Improve Football by Eliminating Placekicking?
ESPN columnist Skip Bayless argues that the game of football would be vastly improved by getting rid of the part of the game that gives it its name: kicking.
For a vicariously thrilling moment on Sunday, I was Larry Allen of the Dallas Cowboys. I was the strongest man in the National Football League, and I had my kicker by the face mask. If I ripped off his helmet and his head stayed in it, so be it.
Not that I truly wish harm on any of the football subspecies known as place-kickers, but what player or coach or fan hasn’t wanted to strangle one of these wimpy wackos?
For an enraged moment, Allen wanted to eliminate Cortez. I’ll go him one better: For a long time, I’ve wanted to eliminate place kicking altogether.
I’m not in the least bit kidding. I say kick kickers out of football. They’re the only flaw in my favorite game. But what an incomprehensible flaw this is.
Giant, gifted men battle their guts out playing a violent game, and the outcome is all too often decided by some former soccer player who has absolutely nothing to do with football. No football talent. No football heart. No football mind.
When an offense faces, say, fourth-and-4 at its opponent’s 29-yard line, no more automatically lining up for a field goal. You go for it! And you keep going for it on fourth down until you fail or score a touchdown.
When you do score, you don’t automatically trot out a guy who looks like an accountant and whose neck barely supports his helmet. No more ho-hum PATs. You go for two every time!
You actually keep playing football.
No other team sport features a player who has so little to do with it. At least baseball’s designated hitter and relief specialists are still hitting or pitching. At least basketball’s 3-point shooters occasionally have to dribble and play defense. Goalies are the ultimate defenders.
But no, this isn’t to harrumph that football needs a new name. Let’s keep the foot in football. Kicking off and punting are necessary and logical elements of the game.
Punters are generally more athletic than place-kickers. Punting requires catching the equivalent of a 15-yard pass that can sail or sink or swerve. Launching 40-plus-yard punts with easy-to-cover hang time is a little more difficult than place-kicking, because the ball must be dropped onto the foot in windy or rainy conditions.
And punting requires some strategy and finesse. Can you punt away from a dangerous return man? Can you get the nose of the ball to stick at the goal line and bounce backward? Can you nail one in the coffin corner?
Punting occasionally even requires the punter to turn into a ball carrier or passer. Bad or dropped snaps force punters to quick-kick in the face of diving punt-blockers or tuck and run for their lives. Defenses hell-bent on blocking punts tempt punters to signal for passes to uncovered “gunners” in the flat.
Bayless makes an interesting argument. The last-minute field goal attempt is indeed a departure from the nature of the game.
On the other hand, it provides a level of excitement that might not be possible under Bayless’ rules. When a team gives up a score in the last two minutes of a game to give their opponent a narrow lead, they immediately get the ball back and have the opportunity to scramble for a high adrenaline field goal attempt.
Realistically, a team is unlikely to score move the ball 80 yards and score a touchdown in such circumstances. But they may well move it 40 yards against the dreaded “prevent” defense and have to rush their special teams unit onto the field in the waning seconds with no time-outs left. Almost all of the most exciting games I’ve ever watched have come down to this scenario.