The Herald Bulletin

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January 29, 2013

Jim Bailey: Why does it make sense to take the foot out of football?

National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell is floating a trial balloon suggesting that the NFL eliminate the most fundamental play in football: the kickoff.

Goodell suggests doing so would cut down on serious injuries that happen when the ball is kicked one direction and returned the other. It isn’t the first time the kickoff has been messed with, the ball first kicked from the 40-yard line, then the 35, then the 30 and back to the 35. Now he proposes starting each half and the play following scores by putting the ball on the receiving team’s 30-yard line but in a fourth-down-and-15-yards-to-go situation, either resulting in a punt or a major gamble.

The number of major injuries on kickoff situations has increased over the years, likely because members of the kickoff team are running full tilt in the direction of the kick and the receiving team tries to set up immovable objects to derail the irresistible force. Illegal blocks in the back are commonplace on kickoff situations. Of course that happens on punts too, but so far there’s no suggestion of getting rid of them.

Let’s face it. Football players today are bigger, faster and more skilled than ever before. Rule changes keep coming along to minimize chances of injury in a sport where heavy contact is the name of the game. Greater emphasis on diagnosing and treating concussions follows a growing number of ex-football players who are living (and dying) with scrambled brains.

In my youth I remember the way players used to go helmet first into an opponent, the better to clear their path. I recall an Anderson College game in which my cousin Loren Frendt, a pile-driving fullback, was carrying the ball and was hemmed in by opposing tacklers. He simply lowered his head and drove his way for a couple more yards before he was brought down. Loren’s head survived his football-playing days all right, but he messed up his knee and his football days ended with his sophomore year in college.

These days, leading with the helmet, especially to another player’s helmet, is strictly taboo. But with 300-pounders mixing it up more than 100 times a game, injuries will continue to be a part of the game.

Eliminate kickoffs? Hey, the name of the game is football. The opening kickoff defines the start of the game. It would wind up looking like one of those controlled scrimmages you see during summer training camp or something.

And doing away with the kickoff would eliminate the drama of the onside kick. Ask the Colts about that from their last Super Bowl appearance. Nor would there be any dramatic 100-yard kickoff returns.

The players have already gone on record as decisively opposing doing away with kickoffs.

Football without kickoffs? Sounds like having a designated hitter bat for the pitcher in baseball. But that’s an argument for another time.

Jim Bailey’s column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by email at jameshenrybailey@earth link.net.

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