A play diagram depicting a version of a flea flicker type play from an I-formation, fullback offset weakside

A flea flicker is an unorthodox play, often called a "trick play", in American football which is designed to fool the defensive team into thinking that a play is a run instead of a pass.[1] It can be considered an extreme variant of the play action pass and an extension of the halfback option play.


After the snap, the quarterback hands off or laterals the ball to a running back or another player on the team, who then runs towards or parallel to the line of scrimmage. Before the running back crosses the line of scrimmage, he laterals the ball back to the quarterback, who looks to pass to an eligible receiver.[2][3]

A typical football defense is very aggressive to the run, and the flea flicker uses that against them. The play is designed to draw the defense into defending against a run and away from defending a pass, leaving the quarterback free from any immediate pass rush, and leaving receivers potentially open to catch a pass as their covering defenders may have moved off the pass looking to tackle a ball carrier. The elaborate back-and-forth with the ball also gives time for receivers to get downfield, opening up an opportunity for a long completion.

Like most other types of trick plays, the play is very risky. Despite the potential for a very big play when running a flea flicker, the play takes a long time to develop, meaning it often ends in disaster when run against a strong pass rush.


Illinois coach Bob Zuppke is credited with the play's invention:[4][5][6] the flea flicker made its debut in Illinois' 1925 game against Penn as a fake field goal with Earl Britton, Red Grange, and Chuck Kassel.

On the play, Britton lined up as a kicker, with Grange as holder. After the snap, Britton threw the ball to Kassel, who then lateraled to Grange; Grange proceeded to score a touchdown on a 20-yard run.[7]

Notable examples


Reverse Flea Flicker

The rise of the spread offense in recent years has led to the rise of the reverse flea flicker (also known as the double reverse flea flicker), which is an extension of both the conventional flea flicker and a reverse play. The play starts with the quarterback handing the ball off to another player, usually a running back, who then laterals the ball to a receiver. The receiver then laterals the ball again back to the quarterback, who typically takes a shot deep downfield.

Throwback Flea Flicker

The throwback flea flicker is similar to the original flea flicker, but draws the defense to the outside rather than to the inside. The play typically begins with the quarterback pitching the ball to a running back, who runs outside as if the play were a sweep. However, as the ball carrier draws the defense to the outside, he turns and throws a backward pass to the quarterback, often leaving him free of any pass rush when he tries to throw downfield.


  1. ^ Hickoff, Steve (1 August 2008). The 50 Greatest Plays in Pittsburgh Steelers Football History. Triumph Books. ISBN 978-1-63319-081-8 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ Musiker, Liz Hartman (29 July 2008). The Smart Girl's Guide to Sports: An Essential Handbook for Women Who Don't Know a Slam Dunk from a Grand Slam. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-452-28950-5 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ Palmatier, Robert Allen (1 January 1995). Speaking of Animals: A Dictionary of Animal Metaphors. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-29490-7 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ Grasso, John (June 13, 2013). Historical Dictionary of Football. ISBN 978-0-8108-7857-0.
  5. ^ Liss, Howard (September 1, 1975). They changed the game: football's great coaches, players, and games. p. 69. ISBN 978-0-397-31628-1.
  6. ^ McHugh, Roy (1 January 2008). Ruanaidh – The Story of Art Rooney and His Clan. Ruanaidh-Story of Art Rooney. ISBN 978-0-9814760-2-5 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Grange, Red; Morton, Ira (1953). The Red Grange Story: An Autobiography. University of Illinois Press. p. 75. ISBN 0252063295.
  8. ^ Stone, Kevin (November 18, 2015). "Ten things you might not know about Joe Theismann's injury 30 years ago". ESPN. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
  9. ^ "VIDEO: Patriots score flea-flicker TD against Steelers in NFC (AFC) Championship Game". Business Insider. Business Insider. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  10. ^ Horner, Scott (Jan 21, 2018). "NFL playoffs: Teams go flea-flicker crazy in conference championship games". indystar.com. The Indianapolis Star. Retrieved 2018-01-22.
  11. ^ Lyles Jr., Harry (Jan 21, 2018). "Championship Sunday blessed us with not one, not two, but THREE successful flea flickers". SB Nation. Retrieved 2018-01-22.