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The (possible) history of that wild 2-point conversion

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The Bears ran the craziest 2-point conversion that many football fans ever saw. Its roots likely go back to former NFL coach Les Steckel, who shares a background with Dowell Loggains.

Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

No one could remember seeing the 2-point conversion before.

Trailing 17-15 against the Vikings Monday night after Mitch Trubisky’s first career touchdown pass, the Bears lined up for two and dialed up a nifty one. Trubisky stood in shotgun with Jordan Howard to his right and Zach Miller lined up at tight end on the left side of the formation. Trubisky took the snap and handed off to Howard, who ran left.

Howard then handed to Miller, who was running back to the right. Trubisky also ran to the right, setting up an option play between Miller — an option-quarterback in college — and Trubisky.

Just as a defender zeroed in on Miller, he pitched to an uncovered Trubisky, who sauntered in untouched for the two-point conversion.

As confirmed by Trubisky via WGN’s Adam Hoge, the play came from Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. Hoge was one of several members of the media — including our own Robert Zeglinski — who first witnessed the play during training camp this summer, and indeed, Trubisky thanked the media during his presser for not giving it away.

They didn’t. In a night of surprises, that play was the biggest. Everyone went nuts. Commentators, fans, and even former players all remarked on Twitter that they’d never seen the play before.

Well, everyone but FootballScoop.com.

That’s because @FootballScoop tweeted a clip yesterday of the Buccaneers running the play in 2000, also for a 2-point conversion.

The article, written by Football Scoop’s Scott Roussel, provided a bit of background on the play, noting that it came from Tampa Bay’s then-offensive coordinator Les Steckel. Roussel remembered the play as soon as he saw it, as did several high school and college coaches who Roussel saw tweeting that they’d run the play before.

He located it from a Buccaneers-Packers game in 2000 and found the clip. He ended the article writing:

Something tells me Coach Steckel enjoyed seeing that one called last night; and he probably remembers to this day the coach from whom he got the idea…

My best guess? Steckel’s coach at the University of Kansas, Jack Mitchell.

The All-22 view, courtesy of Adam Hoge in his “10 Bears Things” column — link at the end of the story.

Jack Mitchell and the Split T

As coach at KU from 1958 to 1966, Mitchell brought with him the Split T offense, which he played in college at University of Oklahoma. As OptionFootball.net explains, the Split T is a run-heavy offense, and the original formation used to run the option.

Jack Mitchell learned the Split T from Oklahoma head coach Bud Wilkinson, who learned it from its chief innovator, Don Faurot. When Mitchell implemented the Split T at Kansas, one of his running backs was a walk-on and future coach: Les Steckel.

So it seems likely that Steckel soaked up the Split T from Mitchell.

(Side note: you know who else played at Kansas with Steckel under Mitchell? Future Bears special teams coach Mike Sweatman, whom Steckel hired in 1984 when he was head coach with the Vikings. As Pat Mannelly told us, Sweatman is the coach who implemented the fake field goal “ninja,” which the Bears ran for a touchdown in 2001 against Washington, with Brian Urlacher catching and scoring.)

Steckel might have also been influenced by the single wing offense, which according to footballbabble.com has a play called the “wingback reverse,” which looks very similar to the Trubisky-to-Howard-to-Miller portion of our 2-point conversion:

From FootballBabble.com: “The tailback receives the snap and heads around the right end. The wingback, meanwhile, it running the opposite direction in the backfield. When the two pass one another, a handoff is made to the wingback, and he continues on around the left end.“

To me, the 2-point conversion we ran looks like a merging of the wingback reverse and a classic Split T option, perhaps one of the “criss-cross reverse” plays that Faurot ran, (and that SB Nation broke down in 2015).

Les Steckel, master of tricks

Steckel’s only NFL head coaching job came in 1984 with the Vikings, a position he lost after one season. He then bounced around in assistant positions, and in 1997, he came to Tennessee with the Oilers/Titans as offensive coordinator.

I used the search tool in Pro Football Reference, and sure enough I found that in 1999, the Titans unsuccessfully ran the Howard-Miller-Trubisky play on a 2-point conversion, with Frank Wycheck in the Miller role and Steve McNair at quarterback.

The Tennessean wrote it up the next day in a section called “Titans Worsts”:

Steckel always embraced trickery. As Vikings head coach, during a 27-20 win over the Falcons, he called two reverses and a halfback option on a single scoring drive, ending with a 43-yard touchdown on the halfback pass.

“You’ve got to be able to sense the right time,” Steckel said after the game about running trick plays. “Sometimes the plays backfire. Then people will want to know why in an important game do we run crazy plays.”

