25 Craziest Football Terms and Where They Come from

Nick Kostora@@nickkostoraContributor IIIMay 16, 2012

25 Craziest Football Terms and Where They Come from

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    No one ever questions the football lexicon and it's endless array of odd jargon. But where exactly do terms like "Hail Mary" and "Shotgun" actually come from?

    Most football terms actually have a unique and spellbinding history. They can come from former players, coaches or even from other sports like rugby.

    Specifically, there are 25 terms that seem the wackiest.

    Let's break them down and find out where all the madness began.

25. Onside Kick

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    The onside kick is a desperation move by the kickoff team to retain possession of the football.

    The term onside kick originated in rugby where players have to be onside in order to be allowed to gain possession of the kickoff.

    The play is used in both Canadian and American football along with rugby.

24. Mike, Sam, Will Linebackers

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    Think about this one for a second and you can probably figure out it's origins.

    The moniker of "Mike, Sam and Will" grew out of a need to identify linebackers in a 4-3 defensive scheme.

    If this were the military it would be Mike, Sierra and Whiskey, but that is neither here nor there.

    In the 3-4 defense the extra linebacker is called the "Mo".

23. Run and Shoot

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    If you have seen a June Jones coached football game then you have seen the "run and shoot" offense.

    He has perfected the formation during his time at Hawaii and Southern Methodist University.

    However, the run and shoot is not his brainchild.

    That honor goes to former Middletown, Ohio High School football coach Glenn "Tiger" Ellison.

    In it's earliest incarnations Ellison called his new set the "Lonesome Polecat".

    After making some adjustments the run and shoot was born.

22. Red Zone

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    The 20 yard line to the end zone is the mythical area known as the "red zone."

    Why not the blue or green zone you ask?

    Because red is seen as a warning color for the defense.

    Once the offense reaches the "red zone," they are in prime scoring position.

21. Safety

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    Safety actually has two meanings in football.

    One implies the two points that can be scored for pinning the opposing team in their own end zone and the other is a defensive position.

    The score is the reason for the interesting naming.

    It comes from the beginnings of football when a team which possessed the ball near its own goal line could down it in the end zone and have the ball placed at the 25 yard line.

20. Shotgun

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    Once the quarterback takes a few steps behind the line of scrimmage in anticipation of the snap, it is called the shotgun formation.

    The shotgun sprays the receivers all over the field.

    The origins date back to former 49ers coach Red Hickey and his need to beat the Baltimore Colts vaunted pass rush.

    His answer?

    The shotgun formation.

19. Bull Rush

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    The term bull rush literally brings to mind images of the running of the bulls in Spain.

    The term describes a defensive lineman attempting to run right through an offensive player rather than trying to make some fancy move to get around him.

    Think Haloti Ngata of the Ravens all the time.

18. Nickel and Dime Packages

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    The nickel and dime formations were both unsurprisingly coined with money in mind. 

    The nickel defense was created by Philadelphia Eagles defensive coach Jerry Williams in 1960 as a way to stop Chicago Bears tight end Mike Ditka.

    As you may have guessed, it contains five defensive backs. 

    The dime adds a sixth defensive back to the equation. Two nickels make a dime.

    Math and football can work together.

17. Gridiron

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    See that image?

    That is a gridiron used in cooking, and it looks eerily similar to the playing field of a football game.

    No fancy nineteenth century origin story here, folks. The field is called a gridiron because it looks like—well—a gridiron.

16. Halfback

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    The halfback is a running back, but the running back is not half a player, so why call him a halfback?

    The origin of this moniker dates back to the 1940's when there were usually four men in a backfield and each was a threat to run or throw the ball.

    The halfbacks were named as such because of their location in the backfield. The fullback was farthest from the line of scrimmage, the quarterback was the closest and the halfbacks were in the middle.

15. Pigskin

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    The most basic and simple origin story on this list.

    A football is often affectionately referred to as the "pigskin."

    This is because the earliest footballs were made from natural materials like inflated pig bladders. 

    Nowadays, the balls are made with rubber or plastic.

14. Horse Collar Tackle

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    Football players bear no resemblance to horses.

    Yet, when they are tackled by their necks from behind, it is referred to as a "horse collar tackle."

    This is because an actual horse collar is the part of a horse harness device used to distribute load around the horse's neck and shoulders when pulling a wagon or plow—similar to the way a player's neck and shoulders are grabbed on the tackle.

    The play is known to cause injuries, and was it banned in 2005.

13. Pooch Punt

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    No, a pooch punt is not a reference to kicking a dog.

    It is actually a short punt designed to avoid lethal kick returners like Devin Hester and DeSean Jackson,

    Even Bear Bryant would have his quarterbacks attempt the kick to throw off opposing defenses on third downs.

    An interesting strategy, to say the least.

