Kalani Simpson Sidelines

Kalani Simpson

Opting to send a signal
of his own

June Jones: (Calling Bobby Hebert's house) This is June, can I speak to Bobby?

Bobby's wife: He doesn't take calls.

June Jones: I'm the head coach!

Bobby's wife: He doesn't want me to interrupt him.

HIS," June Jones is saying, "is a funny story."

The Atlanta Falcons practiced the option play every Friday. They would never use it, of course. No NFL team would. Those defensive guys are too big and too strong and too fast in the pros, and all the quarterbacks are passers, not runners, and the quarterbacks would get killed out there.

But the Falcons practiced it every Friday just in case, as kind of a trick play.

Jones, the offensive coordinator, promised his quarterbacks he would never actually call it. Well, not unless the Falcons needed only a few yards for a first down or a touchdown and he knew -- he absolutely KNEW -- what the defense would do, and there would be nobody there to tackle the quarterback.

Then, just get that yard or two and get down.

And those quarterbacks trusted Jones. It would never happen, and if it did, it was a sure thing. First down. Get down.

So here they are. The final minutes against the Rams, Atlanta is winning, trying to run out the clock. Of course they pass often (the way UH does today), and Jeff Fisher -- now the Tennessee coach, then the Rams' defensive coordinator -- knows this. Atlanta is going to pass.

But Jones knows what Fisher is going to do, too. He's going to blitz. He's a Buddy Ryan guy, of course he's going to blitz.

And there, on the end, outside linebacker, is Kevin Greene. Of course he's going to blitz. He would probably blitz anyway. I don't know if you remember Kevin Greene, but he was a lot like Hulk Hogan in a football helmet. He had the long blond hair. The manic mannerisms. He yelled "Woo!" a lot.

Great speed pass rusher.

Of course he was going to blitz.

So Jones called the option.

Billy Joe Tolliver (not Hobert) understood perfectly. He always did. He was the perfect backup quarterback, always ready to roll with it, always prepared. He knew what was up.

So he calls it in the huddle, hut-hut!, takes the ball, and Greene, going upfield like a crazy person, runs right by him.


There was nobody there. Nobody. It's just wide open.

So now Billy Joe is running.

And running. And running. All alone. You can almost hear the "Chariots of Fire" theme song.

Five ... 10 ... 15 ....

Nobody there!

This is the greatest play call of all time.

At last, a fast safety appears in the picture, swooping in. He has the angle, cutting Billy Joe off. But by now Billy Joe has been running for so long he's forgotten he's a quarterback. He's been running in the open field for so long he thinks he can run in the open field.

He's going to put a move on the guy!

So Billy Joe slows for just that split second -- to size up the situation, stutter step, you know, to hesitate, juke, and let the guy run by him, and -- BAM!!!

It was at this moment that everybody realized Greene had slammed on the brakes, Fred Flintstone style, and had turned around and been chasing Billy Joe like a crazy person all this time just waiting for his chance at revenge, getting angrier with every step.

Jones smacked a fist into a palm to describe the impact, which was -- well, let's say to Billy Joe's "tailbone" region.

Those of you who have been hit full speed in the tailbone region by a 260-pound psycho with a 30-yard head start know what this feels like.

Billy Joe is writhing on the ground. The ref is over him trying to determine if they need a timeout to take Billy Joe to the hospital. But the Falcons need to run clock, so somehow Billy Joe wills himself to his feet. He drags himself back to the huddle, half hunched over now because the pain is taking over his entire body. He looks to the sideline for the play.

And Jones just couldn't help himself.

The kolohe look on his face as he tells this story must have been the same one that Billy Joe saw at this moment.

Jones was signaling to run it again.

BILLY JOE ALWAYS knew the right thing to do in every situation.

He could think on the fly. He could react to the moment. He was always prepared.

So he turns to the sideline, still unable to hold himself fully upright thanks to the crippling pain (and at this point in the story Jones gets up from the table to demonstrate Billy Joe's form), looks at his coach-with-a-sense-of-humor calling another option play. Pauses for half a second to let it sink in.

And gives Jones the finger.

On TV.

"Well," the announcer says, unable to say anything else, "I guess he didn't like the play."

Yeah, that's a pretty good story.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Kalani Simpson can be reached at



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