Player safety in the NFL has reached, well, a critical point in the league’s history. Pending lawsuits from retired players (including ex-Bears QB Jim McMahon), major concussive injuries, assholes who just like being assholes and hitting the shit out of every starting quarterback named Tom Brady – it’s all a big conundrum. According to the league, 30% of all football injuries occur during the kickoff, so it’s understandable that they want to take any precautionary measures to prevent further damage (to the league and players).
This season, during the renegotiations for the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, the league made one very prominent rule change that is going to have a massive effect on the game. Not just this season, but more importantly, seasons to come. (*cue suspenseful music*) (*fuck, I need to hire a composer*) (*buy bleu cheese and rice vinegar*)
(*and unpeeled red onions*)
The NFL has fucked with the placement of the kickoff for ALL kickoffs. That means ALL kickoffs! Not some; not specific kickoffs after a particular scoring play – ALL. FUCKING. KICKOFFS. The rule states the ball will be kicked from the 35-yard line instead of the 30-yard line, which is where it has been for fucking ever. Okay, since 1994, but that rule change wasn’t made for “player safety.” This may seem like peanuts and jellybeans to you common folk who don’t know your ass from your elbow, but au contraire my pigskin brethren. Follow the yellow down line…
The change stems from the fact that the most exciting play in the entire game – the kickoff – is too violent. So is the way my dad eats Mexican food, but they haven’t banned him from Casa Diablo yet. We just request his food be cut into smaller bites to prevent choking hazards. We basically treat him like a 3-year old, which is fine, because my dad is practically legally retarded.
Players have also been allotted naptime and are constituted to stuff pillows under their pads just to be safe. Coaches are also required to read “Goodnight Moon” out loud to the team before all practices. WHAT THE FUCK NFL, HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN WHAT THE ‘F’ IN YOUR INITIALS STANDS FOR?! IT’S FOOTBALL, NOT [omitted by The Angry Sportsfans lawyers]!
Yes, football is a violent sport that could adapt to some new enforcement to prevent serious long-term injuries. The NFL has never outright admitted to fucking older players over, but now they’re taking away from the most intriguing aspects of the game to sacrifice advantage. The idea of “safety” is arbitrary really. This is Roger Goodell stamping his name on something revolutionary, decreasing the controversy of serious injuries so he doesn’t have to look like a clueless prick.
Okay, so perhaps I’m being naïve and unfair to the situation. I like Goodell, I do. He just hasn’t made his mark on the game yet, and this is the first true “controversial” rule he’s made. Last season’s overtime rule change was limited to playoff games and only used once to minimal success (meaning, no one fucking noticed because nothing went too terribly wrong).
Here’s the deal: Touchbacks will become commonplace. That 5-yard move is a pretty radical advancement, and kickers will have a tough time not reaching the back of the end-zone. They’ll have far more difficulty trying to land it on the goal line than missing the end-zone entirely. So far this preseason, 37% of all kickoffs have not been returned out of the end-zone. Roughly 90% of every kickoff since 1994 has been returned, unless you’re playing in Madden, when somehow, you snap the joystick too hard and your kicker magically produces the leg of a full-grown adult male giraffe, kicking it past the goddamn goalposts. Video game super-strength and hurricane gusts can be such a pain in the ass sometimes. C’mon computer, let me show off what how well Vinatieri can tackle on the 50!
This touchback scenario takes away returns from the likes of Chicago’s Devin Hester, Seattle’s Leon Washington and Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs, just to name a few modern-day 100-yard dashers. Taking a kick returner’s job away affects the make-up of special teams, and more importantly, overtime games. Oh yeah, I said it – this is where it all comes together, full circle, and the rules of overtime change dramatically. (*seriously need to hire a composer*)
Overtime games will result in defenses pinning teams to the backfield, which may sound fine to the casual fan whose team gets to kickoff… but once you’re on the flipside? You will whip out your letterhead, angrily dab your quill into the ink bottle and write a vicious, poison-tongued letter to Commissioner Goodell in ire. Balderdash, I do say!
