Trick or Treat: The Art of Trick Plays in American Sports

Trick plays are on the rise in major sports leagues in the US, and are providing new opportunities for stars to shine.
By: Margie Dillman, Co-Editor in Chief

Trick plays can be found in many different forms throughout all of the major sports leagues in the US. From the hidden ball trick in the MLB, to head fakes in the NHL and fake punts in the NFL, trick plays are a risk that many teams take to rile up the players or make a statement to the other teams. In the NFL trick plays are usually saved for when the team is confident in a win, and are using the time left on the clock to test out new routes and sneak attacks instead of aiming for more points. Famous NFL trick plays usually consist of false play calls, most of which consist of setting up for either a punt or a spike and the team ends up throwing the ball instead. This past weekend the Pittsburgh Steelers drew up a fake punt with a 26-14 lead over the Cincinnati Bengals, their response to the brazen kick from Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict to a Steelers player in the face less than a minute into the first quarter. Pittsburgh lined up for a punt, but the ball was never hiked back to punter Jordan Berry and Robert Golden instead threw it downfield to Darrius Heyward-Bey, who caught it perfectly for a first down and a forty-four-yard gain.

In the NHL, almost every scoring chance is accompanied by some sort of trickery. Most trick plays in the NHL are much subtler that in other sports, as they are necessary to get the goaltender off guard and are not simply used on a superficial level. As players approach goalies and prepare shots they can fake out the goaltender by pretending to start a shot and angling themselves like they are shooting a simple forehand, and instead changing angle and shooting the puck backhanded at the last moment.
Hockey players must have a high hockey intelligence in order to fake out the opposite goaltender, as they not only have to get around the defense they also have to get the goalie to believe they are taking one shot when they are really taking another. For example, Stars player Jordie Benn managed to fake out Minnesota Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper by using head and body fakes on his way towards the net.

The most famous trick play in the MLB is the hidden ball trick. Basemen who failed to tag a runner out will pretend to throw the ball back to the pitcher, and as soon as the runners foot leaves the bag to readjust their stance the base men can simply tag them with the gloved hand that is concealing the ball, and get the out after all.
The use of this play is fairly rare, with some saying that it has only been used 300 times in the century long history of Major League Baseball. It is almost unheard of for a single player to perform the play more than once successfully throughout their career. Third baseman Bill Coughlin, a player for the Washington Senators and Detroit Tigers, is widely seen as the master of this play, as he accomplished it seven times throughout his career.

While trick plays certainly can’t guarantee victory, they are a sure fire way to rile up a team as well as the crowd watching them. There’s just something about plays like that, where they make the audience feel like they are in on a secret.