flea flicker

In football, there are numerous strategies and plays that teams employ to outsmart their opponents and gain an advantage on the field. One such play that has gained popularity over the years is the “flea flicker.”

This deceptive play involves a combination of misdirection and trickery, often resulting in big gains or even touchdowns.

Here we look into the details of the flea flicker, exploring its history, execution, and impact on the game.

The Origins of the Flea Flicker

The flea flicker is not a recent innovation in football; it has been around for several decades.

The play was first introduced by Dana Bible, the head coach of the Texas A&M Aggies, in the 1930s.

Bible’s intention was to create a play that would catch the defense off guard and open up opportunities for big plays downfield.

Over time, the flea flicker has evolved and been adapted by various coaches and teams.

Today, it is a staple in the playbook of many football teams, from high school to the professional level.

In the video below (only viewable on YouTube) are some of the best flea flickers at the NFL level.

NFL Best Flea Flickers

How Does a Flea Flicker Work?

The flea flicker is a trick play that involves a series of coordinated movements between the quarterback, running back, and wide receivers.

The play begins with a fake handoff from the quarterback to the running back.

The running back then tosses the ball back to the quarterback, who drops back as if preparing to pass.

Meanwhile, the wide receivers sprint downfield, pretending to run their routes.

As the defense reacts to the apparent passing play, the quarterback launches a deep pass to one of the wide receivers who has managed to get behind the defense.


Let’s take a closer look at how the flea flicker works in action.

Imagine a scenario where the offense lines up with the quarterback under center, a running back directly behind him, and two wide receivers split out wide.

  1. The quarterback takes the snap and executes a play-action fake, making it appear as though he is handing the ball off to the running back.
  2. The running back receives the fake handoff but instead of running with the ball, he quickly tosses it back to the quarterback.
  3. As the defense reacts to the running back potentially carrying the ball, the quarterback drops back and prepares to throw a deep pass.
  4. The wide receivers, who initially sprinted downfield as if running their routes, now adjust their paths to get open and create separation from the defenders.
  5. The quarterback identifies an open receiver and launches a long pass downfield.
  6. If executed successfully, the receiver catches the pass and gains significant yardage or even scores a touchdown.

The Impact of the Flea Flicker

The flea flicker is a high-risk, high-reward play. When executed effectively, it can catch the defense off guard and result in substantial gains or touchdowns.

The element of surprise and misdirection often leads to wide-open receivers downfield, as defenders are left scrambling to recover.

However, if the flea flicker fails, it can have disastrous consequences for the offense.

The timing and execution of the play are crucial, and any misstep can lead to turnovers or negative yardage.

Coaches must carefully consider the situation and the capabilities of their players before deciding to call a flea flicker.

When Is the Best Time to Use a Flea Flicker in a Game?

A flea flicker is a trick play in football designed to catch the defense off guard. Therefore, determining the best time to use it involves a lot of variables, as it depends on the specific game situation and the tendencies of the opposing defense.

However, here are some general guidelines:

When the Defense is Aggressive

A flea flicker can work well against an aggressive defense that is committed to stopping the run.

When the running back receives the handoff, defensive players will rush forward to tackle him.

This creates an opportunity for the running back to toss the ball back to the quarterback, who can then throw a pass to a wide-open receiver downfield.

In Medium- to Long-Yardage Situations

Flea flickers are a high-risk, high-reward play.

Because they take longer to develop than a typical play, they’re often best suited to situations where the offense needs to gain a considerable number of yards.

In the Right Field Position

The flea flicker can be most effective when used around midfield or just beyond, as this provides enough space behind the defense for the receivers to get open, but is not so close to the end zone that the defense is playing a deep prevent formation.

When it’s Unexpected

The element of surprise is a key factor in the success of a flea flicker.

If the defense is expecting a run, they’re more likely to fall for the trick.

This could be in a situation where the offense has been running the ball effectively, or in a down-and-distance situation typically associated with running plays (e.g., 2nd and short).

Against Man Coverage

Flea flickers work best against man coverage where defensive backs may lose sight of their receivers as they react to the run.

It can be less effective against zone coverage, where defenders are watching the quarterback and can react to the unexpected throw.

Overall, the flea flicker is a risky play and should be used sparingly. Overuse can lead to defenses being prepared for it, which can result in big losses or even turnovers.

FAQs – Flea Flicker

1. How often is the flea flicker used in football?

The frequency of flea flicker usage varies from team to team and depends on the coaching staff’s preferences and the skill set of the players.

Some teams may use it sparingly, reserving it for critical moments or specific opponents, while others may incorporate it more frequently into their offensive game plan.

2. Can any team execute a flea flicker?

In theory, any team can attempt a flea flicker play. However, successfully executing the play requires precise timing, coordination, and the element of surprise.

Teams with skilled quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers who can sell the fake effectively are more likely to find success with the flea flicker.

3. Are there any risks associated with running a flea flicker?

Yes, there are inherent risks in running a flea flicker.

If the defense does not bite on the fake or if the timing of the play is off, it can result in interceptions, sacks, or negative yardage.

Coaches must weigh the potential rewards against the risks before deciding to call a flea flicker.

4. Can a flea flicker be used in different situations?

Yes, a flea flicker can be used in various situations during a game.

Some teams may choose to use it as a surprise play early in the game to gain momentum, while others may save it for crucial moments in the red zone or during a critical drive.

5. Are there any famous flea flicker plays in football history?

Yes, there have been several memorable flea flicker plays throughout football history.

One notable example is the “Immaculate Reception” in the 1972 AFC Divisional Playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders.

The Steelers executed a flea flicker play that resulted in a miraculous touchdown catch by Franco Harris.

6. Can a flea flicker be used in college and high school football?

Yes, the flea flicker can be used in college and high school football, just like in professional football.

However, the success rate may vary depending on the skill level and experience of the players involved.

7. Are there any variations of the flea flicker?

Yes, there are variations of the flea flicker that teams can employ to keep the defense guessing.

Some variations involve multiple pitchbacks or lateral passes before the final pass, while others incorporate different formations or personnel groupings to create confusion.

8. Can a flea flicker be used in other sports?

The flea flicker is primarily associated with American football and its variations.

While the concept of misdirection and trickery can be applied in other sports, the specific execution of a flea flicker may not be directly transferable to sports like soccer, basketball, or baseball.

9. How do defenses defend against a flea flicker?

Defenses can defend against a flea flicker by maintaining discipline and not overcommitting to the initial fake.

Defensive backs must stay aware of potential deep routes and not get caught out of position.

Additionally, pressure from the defensive line can disrupt the timing of the play and force the quarterback to make rushed decisions.

10. Can a flea flicker be used as a trick play in Madden NFL video games?

Yes, the flea flicker is often included as a trick play in Madden NFL video games.

Players can select it from their playbook and attempt to deceive the virtual defense for big gains or touchdowns.


The flea flicker is a deceptive play in football that combines misdirection and trickery to catch the defense off guard.

It involves a fake handoff, a toss back to the quarterback, and a deep pass to a wide receiver who has managed to get behind the defense.

While the flea flicker can lead to significant gains or touchdowns, it also carries risks if not executed properly.

Coaches must carefully consider the situation and the capabilities of their players before deciding to call a flea flicker.

Overall, the flea flicker adds an element of excitement and surprise to the game, making it a favorite among fans and players alike.

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