American Football

Your Own “Philly Special” Might Be Hiding in Plain Sight

The Eagles used a nifty trick play to help win the Super Bowl, but they didn’t come up with it themselves. Borrowing plays from other teams can lead to major success.

The Philadelphia Eagles are currently awaiting word on whether they’ll be granted the trademark to the phrase “Philly Special”, the name of the famous play that resulted in a touchdown reception by quarterback Nick Foles in this year’s Super Bowl.

While the term might soon belong to the team, the play itself, ironically, does not.

The Eagles installed the play after watching the Bears use it to score during the 2016 season. And before you credit Chicago for being innovative, note that the Bears actually call the play the “Clemson Special” after swiping it from college ranks a few years back.

And we can’t even be sure Clemson originally came up with it…  

The point is, coaches of all sports are constantly “borrowing” plays and things they see in the video from opponents. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and if a set or motion works well for one team, it’s easy for coaches to imagine their squad running the same thing. It’s an effective way to add to your playbook and open your mind to new ideas.

Always Be on the Lookout

Inspiration can come from anywhere. High school and college concepts are constantly bubbling up into the NFL. Coaches put their profession before their pride and aren’t afraid to borrow from institutions below them on the totem pole.

Regardless of the setting, keep your eyes peeled for something interesting. Inspiration can come from a play an opponent runs against you, something you see in the video while scouting, or a clever concept executed by your nephew’s middle school team.

Take advantage of college and pro games on TV. There’s no harm in kicking back and relaxing to watch a game—you don’t constantly have to be on the clock. But for the most part, make a habit of watching for formations or plays you might be able to replicate with your team. Keep a notebook handy to mark down the time an interesting action occurred so you can go back and study the video in more detail later.

Consider Your Personnel

While you may be intrigued by a particular play, it has to match your talent. Remember when the Wildcat briefly took the NFL by storm in 2008 and 2009? Pro teams swiped the concept, which replaced the quarterback with another running back in the shotgun formation, from Arkansas. The Razorbacks had two consensus All-American running backs in Felix Jones and Derek McFadden. Teams without two talented backs found far less success with the Wildcat.

Now consider the Philly Special. The tight end who threw the pass was Trey Burton, a former college quarterback who is no stranger to putting the ball in the air. And Foles was recruited by numerous Division I basketball programs in high school, making him an above average athlete for a signal caller and an ideal candidate to catch the pass. The Eagles had the perfect personnel to pull off the now-legendary play.

So as you search for plays to replicate, take your personnel into account. A play that looks great when one team runs it might be a complete disaster for another. Find plays that will match your athletes’ strengths.

Source as Many Ideas as You Can

You’re not in this alone. Ask your assistant coaches to keep an eye out for ideas as well. Select a few veteran players you trust—likely your quarterback and/or captains—and pick their brains about anything interesting they’ve seen. They’re the ones on the field, and their different perspective could unearth some new ideas. This also builds trust between you and your players.

Talk to other coaches you trust from around your area about trends they’ve seen or things they’ve picked up on. They’re the competition, so they probably won’t feed you information, but they can at least provide some ideas to riff on or things to watch for.

It’s commonplace for teams to steal plays from others, but smart coaches do it in unique ways that accentuate their players talents. For more coaching ideas, check out our Resources page.