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January 23, 2014

Tom Lindley: Extra points won't be missed

What in the name of Lou “The Toe” Groza was NFL commissioner Roger Goodell thinking when he recently raised the idea of dropping the extra point kick from the game? Doesn’t Goodell understand that it’s one of the least exciting plays in all of sports?

Perhaps that’s what he had in mind.

Except for a few kids who earned their high school varsity letters by booming extra points, there hasn’t been much upheaval to the suggestion that the practice go the way of wagon trains and slide rules.

In explaining his idea, Goodell said the extra point after a touchdown is almost automatic. It would be fair to drop the word “almost.”

“I believe we had five missed extra points this year out of 1,200 some-odd,” he said during an interview with nfl.com. “So it’s a very small fraction of the play, and you want to add excitement with every play.”

It’s hard to argue with that. Out of those five unsuccessful PATs, four of those were blocked, meaning the chance of a kicker simply going too wide either way is basically none.

It’s odd that it’s taken so long for someone to seriously broach the subject of eliminating extra points. Maybe nobody wanted to tamper with tradition. But if not PATs, then what?

The aforementioned Groza was a Hall of Famer with the Cleveland Browns whose 21-year career began in 1946. He made 810 of 833 extra points, according to pro-football-reference.com, in a day when games were played in mud and snow, with no one dreaming of turf fields or indoor stadiums.

Nevertheless, Groza drove the ball through the uprights with a high degree of regularity. That’s when he wasn’t blocking or tackling as a lineman — his other job.

In recent years, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was perhaps the first to suggest rethinking chip shot kicks. Something with a success rate nearing perfection isn’t much of a challenge, he pointed out.

Maybe Belichick had Groza in mind when he explained his objection to the outdated play during a recent press conference: “That’s just not the way the extra point was put into the game. It was an extra point that you actually had to execute, and it was executed by players who were not specialists, they were position players. It was a lot harder for them to do.”

But if the NFL’s competition committee decides to drop the extra point kick, what replaces it?

Goodell said a touchdown could be worth seven points, but a team that wants to try for an additional point — an eighth — could do so by running or passing the ball. If unsuccessful, the team would lose a point.

One of the sacred rules of football is that you never, ever take a point off the scoreboard. If that holds true, few extra points would be attempted. Coaches are too conservative to risk giving up something they’ve already earned.

Dropping the PAT wouldn’t be a big loss, though. In all likelihood, it would shorten the game by a few plays and perhaps eliminate an unnecessary injury.

There’s another way to look at the possible change. It’s odd that a game played by big, burly men is led in scoring by those with one main responsibility — kicking. The top 17 scorers in the NFL this season were all kickers. The guys who throw passes, make receptions or run for hard earned yardage aren’t the ones who lead that category.

The NFL could consider other adjustments than just eliminating the extra point kick, which really is nothing more than a field goal attempt of about 20 yards. Maybe the attempt could be moved back to a more difficult position — say 40 yards? Or perhaps the goal posts could be narrowed to 14 feet? Certainly no “gimme” there.

That would increase the likelihood of a coach attempting a two-point rushing or passing play after a touchdown. Talk about adding some excitement to the game — coaches would have to shoulder the extra pressure of another crucial call.

At least it would keep fans at home from rushing to the refrigerator for more snacks and drinks.

How about giving coaches that option, Mr. Commissioner? I think you’re on to something.

Tom Lindley is a sports columnist for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. You can write to him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

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