play didn’t always work. Florida State ran a fumblerooski while leading Auburn by seven in 1990. The Tigers recovered and went on to win the game. Oops.

Banned from the NFL since the early 1960s, the NCAA finally had enough after the 1992 season. Complaining that officials had a hard time telling if the snap was legal, it outlawed “a planned loose ball in the vicinity of the snapper” to the chagrin of fans and writers everywhere.

While teams have since run interpretations of the play - such as the Northwestern’s failed trickeration at the end of last season’s Outback Bowl - nothing comes close to the charm of a 300-pound lineman barreling downfield.

Fans thought they had found a loophole in the rule a couple years ago when former NFL referee Jerry Markbreit stated in a 2007 Chicago Tribune article that the fumblerooski would be legal if the ball was placed behind the quarterback instead of in front. Sadly, NCAA spokesman Cameron Schuh says this would still be ruled illegal in the college game.

But all hope is not lost. Boise State head coach Chris Petersen has said in the past the fumblerooski would be in his playbook if it was legal, and technically, it still is.

SEC head of officiating Rogers Redding (go ahead, insert joke about SEC officiating here) said the play would be legal if the quarterback was not under center when the ball was hiked. Running the fumblerooski out of the shotgun would be impossible. Even running it out of the Pistol formation – in which a quarterback lines up about three yards behind center instead of six, and would better hide the ball from the defensive line – would still be considered crazy.

So crazy it just might work? We can only hope.

 
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