The play comes to the Bears

So, how did that tricky 2-point conversion end up in the Bears’ playbook?

Well, when Steckel coached in Tennessee, his head coach was Jeff Fisher. Steckel left the Titans after the 1999 season, but Fisher was there until 2010, and in 2006, he hired a 26-year-old to work with the quarterbacks as a coaching administrative assistant: Dowell Loggains.

Loggains coached under Fisher for five seasons, so I don’t know if this is true, but it’s totally possible that during their time together, Fisher told Loggains about the failed Steckel play from 1999. The Titans may have even run it while Loggains was there. I cannot find evidence that they did, but that doesn’t mean that the play didn’t somehow work its way from Steckel to Fisher to Loggains.

That said, we do know that Fisher and John Fox are friends, and that Fox turned to Fisher in April for advice on bringing along a franchise quarterback. So maybe Fisher recognized Trubisky’s mobility — like McNair and Buccaneers’ quarterback Shaun King — and told Fox to keep the 2-pointer in his back pocket.

Or maybe Loggains came up with it himself — he might just have trickery on his brain. On September 7, 2002, as a backup quarterback at the University of Arkansas, Loggains completed the only pass of his college career: a fake field goal.

(H/T to @HogStats for tweeting about that two years ago.)

From the Baxter Bulletin, Arkansas

That same year, about 530 miles away, Brentwood High School in Tennessee posted its best ever season, going 14-1 and winning the football team’s first ever state championship. The team set school records with 5,432 yards of offense and 3,085 rushing yards, while its 384 points were 2nd in school history.

And there is little doubt that Brentwood’s incredible season would have been possible without one of its player’s fathers coming aboard as offensive coordinator: Les Steckel.

“Their offense is advanced beyond what other people do,” the opposing head coach of Riverdale High School said the week leading up to the title game. “It looks like it’s being run by someone that knows a little something more than the rest of us.”

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Jack M Silverstein is WCG’s Bears historian, and author of “How The GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls.” Say hey at @readjack. Thank you to FootballScoop.com, Newspapers.com, and Pro Football Reference.

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UPDATE: Oct. 11, 2:55 p.m.

Adam Hoge spoke with Dowell Loggains, and it turns out the simplest explanation is the real one: Loggains saw the Bucs run the play in 2000.

Thanks Adam!

UPDATE: Oct. 11, 3:12 p.m.

And we’ve got a name! S/O to Zach Zaidman for this one. All hail the Doughnut.

UPDATE: Oct. 11, 3:16 p.m.

Actually, we’ve got two names. All hail the Heisman!

UPDATE: Oct. 11, 9:00 p.m.

Football Outsiders included this story in its own writeup of the play, as did Hoge in his “10 Bears Things” column.

Both Hoge and the Sun-Times’s Patrick Finley did great work filling in the history of how the play — “Donut,” as it turns out — made it to Dowell Loggains.

I was right about the Titans connection. In 2013, Loggains was Tennessee’s offensive coordinator under head coach Mike Munchak, who was on the Titans/Oilers staff during Steckel’s three years there. (Munchak played for the Oilers his entire career, from 1982 to 1993, and started coaching with the team in 1994, staying until 2013.)

Loggains met Steckel when their families — along with the families of Munchak and former Titans OC Chris Palmer — went out for Easter brunch in Nashville. Loggains then got to ask Steckel about the play he loved that Steckel’s Buccaneers ran back in 2000.

I’ll leave you to read Finley’s story yourself.

Additionally, Les’s son Christian told me that he spoke with his father, who confirmed the play’s 1960s KU roots. He added that Les and Matt Millen are lifelong friends — both born in Whitehall, PA — and that Les ran the play against Millen in the 1980s, when Millen was a linebacker with the Raiders and Les was coach of the Vikings.

Below are our tweets, including the writeup from the Minneapolis Star and Tribune describing the play in ‘84 against the Raiders. Cool stuff!

One final note (at least for now) — this play shows just how connected life is in the NFL and football at large. As I wrote, Loggains attended the University of Arkansas. You know who coached there? Jack Mitchell, his final stop before going to Kansas.

More interesting than that is whether current Vikings coach Mike Zimmer ever saw the play. When the Buccaneers ran it in 2000, Zimmer was the defensive coordinator for the Cowboys. Five years later, in 2005, Zimmer was still the DC in Dallas, when head coach Bill Parcells hired a 25-year-old scouting assistant named — you guessed it — Dowell Loggains.

Is it possible that Loggains ever shared with Zimmer, (or anyone on the coaching staff), his fascination with this five-year-old two-point conversion? If he did, I wonder if Zimmer remembered it Monday night...