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Posted: Friday November 21, 2008 10:56AM; Updated: Friday November 21, 2008 11:37AM
Dr. Z Dr. Z >
NFL MAILBAG

Z-Mail: Coming full circle on flea flickers and a new wrinkle for FGs

Story Highlights

Going to a respected source to learn the origins of the flea flicker

Reader asks if we'll ever see teams rotate in fresh offensive linemen

Slant routes, mobile QBs and, of course, quips from the Flaming Redhead

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flea-flicker.jpg
The flea-flicker's origin dates back to 1910.
James D. Smith/Icon SMI
Dr. Z's Mailbag
Dr. Z will answer select user questions each week in his NFL mailbag.
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With apologies to Hughes Means:

As I was going up the stair
I saw a man who wasn't there,
And then, quite strange it was to see
I looked again... and it was me!

This is a tale so spooky that the submitter of the e-mail that prompted it automatically becomes my E-mailer of the Week. A simple question from Rhonda King of Portland, Ore., created this outburst. This is the question:

"Why is the flea-flicker called the flea-flicker and who first ran it?"

Hmmm, shouldn't be that hard a matter to research, I reasoned, although somewhere in the cobwebs upstairs I had a dim recollection of once going through this. I found an entry in an old column by SI.com's own Pete McEntegart from Oct. 2006, in which he mentioned the play was originated by Red Grange's old coach at Illinois, Bob Zuppke, who introduced it when he was coaching at Oak Park High in 1910, before his days with the Illini. "The phrase was intended to evoke the quick, flicking action of a dog getting rid of fleas."

And then... oh my God... he cites his reference for this bit of information as the 1967 book, Football Lingo, written by Paul Zimmerman. It was my first book. Zander Hollander co-authored it, at least he shared top billing, although he didn't write a line. He got us the contract with E.P. Dutton and we split the advance. I went for this deal because being young, in my mid-50's or so, I didn't know any better. I've come full circle, researching my own research. Actually, McEntegart notes, my description of the play sounded more like a hook and ladder, a short pass followed by a lateral, than the pitchback-deep-pass that connoted the flea flicker.

"I'd ask Dr. Z myself," he ended it, "but frankly, the man terrifies me."

When I read that I just had to show the Redhead. "Linda! Linda! Look what he wrote about me!" She took the news calmly.

"I'm so excited I just don't know what to say," was her response.

• My second entry is another deep one. Jim of Minneapolis asks me a question I answered six or seven years ago in this column, and it produced an unexpected show of sympathy from even my most hardened e-mailers. Have I ever lost my journalistic integrity because I "became dependent on a star player for material?"

The answer is, "kind of." You try to fight it but sometimes you involuntarily protect good sources. But I did a worse thing. My first newspaper job... the Sacramento Bee. I covered the North Sac Hockey League. The best team was the Rexalls, coached by Mr. Crawford, whose son, Don, was the star. People said that behind the scenes they ran the league. At Christmas they came over to my apartment and gave me a bottle of scotch. I took it.

Shortly thereafter a young referee announced he was quitting the league because of the way the Crawfords got their way in just about everything. I didn't use the item. Our competitor, the Sacramento Union, spread it all over their lead sports page. I felt sick. I did a soul-searching and almost quit the business. My God, I had sold out for a bottle of scotch. It haunts me to this day.

This probably isn't exactly what you're talking about, but it's all very complicated. When I was the NY Post's beat writer on the Jets, for 13 years, my best friend among the players was Winston Hill, the left tackle. We were the same age, our wives played tennis together, our babies played in the playpen together.

One day he came over to me and said, "There's going to be a time when I get old and I'm not playing well. I want you to write it. It won't affect our friendship." I was almost in tears. "I'll never write that," I said in a strangled voice. And I never did.

As far as writers "pimping the super stars," as we call it. Oh, sure. Happens all the time.

• From Kyle of Seattle, and thanks for the boost -- Since teams rotate defensive linemen to keep them fresh, why don't they also rotate offensive linemen, if only for a series? Two reasons. The feeling is it takes more energy to put on a good pass rush or to fight a play at the point of attack than it does to block for a play you already know. And you can take a play off when it's far removed from you. Also, sometimes it takes offensive linemen a while to get their rhythm going, to get in the flow and work smoothly together.

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