Was FSU's fake punt the gutsiest call ever in a title game?
By Sam Gardner
Lost amid all the excitement at the end of Monday night’s thrilling BCS Championship Game between Florida State and Auburn was a gutsy first-half call that, had it failed, may have rendered the Seminoles’ 34-31 comeback victory impossible.
Late in the second quarter, FSU trailed 21-3 and was facing a fourth-and-4 at its own 40-yard line when head coach Jimbo Fisher dialed up a fake punt reverse to running back Karlos Williams.The play was relatively well-defended, but Williams still picked up seven yards, and seven plays later Devonta Freeman scored on a 3-yard run to cut the lead to 21-10.
It was the ultimate risk-reward play for Fisher, who said later that he felt his team losing momentum and needed to do something to put a pep in his team’s step.
Had the play failed, Auburn would have taken over with fantastic field position with the perfect opportunity to turn the game into a rout. Fisher would have been panned for the call, and all of the excitement in the second half would have never turned the game into one of the BCS’ all-time classics.
Instead, FSU got the boost it so badly needed and played like a different team in the second half.
But was it the gutsiest call of all time? Let’s take a look back at some of the most fearless calls in championship history, and let you decide for yourself:
• The 1967 NFL Championship was marked by some of the coldest temperatures professional football has ever seen, and the Ice Bowl came down to a Vince Lombardi call that took all kinds of nerve to pull off.
The score was 17-14 Dallas with 16 seconds left to play, and the Packers, with no timeouts remaining, were facing a third-and-goal from inside the Cowboys 1-yard line.
Conventional wisdom might suggest that the Packers attempt a pass into the end zone so that the clock would stop if they failed, giving them an opportunity for a game-tying field goal or one last try at the end zone. But quarterback Bart Starr and Lombardi, for whom the Super Bowl trophy is now named, had different plans.
According to Starr, he pitched a quarterback sneak to Lombardi, who famously responded, “Run it, and let’s get the hell out of here.”
The play, of course, worked, Starr scored and the Packers won 21-17.
• In 1987, the New York Giants trailed the Denver Broncos 10-9 at halftime of Super Bowl XXI at the Rose Bowl — the site of FSU’s fake punt Monday — and on the first drive of the second half, the Giants faced a fourth-and-1 at their own 46-yard line.
The Giants lined up for a punt, but backup quarterback Jeff Rutledge then moved in under center with two options — either let the play clock run out and take a five-yard delay of game penalty or run a sweep to the right to try to pick up the first down.
Rutledge chose the latter despite Denver players yelling across the line that they knew the play. (The Giants had run the same play earlier in the year against the same Broncos team.) He picked up the first down, and a few plays later, Phil Simms threw a touchdown pass to Mark Bavaro. The Giants would take the lead and never relinquish it, winning 39-20.
• It wasn’t the BCS Championship Game, but it might as well have been for the Boise State Broncos, who faced Oklahoma in a 2007 Fiesta Bowl game that most assumed would be an effortless Sooners win.
The game turned out to be anything but a romp for Oklahoma, and midway through the third quarter, Boise State led 28-10. The Sooners came storming back, though, and took a 35-28 lead late, only to have the Broncos tie the game with seven seconds left in the fourth quarter.
That would be the last time Boise State played for the tie, though, and after matching the Sooners’ touchdown in the first overtime, the Broncos bused out the Statue of Liberty play — a backyard football staple — to convert the two-point conversion and win the game 43-42.
• The New Orleans Saints trailed Indianapolis 10-6 at the half of Super Bowl XLIV in 2010, and were scheduled to kick off to Peyton Manning and the Colts offense to start the second half.
But Saints coach Sean Payton had other ideas and made one of the boldest decisions in Super Bowl history, calling an onside kick by Thomas Morstead.
It was the first time an onside kick had ever been attempted before the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl, and apparently the element of surprise caught Indianapolis as off-guard as it did everyone else. The Saints recovered the kick and took the lead six plays later on a 16-yard pass from Drew Brees to Pierre Thomas.
Indianapolis briefly retook the lead midway through the third, but New Orleans closed the game with 18 unanswered points to give the franchise its first Super Bowl championship.
So what do you think? Where does Jimbo Fisher’s fake punt Monday rank in the pantheon of the most gutsy calls in championship history? Leave your opinions and suggestions in the comments.