John McGrath

NFL owners should bring back the drop kick

Momentum is building among NFL owners to change the rules regarding football’s version of parsley garnish — the extra-point kick.

Some owners want to move the ball back to the 15-yard line, slightly increasing the degree of difficulty for an exercise pro kickers mastered 70 years ago. Some owners want to move ball up a half-yard, so that teams will be enticed to attempt more two-point conversions. Other owners are in favor of abolishing the extra-point kick, giving coaches the option of settling for seven points or trying a conversion that leaves a team with either six or eight.

During owners meetings that brought no resolution except a promise to continue the discussion at the next owners meetings in May, the Indianapolis Colts proposed an idea that was dismissed: keep the rule as is, but allow teams that convert a two-point play the opportunity to attempt a 50-yard kick for another point.

In other words, if a team is trailing by as many as nine late in the game, it could make up the difference without having to recover an onside kick.

Crazy? Maybe, but then again, some football purists once saw the forward pass as a crazy innovation, too.

The Colts wanted to use the 2015 exhibition season as a sort of laboratory trial, an idea so progressive it was bound to be shot down. Instead of giving fans a reason to watch the inconsequential games they’re required to buy in a season-ticket package — instead of relying on public feedback as a catalyst for change — the NFL owners decided they’ll settle things behind closed doors, thank you very much.

Whatever they agree upon when the league’s competition committee reconvenes in two months, we’ve likely seen the last conventional extra point.

“There’s a clear movement to wanting to change it and change it this year,” Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee, said the other day. “It’s time to make it a football play.”

While owners are figuring out how to deal with the tedium of automatic extra-point kicks, here’s my solution:

One point for a place kick, two points for a run/pass conversion, and three points for the most authentic of football plays, the drop kick.

During the 1930s, the skill was phased out as footballs evolved from the egg-shaped objects used in rugby to prolate spheroids pointed on both ends. A sure bounce of a dropped rugby ball became the anything-goes bounce of a football, and because there was no incentive to attempt a drop kick when a place kick provides the same scoring benefits, the drop kick is extinct.

Since the Bears’ Ray “Scooter” McLean converted a drop kick in the 1941 NFL championship game, it has been successfully implemented once. Nothing was at stake in New England’s 2005 regular-season finale against Miami, but Patriots backup quarterback Doug Flutie made a meaningless game memorable with a drop kick that brought smiles to a pair of sourpuss head coaches.

“First one since ’41,” Pats coach Bill Belichick noted afterward. “It might be 60 years before there’s another.”

Said the Dolphins’ Nick Saban: “I was kind of pleased to know that somebody can still drop kick. Man, when I was a kid we all used to practice that. Thought it was a lost art.”

Lost, yes, but not irretrievable. The prospect of touchdowns looming as nine-point payoffs for teams with an accurate drop kicker would transform a lost art into an essential one.

But here’s the, uh, kicker: The football is pointed. There’s no such thing as a predictable bounce, and now the dull extra-point drill is enhanced by some intriguing strategy.

Go for one? It’s automatic. Go for two? Not so automatic. Go for three? Even more of a risk, but must-see theater.

The post-touchdown kick doesn’t have to be monotonous. To the contrary, it’s the stuff of an excellent adventure, all there at the drop of a ball.

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