People are calling Sarah Palin's candidacy a Hail Mary pass by the Republicans. It is a high-risk, high-reward play made by an over-matched team, true. But the football analogy is not a Hail Mary play, it is a Fumblerooski.
Most people are familiar with the Hail Mary play, immortalized by Doug Flute and Gerard Phelan (Boston College vs. Miami, 1984). The quarterback heaves the ball as far as possible, and then hopes for a miracle catch by one of his receivers. There is no deception with a Hail Mary pass. Both teams know it's coming.
This is not the play the Republicans are running. This is not a last-second desperation play. There's a lot of time left in the game. This is deception by design: It's the Fumblerooski.
The Fumblerooski, is not so well known, but is just as much part of the football lexicon as the Hail Mary pass. (It has been ruled illegal in college and the pros but is still sometimes used at the high school level.) The Fumblerooski is not typically used as a come-from-behind play like the Hail Mary is; it is more often run by teams whose coaches know they are over-matched, and have to resort to deception and gimmickry to give themselves even a small chance of winning.
Without going into the mechanics of it, the play is designed to get the defense looking WHERE THE BALL ISN'T while an offensive lineman runs the other way WITH THE BALL.
This is the play the Republicans are running.
With two months left before the election, the McCain team brought the unknown 'Sarah Barracuda' off the bench to create distractions with a couple of seasons worth of Northern Exposure storylines: Babygate and Troopergate, polar bears, the Wasilla city budget, shooting wolves from helicopters, the snowmobie-racing husband, creationism, a special needs child, the Bridge to Nowhere and various other Alaskan scandals -- anything to distract voters from what's really at stake. And who really has the ball.
The media, heavily invested in keeping the game close, will naturally be complicit in the play, and will use all sorts of tele-strators, animated electoral vote maps, re-plays, slo-mo, color analysis, up-close-and-personal sidebar stories and incredible camera angles to add to the distraction.
It will take discipline and coordination by the Obama team to keep voters from being persuaded that this election has anything to do with Palin or her politics. She does not have the ball and if the play goes as designed, she never will.
George W. Bush still has the ball, the same one he's been fumbling for the past eight years. The only way the Democrats can lose this election is if they fall for trick plays designed to let Bush hand the ball to Pappy McCain (U.S. Naval Academy, 1958) who will try to leg it to the end zone while the voters' focus is elsewhere.
Mike Bonifer is the author of GameChangers - Improvisation for Business in the Networked World. His website is www.gamechangers.com.