For many people, November 27 means the birthday of Bruce Lee, and also Jimi Hendrix. 90’s TV fans will remember Uncle Phil and Steve Urkel, and 80’s peeps will remember Booger from Revenge of the Nerds.
All of these gents were born on November 27, but for Dolfans, November 27, 1994 will live in history as the day Dan Marino used a fake spike to beat the New York Jets in the “clock play” game.
This was a rare Miami Dolphins game that I did not see live as that afternoon had me on a train coming home from visiting a friend at the University of Western. A local channel picked up the feed for NBC games (in those days, NBC had the AFC games) and that channel was one of the few that my VCR could tape from.
When I got home, I readied the tape and was excited to see the game. This is well before social media, so there was no threat that the game results would be spoiled for me before watching.
This was a big game as Miami had lost two straight which took their 7-2 big lead in AFC East to a 7-4 logjam. The Jets were on a 4-2 run which had them up to 6-5 and the division was up for grabs (at this point only two games separated top from bottom in AFC East).
I recently interviewed O.J. McDuffie and prior to that Keith Sims. We all talked about that game (McDuffie audio is here — 7:10 mark for clock play talk; Sims audio is here — 10:23 mark for clock play). Both had great stories, and both noted that the team played poorly for most of that game.
A 10-0 N.Y. halftime lead became 17-0 in the third quarter. I caught a glimpse of myself at that point … I was slumped over with no energy as the depression of watching Miami lose a third straight game to drop to 7-5 was kicking in. Losses in the division always hurt, and this was going to be no exception.
Marino would find Mark Ingram from 10 yards out for a touchdown, and after the Jets scored again, Marino found Ingram a second time from 17 yards out for another TD to close the third quarter. The Marino-to-Ingram combo would strike again from 28 yards out to bring Miami within 24-21 in the final quarter.
Miami would get the ball back late and after a completion down to the Jets’ eight-yard line, they were rushing up to the line of scrimmage when Marino signaled the secret play call to Ingram. The game was in the final 30 seconds at this point, and Miami had just one timeout left.
Practically everyone who heard Marino yelling “clock clock clock” and making a “spike” motion with his hand knew it was the signal to spike the ball in order to preserve their lone remaining timeout, but we know now it was actually the signal to run the secret play.
The only people who knew about the “clock play” were Marino, Ingram, and Bernie Kosar. The veteran Kosar was new to the team and he is the one who brought the idea of the play. He and Marino knew it could only ever work once so they had to pick the perfect moment. As Marino was running to the line of scrimmage, Kosar was on the radio suggesting to Marino’s earpiece that now was the perfect time to run the trick play.
The plan was to attack then-rookie DB Aaron Glenn. He did force a back-shoulder throw as he was giving more effort than most on the field (even the other Dolphins had been fooled into thinking Marino was just going to spike the ball) but the end result was Ingram snaring his fourth TD of the game. 28-24 final for Miami.
The play went down in the books as one of the best trick plays in NFL history. An interesting aftermath of that game was the Jets would lose their remaining games and subsequently fire then-head coach Pete Carroll. Things sure worked out for Carroll after that, but the clock play game was a low point in his career.
He said neither he nor his team ever rebounded from that game.