In football, according to my husband, a counter trey “is when ….. ” Some things happened I didn’t get, and I stopped listening.

The context of this explanation was my dissertation on feminist rhetoric and women speakers. He did actually read parts of it, and givie me some feedback. His main response was that my dissertation sounded like a “counter trey.” He drew the play with the standard little circles and arrows to illustrate. I found that same scribbled drawing today while cleaning up. Although I don’t really remember what he said in detail, I did get the gist. To explain for me, here is a basic description of the counter trey from

The counter trey is a misdirection running play used in American football.

This play is designed for the offensive team to feign rushing one way, then attacking the defense in the opposite direction. In a counter trey right, the center, right guard, and right tackle block left as if the play is going left. The left guard and left tackle “pull” from their positions by moving behind the other linemen and around the right corner.

The running back takes an initial feint step to the left, then cuts back to the right, receives the handoff from the quarterback, and follows behind the pulling left guard and left tackle. The left guard and left tackle will usually be blocking smaller linebackers and defensive backs downfield–this mismatch favors the offense. The counter trey requires quick, athletic linemen for good execution.

Many teams have run this play, but it first became well-known when run by the Washington Redskins in the 1980s.

According to Answer Man at, the counter trey is spelled “trey,” meaning three, instead of “tray” because it involves two linemen and the running back (I think….again, I don’t really get this stuff). As Answer Man says, “When one lineman pulls to the other side it’s called a “double” and so when two linemen do it it’s called a “trey.”

As my husband described it, the counter trey was an amazingly successful play for the Redskins because it’s stealthy. It’s hard to mobilize so many big men fast enough to feint in one direction and then move to the other. It requires athleticism, agility, and coordination. You have to be what Fred Flintstone used to call a “twinkle toes.” (That connection would probably offend most athletes and sports fans.)

I took my husband’s metaphor in two ways, both of which I think were accurate. On the good side, a counter trey is a deft maneuver, requiring serious skill. I felt complimented! On the flip side, it’s an awful lot of work to get these big, hulking ideas coordinated, feinting one way, and moving the other, just to make a point. That, too, described my dissertation, and most of my attempts at scholarship. Do I really need to do all this work just to make a simple point?

Today, I often think that the counter trey metaphor fits what I see in academic journals. So much academic writing is filled with theory-heavy ideas, “pulling” in one direction and then another, trying to make a simple little touchdown. Of course, a counter trey maneuver is often necessary to get past the hulking expectations of disciplinary constraints and the mammoth egos of the defensive line, which is unfortunate. I admire the work of those who can do a counter trey effectively. Most often, though, I just see a jumbled mass of ideas that occasionally scores a touchdown.

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