You might think you can handle it during the regular season, my friends. Just you wait until the playoffs come along and head-to-head combats lose some of the magic from big-yard kickoff returns because everyone is five-yards closer and your returner is stuck in the back of the end-zone.
Here’s my proposal: you wanna prevent players from getting too roughed up during the kickoff? Fucking get rid of it! They don’t keep injured horses alive just to let them limp around the track. They shoot them in the goddamn head and end it. And that, dear Virginia, is how we get glue.
Bill Belichick says they may as well dump the kickoff and place the ball on the 20-yard line after every score, and I agree with the Hooded One. Cribbs and Hester in particular will watch their status crumble, because as much of a niche position kickoff returner may seem, it’s a coveted spot only a few guys can grow into. Both Cribbs and Hester (and to a lesser extent, Leon Washington) have proven their worth through making spectacular plays at the expense of, um, well, better teams. But that isn’t the damn point!
Hits are part of the game. How you execute said hits is subject to change. Hard-hitting players like James Harrison and Ndamukong Suh are repeatedly fined excessive amounts for their gritty hits. Did some of these pussies think they were signing up for a Cub Scout retreat? Big hulking 300-pound men of enormous size are going to hit you hard – and it is going to hurt! SCIENCE! MAGNETS! SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM!
Lest I mention how this will affect roster spots, team strategy and how no team in their right mind will want to receive anymore after the first kick. Can you imagine if the 2002 Super Bowl game with St. Louis & New England came down to an overtime match, and they had to fight to get off the 20-yard line? Teams are far more willing to burst your bubble and make you go 3-and-out rather than let you fucking run the ball from the goal line (particularly, the goddamn Pats).
Ridell is developing new helmets every new league year, specially-designed for all players. Now, the topic of hard hits on quarterbacks is another argument for another day (one I fucking loathe), but the fact is if it weren’t for all that discussion last season, we wouldn’t have the new kickoff rule. I guaran-fuckin-tee you that if QBs weren’t getting their heads all shaken up, 30% or no 30% of kickoff injuries, the NFL would not have changed shit. The foundation for this was laid in the injuries of said quarterbacks, and the linemen are the ones told to chill out? What’s next? Tell guys like Michael Vick they can no longer scramble from the pocket because they may scrape their knee? Play all games in warm climates so players don’t get runny noses?
You wanna worry about the real violence, NFL? Look in the fucking stands. Ron Artest wouldn’t even stand for what goes on during these games, rivalries or no rivalries.
Believe it or not, the kickoff return is the dullest exciting play in all of sports. It isn’t the Kentucky Derby, but it’s not NASCAR either. It leaves the possibility of a game-changing play to develop (both early and late) and the 11 special teams players are intended to stop gazelle like Hester and Cribbs from making any progress. And those two guys fucking know that (Cribbs admits he’s angry; Hester is too nice of a guy to tangle with debate). Part of their job is to protect themselves from getting crushed – but it happens. It’s not fun, it’s not pretty, but football was never designed to keep players from being as fit and limber as Jack LaLanne until they’re 90 years old.
All NFL players want is liability and real protection, something the league has not done for a very long time. They often used half-ass concussion tests and players suffered from that (McMahon, Troy Aikman and Steve Young all admit this). Those players deserve retribution, but to completely change a rule to affect the motion of an entire game? That’s fucked. Taking valuable positions away from Pro Bowl players is not making the game better.
The NFL basically castrated the kickoff. The core idea (in this case, the testicles) has been removed, instead focusing on the notion that while the fun part (the penis) is still attached, it will only arouse some of the time. Why? Because deep down, you know you aren’t getting a damn thing out of it.
Going from 10% touchbacks to 37% is a negative increase (at least in this circumstance), and soon enough, the league is going to notice a dramatic difference that is going to prove the hardest hit isn’t on the players, but on the game itself.
(*and gluten-free Tabasco sauce, fucking Jeff and his gluten-free bullshit…*)
- The Angry Sportsfan