Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan couldn’t possibly have known this, but he ran an illegal Hideout Play against the Ravens on practically the 60th anniversary of the last legal Hideout Play. Even better, the victim both times was a Baltimore team — the Colts in 1954 and the Ravens on Sunday.
The last legal Hideout Play (a.k.a. Sleeper Play) was run Sept. 26, 1954 — by the sneaky Los Angeles Rams on the first play of the season. The Colts defense didn’t notice wide receiver Skeet Quinlan hanging out near the sideline when the ball was snapped, and no one was near him when he caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from Norm Van Brocklin. After the Rams won 48-0, Commissioner Bert Bell said, in essence, “Enough of this crap. We’re not a Sunday morning touch-football league. Anybody who tries to run a Hideout Play again will be penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.”
(His actual quote was: “This thing never should have happened in the first place. No matter how many good rules we have, somebody also comes up with something that we have to correct.”)
Here’s the brief game summary that appeared in newspapers across the country:
And here’s Bell declaring the play illegal the next day:
Sure enough, the following was added to the rulebook in 1955 (under Rule 10 — Section 2): “If an offensive player lines up less than five yards from the sideline on [the] same side as his team’s players bench, and his teammates (even though they are outside of [the] field of play) are in close proximity to where he is lined up when the ball is snapped, it is Unsportsmanlike Conduct.”
If he were “in close proximity” to his teammates, of course, his uniform would blend in with theirs and he’d be harder to notice. That’s one of the reasons the play was so effective in the early days. (That and the fact that clubs would usually save it for late in the game, when darkness was closing in. Many stadiums back then didn’t have lights — or had inadequate lighting — making the sidelines less visible in the fourth quarter.)
Actually, quarterback Johnny Manziel, the focal point of Sunday’s shenanigans, was in closer proximity to coaches than players as he stood along the sideline in the second quarter, pretending to have a conversation with his offensive coordinator. He had just come out of the game after being sent in for one play – a run by Isaiah Crowell that lost a yard.
As you can see from the clip, Manziel and Shanahan did a great selling job — had any of the Ravens bothered to notice. Johnny had his back turned to the game, waiting for Kyle to tell him to “Go!” (which he clearly did), and wide receivers coach Mike McDaniel gesticulated in the background for good measure. Then Johnny took off, free as can be, down the sideline, and Brian Hoyer hit him for a 39-yard gain to the Baltimore 23.
Alas, the play was called back — not because it was illegal (the referee didn’t mention anything about that), but because running back Terrance West wasn’t set before the snap. The Browns ended up punting and went on to lose 23-21; but think about it: How “great” would it have been, after the two weeks the NFL has had, for one of its teams to win a game by running a bogus play? After all, had West not messed up, Cleveland easily could have gotten three and possibly even seven points out of that possession.
Beyond that, though, there’s always been something a little cheesy about the play. It just doesn’t seem like something pro football players should be doing. That, certainly, was the point Bell was trying to make. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for coaches reviving long-lost offensive and defensive stratagems. But to pull a stunt like this . . . . Come on, Kyle. With all the rules favoring the offense nowadays, you’re running a Hideout Play? What’s next, having Manziel stick the ball under his jersey?
Some other things about the last Hideout/Sleeper Play that might interest you:
● Hall of Famer Weeb Ewbank made his NFL head-coaching debut with the Colts that day. The Hideout Play, in other words, was the housewarming gift he received from the Rams (the rats).
● The Baltimore cornerback who got caught sleeping was Don Shula. Years afterward, he said, “I remember thinking: Where in hell is [Van Brocklin] throwing the ball?”
● When the teams met again late in the season, the Colts gained a measure of revenge by upsetting the Rams 22-21. How sweet must that victory have been?