In gridiron football, a spike of the ball is a play in which the quarterback intentionally throws the ball at the ground immediately after the snap and is principally used as part of clock management by a team on offense. A spike is technically an incomplete pass, and therefore, it has the effect of stopping the clock at the cost of exhausting a down. A spike is performed when the offensive team is conducting a hurried drive near the end of the first half of the game, and the game clock is still running in the aftermath of the previous play; as an incomplete pass the spike causes the referee to stop the game clock, and the offensive team will have a chance to huddle and plan the next play without losing scarce game-clock time.
Running a spike play presumes there will be at least one play by the same team immediately afterward, so it would not be done on fourth down; instead, a regular play would have to be run without a huddle.
In the 1998 Rose Bowl, Ryan Leaf spiked the ball and inadvertently ran the clock out on that play. In the 2012 Rose Bowl, Russell Wilson also ran the clock out on a spike ball play. In both cases, just before such spike, the clock was stopped with just 2 seconds left (while the sideline chains were being moved for 1st down, the usual procedure when playing under college football rules).
In 2014, Nick Montana spiked the ball on 4th down near the end of the first half of a game between his Tulane University and UCF, resulting in a turnover on downs; he erroneously believed his team had gained a first down.
In Canadian football, spike plays are legal but very rare. This is mainly because a final play is always run whenever the game clock expires while the ball is dead, rendering spike plays unnecessary. Also, the offense in Canadian football only receives three downs instead of four.
Spiking after scoring
After scoring a touchdown, players at the professional level often celebrate by spiking the football. In NCAA football, the scoring player is immediately obligated to either leave the ball or return the ball to an official – spiking the ball in this circumstance is illegal and will result in a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Spiking the ball remains legal in the NFL, where it is not interpreted as excessive celebration unless the ball is spiked towards another player on the opposing team. The maneuver is attributed to Homer Jones of the New York Giants in 1965.
Such action is not considered a "spike play" as the ball is dead once the touchdown has been scored. It has no official status.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski has been credited in resurrecting the spiking as a touchdown celebration and making it his own. His signature "Gronk Spike" has been a product of the less restrictive scoring celebrations of the NFL compared to high school and college, and debuted on September 26, 2010 after scoring his second NFL touchdown. It had become a fan phenomenon with MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference calculating that Gronkowski's arm moves 130° with the football leaving his hand at 60 miles per hour (100 km/h) delivering 650 lbs. of force (2,900 N).
- "Tulane Green Wave vs. UCF Knights - October 18, 2014 - ESPN". ESPN. Associated Press. October 18, 2014. Retrieved November 13, 2014.
- 2008 NCAA FOOTBALL RULES AND INTERPRETATIONS Archived 2008-09-10 at the Wayback Machine, National Collegiate Athletic Association, Page 112, Accessed August 4, 2008.
- Bishop, Greg (2012-02-01). "Rob Gronkowski's Spiking Resurrects an N.F.L. Art". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-02-24.
- "Spike-tacular: Gronk's signature TD celebration a huge hit". NFL.com. Retrieved 2019-02-24.