12. Audible

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    The audible is Peyton Manning's bread and butter—changing the play or disguising the call to confuse or take advantage of the defense.

    The standard definition of the word audible is "heard or perceptible by the ear".

    Turns out that is why it is used in football too.


11. Gunner

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    A gunner is one of the most versatile weapons on a football team, and yet, also one of the most overlooked.

    The gunner is the special teams weapon that blazes down the field on a kickoff in an attempt tackle the return man.

    The origin of this term is not too hard to figure out. The gunner runs in a straight line down the field as fast as he can as if shot out of a gun.

    Still, it's an interesting nickname if nothing else.

10. Squib Kick

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    The squib kick, like the "pooch kick" and the "onside kick," is another kicking variation that spices things up when the ball has to be kicked.

    Bill Walsh credits Mike Squib (now a kicking consultant for the San Diego Chargers) for creating the squib kick. He saw Squib kick the ball short at a local high school football game in California.

    It's first use in the NFL was actually an accident.

    In 1981, San Francisco 49ers kicker Ray Wersching miskicked a kickoff against the Detroit Lions at the Pontiac Silverdome.

    The ball took a series of odd bounces off the AstroTurf carpeting and worked in the 49ers favor.

    The rest is history.

9. Wildcat

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    Ever popular in college football and sometimes trendy in the NFL is the Wildcat formation.

    It calls for the quarterback to line up as a wide receiver and for the running back or wideout to take the snap from center.

    Aside from the wacky nature of the play itself, it's origins began with the Delaware Blue Hens and the "wing-T".

    The formation became known as the wildcat when it was popularized by Gus Malzahn and David Lee at the University of Arkansas.

8. Flea Flicker

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    The origins of the flea flicker are truly unique.

    The creation of the play has been credited to former University of Illinois coach Bob Zuppke.

    In a 1951 letter, he wrote that he had introduced the play while coaching at Oak Park High in 1910.

    Zuppke stated that the phrase was meant to evoke "the quick flicking action of a dog getting rid of fleas."

    A quarterback handing the ball off to a running back only to have it tossed back to him.

    Doesn't quite make me think of a dog, but I'll go with it.

7. Blitz

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    Ah, the blitz.

    A term so popular it has spawned it's own video game series.

    Surely you can guess the origins of this defensive term...

    It comes from the war moniker "blitzkrieg," which means "lightning war" in English.

6. Super Bowl

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    While basketball's title series goes with the rather bland "NBA Championship" moniker the other three major sports have more inventive names for their apex contests.

    Baseball has the World Series, hockey has the Stanley Cup and football has the Super Bowl.

    As the AFL and NFL leagues merged in the 1960's, they looked for a catchy name for the championship game.

    The "AFL-NFL World Championship Game" clearly wasn't catchy enough, so AFL founder Lamar Hunt came up with the term Super Bowl after remembering the Super Ball his kids played with.

    Yes, the Super Bowl is named after an ultra bouncy toy ball.

5. Sack

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    Are you ready to have the noise brought on you? That's what we call a sack lunch! Num-num-num-num-num!

    This quote from the film Wedding Crashers brings to mind a history of the word sack that does not exist.

    In actuality, tackling the quarterback while he has the ball behind the line of scrimmage was named a sack because of Deacon Jones.

    The vaunted pass rusher came up with the phrase because it relates to the sacking of a city when it is devastated.

    Nice work, Deacon.

4. Line of Scrimmage

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    Scrimmage is a funny word.

    Why not just call it the line of play or the line of action?

    Scrimmage, like many football terms, comes from rugby and what is affectionately known as the "scrum".

    Scrum is short for scrummage which sounds an awful lot like scrimmage.

    So scrummage equals scrimmage, scrimmage equals scrummage, Finkel is Einhorn and Einhorn is Finkel.

    Got it?

3. Icing the Kicker

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    Perhaps icing the kicker dates back far beyond 2006, but that is when Mike Shanahan popularized it's current incarnation.

    That is when rule changes allowed coaches to call timeouts from the sidelines.

    Shanahan used this to the Denver Broncos advantage when he successfully "iced" Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski.

    Icing has gotten a little out of hand since, and there are virtually no stats that prove it's worth, but icing the kicker is here to stay.

2. Coffin Corner

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    A punter aims to place the ball near the corner of the field and pin the opposing team inside their own five yard line.

    The name "coffin corner" actually comes from the coffin corner found in Victorian houses.

    If you were expecting a more exciting history of the name, then you will be let down.

    It comes from Victorian houses.

1. Hail Mary

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    The last second pass to try and escape the clutches of defeat or close out the first half of football.

    The Hail Mary.

    Why such a religious name for a football play?

    Unsurprisingly, the term started at Notre Dame when players Elmer Layden and Jim Crowley used it to describe a long, low percentage pass.

    Now, it is one of the most thrilling plays in football.


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