The counter trey is one of the most iconic plays in NFL history.
The Washington Redskins hired Joe Gibbs as their head coach in 1981, and he brought along Joe Bugel to coach his offensive line. Gibbs also coaxed running back John Riggins out of retirement and replaced four starters on the offensive line — everyone to the left of right tackle George Starke.
Redskins’ general manager Bobby Beathard used a first-round draft pick on right guard Mark May, a third-rounder on left guard Russ Grimm and signed lanky left tackle Joe Jacoby as an undrafted college free agent. Gibbs also promoted second-year man Jeff Bostic to center, then unleashed his Hogs and the counter trey on the NFL.
That running play became a staple of three Super Bowl champions. It helped Gibbs, Riggins and Grimm earn busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and put Beathard in the queue as a contributor candidate. But the Redskins remain one bust light in Canton.
That would be the Jacoby bust.
“He’s one of the great stories,” Gibbs said.
Also one of the great players.
Jacoby started for three seasons in college at Louisville with his basketball body (6-7, 295 pounds). But in the 1981 NFL draft, he was not one of the 332 players selected — much less one of the 28 offensive tackles. He signed with the Redskins and emerged as a key element in the signature play of the Gibbs era.
The counter trey is the classic misdirection play. The right side of the offensive line blocks down, as if the play is going to the left. But the left guard and left tackle pull to the right. The running back takes a jab step to his left, then pivots back right for the handoff and is led through the hole by the left guard and left tackle.
“Joe was a big part of the counter trey,” Gibbs said. “You can pull guards. But how many people pull tackles? We pulled Joe. He could run. He was one of the biggest and one of the first tackles to really take people off the ball.”
The backs carrying the football changed over the years. Riggins was the feature back of the 1982 NFL champions, Timmy Smith the 1987 champs and Earnest Byner in 1991. But the one constant of the Gibbs era was Grimm and Jacoby pulling from the left side and leading the way on the right.
Jacoby was a longshot to make the Redskins as a rookie. Beathard drafted five blockers that year, and Jacoby wasn’t one of them. Not only did he make the team as a rookie, Jacoby found himself in the starting lineup at left tackle by the end of September. He spent his first eight NFL seasons there, earning four consecutive Pro Bowl berths from 1983-86.
And it wasn’t just his efforts as a run blocker in the counter trey that earned Jacoby his acclaim.
The Redskins won the Super Bowl with three different quarterbacks, and Jacoby protected the blind side for two of them — Joe Theismann and Doug Williams. He moved from left to right tackle in 1989 where he guarded the front side of Mark Rypien on the last Super Bowl champion in 1991.
Jacoby protected his quarterbacks from some of the most accomplished pass rushers in NFL history: Hall-of-Famers Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Lawrence Taylor, Lee Roy Selmon, Fred Dean, Richard Dent, Rickey Jackson, Chris Doleman, Charles Haley and Derrick Thomas.
“This guy was first class, top flight,” Gibbs said. “He gave it everything he had.”
“Everything he had” was enough for Jacoby to earn those three Super Bowl rings. It also was enough for him to earn NFL all-decade acclaim for the 1980s. It should be enough to merit him consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Jacoby retired after the 1993 season and became eligible for Canton in 1999 after the mandatory five-year waiting period. He’s been a six-time semifinalist in his 17 years of Hall-of-Fame eligibility but has never been a finalist. So his candidacy has never been discussed by the full selection committee. That’s an oversight that needs to be addressed.
All worthy Hall-of-Fame candidates need to be discussed. Joe Jacoby is worthy.