CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ron Rivera thought for a moment.
"I don't know if you've seen 'Little Giants,'" he said.
Nobody said a word. He asked again. No answer.
Rivera was trying to describe what is possibly the greatest trick play in Panthers history, one that put Carolina up 21-0 just before halftime of Sunday's win over the Houston Texans, a playoff-bound team with a notoriously stingy defense.
"Alright," Rivera said. "Who's got kids?"
Still no response. This would require an explanation.
Here's what happened: On a second-and-goal from the Houston six yard line, Carolina hurried to the line. They stood with two tight ends on either side of the offensive line. A third tight end, Richie Brockel, lined up to the right of Cam Newton. DeAngelo Williams and Steve Smith lined up in the I-formation. Everybody on the offensive line was standing straight up, except for center Ryan Kalil, who nonchalantly snapped the ball to Newton. Most of the Texans weren't even looking at the ball.
The true trickery followed. Newton shuffled to the right and stuck the ball between the legs of Brockel-- a sort of reverse snap. Brockel didn't move. Newton spun away, turning his back to the end zone, then started sprinting to the right, with Williams and Smith running behind him. At first glance, it looked to be some sort of broken option play. Several Houston defenders started running after Newton. After all, when a quarterback with 13 rushing touchdowns breaks for the goal line, you don't ignore him.
"I went slightly right," said Smith, "But I was really watching to see if this was really gonna work."
A second-and-a-half went by. The entire time, Brockel and the offensive line remained motionless. Then, they came to life and ran left. The defenders who bit on the play tried to stop the inertia carrying them away from the ball.
Brockel, a rookie from Boise State described by a draft expert as having "marginal speed," chugged toward the left pylon behind the rolling blocks of the Panthers offensive line and tight ends. He scored his first touchdown. He spiked the ball.
"I felt like I was back in my Boise State days," grinned Brockel, who was on the 2007 Bronco squad that won the Fiesta Bowl with another trick play, the Statue of Liberty.
"We put it in earlier in the week, and everyone kind of thought it was a joke," said tight end Greg Olsen, who threw a block that sealed off the last Houston defender, allowing Brockel to score untouched. "It's kinda hard, when the ball gets snapped, to just stand there."
"It's called the Annexation of Puerto Rico," said Rivera. "That's the unofficial name."
In the 1994 movie "Little Giants," a peewee team named, yes, the Giants, stops the Little Cowboys just inches away from their end zone. With four seconds left, the team huddles on the sideline. They need to drive the length of the field to win. The coach, played by a bespectacled Rick Moranis, asks what play they should run. One kid, who has a computer on the sideline, punches some keys. "How about the Annexation of Puerto Rico?" he responds.
In that play, the quarterback takes the snap, and places the ball on the ground, then fakes a hand off to the running back, who then fakes a hand off to a wide receiver, a reverse. The center, the focus of nobody's attention, quietly picks up the ball and stands still. Then he breaks into the open field.
"In the movie, it's great," said Rivera. "I've seen the movie a hundred times with my kids."
It wasn't technically the fumblerooski, a legendary trick play supposedly invented by John Heisman himself. In Sunday's game, nobody intentionally fumbled the ball (By rule, if Newton had put the ball on the turf in front of him, it would have been a forward fumble. No other player could have picked it up and advanced it). And it had to happen at the right time. The coaches needed the right personnel in the game, then had to run a no-huddle play. With less than two minutes to go in the half, the situation presented itself, just like in "Little Giants."
"I'm not saying that's where it's devised from," he said, smiling. "The guys are giving me a hard time about it."