The hook and lateral is a trick play in American, Canadian football and indoor American football, often colloquially called the hook and ladder play, though the NFL's winningest all-time head coach who successfully ran the play, Don Shula, has stated that it's a "hook-and-lateral play because the receiver laterals the ball; there is no ladder."

The "hook and lateral" starts with the hook, which is where a wide receiver runs a predetermined distance, usually 10 to 20 yards down the field, and along the sideline, and "hooks in" towards the center of the field to receive a forward pass from the quarterback. Another offensive player (a wide receiver or running back) times a run so that he is at full speed, toward the player with the ball at the time of the catch. As the defenders close in on the stationary ball carrier, he laterals or hands the ball to the teammate running at full speed in the opposite direction of the original receiver.[1]

If unanticipated, this play puts defenders out of position, running in the wrong direction. If the second receiver catches the lateral in stride, he can be long gone before defenders can react. However, the offense runs a high risk of turning the ball over if it is not handled properly because, unlike a forward pass, a dropped lateral pass results in a live ball.

The hook and lateral is one of two common desperation strategies a trailing team can use at the end of a game, the other being the Hail Mary pass. It has the advantage in that it can be attempted anywhere on the field, whereas the Hail Mary can generally only be attempted at a point on the field where the quarterback's throwing arm is strong enough to reach the end zone with a forward pass.


Speculation on origins of names

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Some proponents[who?] of the term "hook and lateral" claim that the "hook" refers to the pattern run by the receiver who catches the pass from the quarterback. The "lateral" refers to the pitching of the ball by the receiver to his teammate. This is not synonymous with a "ladder", which is a specific route (also called a "chair") in which a receiver cuts out before turning up the field along the sideline. If the "hook" receiver laterals the ball to a teammate running a ladder route, the play could accurately be described as a "hook and ladder". This would not be true of many hook and lateral plays; in the case of the play run by the Boise State Broncos in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, the player who received the lateral from the "hook" receiver was running a slant route across the center of the field rather than a ladder route.

On the January 2, 2007, broadcast of ESPN's Around the Horn, sportswriter Woody Paige claimed, perhaps facetiously, that the name "hook and ladder" originated with NYC Firemen Football Team in Hell's Kitchen, New York. This was in response to the other panelists ridiculing his use of "hook and ladder" rather than "hook and lateral". The next day, Jay Mariotti claimed the phrase "hook and ladder" referred to coal mining in Pennsylvania in the 1930s — his research claims that coal miners need a hook and ladder when trapped in a mine. Another possible explanation is that "hook and ladder" is just a corruption of the phrase "hook and lateral".

A "hook and ladder" is a common name for a firetruck, which used to carry various hooks and ladders. The analogies that could be drawn to this play based on a "hook" route (with or without an actual "lateral") and a "hook and ladder" apparatus are numerous. Long extension ladders include two or more pieces, perhaps the first piece being a "hook" route, and the second piece being a run up the "ladder" to the end-zone. The second part of the play is sometimes accomplished with a hand-off, and not a lateral at all. Notwithstanding, there does not seem to be any definitive proof of what the play was originally called or why.


  1. ^ "What is Hook and Ladder? Definition from".
  2. ^ "Greatest play in Miami Dolphins history? It's a no-brainer". tribunedigital-sunsentinel.
  3. ^ "WVU hosts No. 9 Pitt in rivalry game". Times WV (West Virginia). Times WV. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  4. ^ "Hyde: The Hook and Double Lateral that saved a day, a Dolphins season — maybe a regime".
  5. ^ "Dolphins use hook and lateral on final play to stun Patriots, keep playoff hopes alive".