Editor's Note: This is a guest post from our friend Chilly, who was a kicker in college.
Eliminating Kickers and Why Skip Bayless Is An Idiot
St. Louis, MO
Here is Skip Bayless’s article about eliminating kickers and kicking in the NFL. Skip Bayless is an idiot. I vehemently disagree that getting rid of field goals would make football better. Field goals are football. Skip might as well propose taking bunts out of baseball. Make the 150 pound guy swing for the fences dammit.
Field goals are a goofy gimmick? No. They are the way dominate teams win games. Great special teams make a good team great and a mediocre team good. Bad special teams make a good team bad. Historically field goals were worth more points than a touchdown. This was because the coordination and team work required executing the play combined with the variability of early balls, made a field goal a risky proposition. The evolution of specialization -special teams – long snapper, kicker, punter, holder, and special team’s coaches happened quickly. Soon, the field goal was worth three rather than five points and the touch down was worth six rather than four points. Oh, you don’t actually have to “touch the ball down” in the endzone to score a “touchdown” anymore, talk about gimmicks.
Field goal kicking in the NFL is typically determined on if the kick is good or missed. The ball usually gets airborne and to the target because the teams that attempt a kick are finely tuned machines of superior athletes that execute plays. Have you ever seen a high school freshman team try to kick a PAT? It’s the epitome of Funniest Home Videos: Athletic Endeavors Edition. Ever see that same freshman team run a 32 Gut? They do it with no problem. My high school team could run one of the best counter plays in all of high school football, but couldn’t block on field goal protection for shit.
Undrafted Justin Tucker is unworthy of Superbowl glory? Why, because the NFL still doesn’t get it right when it comes to evaluating talent? Undrafted players are somehow inferior to high first round draft picks? I give you the case of Kurt Warner vs. Ryan Leaf – one was undrafted, has MVPs, a Superbowl ring and is going to the Hall of Fame. One is a former #2 overall draft pick that spends his time fending off the advances of his cellmate.
Skip doesn't think kickers are real players. Skip thinks kickers have weak minds.
Being a kicker is a hard fucking job. It’s nearly impossible to describe the pressure or the athletic ability. And no, not every soccer player can do it. Tony Meola tried and failed. Being a kicker is being a football player: your existence hangs on every swing of your leg. To fans a kicker’s performance is binary, therefore easily judged. That's why brain dead no-nothings like Skip think they are capable of judging kickers and kicking and lamely labeling it non-football.
The average fan, and even Skip, is smart enough to watch the ball sail through the air, but not smart enough to realize that Jeff Saturday has worn out his welcome and in no longer Pro-Bowl caliber. Nate Kaeding and Billy Cundiff will forever be judged by the kicks they missed, not the ones they made. Sure, kickers get the yips. Name one player on the football field that hasn't carried a poor result into the next play or game. You think Marc Bulger didn't have the yips when he retired? No, kickers are not perfect and they miss kicks that result in their teams losing. Manning, Favre, Marino and Brady will be judged by the passes they completed, not the game ending interceptions they threw. Manning and Brady threw game ending picks in the playoffs this year. The plays cost their teams the game, right? But they are "real" players, so their mistakes don’t count. They get paid a lot of money, therefore they are forgiven.
And don’t give me the bullshit that kickers couldn’t play another position on the field. Many of them could and did. They were just better kickers. Like quarterbacks turned wide receiver or receivers turned into DBs. There is no difference. Kickers are athletes, they are specialists, but the days of Garo and even of Sebass are at an end. These days kickers are guys that could play other positions, if they had chosen that path. Kicking isn’t something you do in addition to your regular position anymore. You also don’t play safety and tailback anymore. You chose a position.
I am sure there are many guys on a NFL team that are good enough athletes to hit 50% of uncontested kicks. I know there are many that can heave a ball 60 yards down the field. A defensive lineman on my college team, lovingly and appropriately nicknamed Lumpy, could toe kicks from 45 yards 50% of the time. So by Skip’s logic, because a guy can launch a ball 60 yards he can be a quarterback.
Being a kicker means knowing that there is no acceptance for average. Knowing that being off your game 5% takes you from god-like to mediocre. There are hundreds of guys that can hit 75%+, just waiting for a phone call. Making 81% instead of 85% is the difference between hitting .250 instead of .300. It’s the difference between a 15 year career and one and done. 5% makes you or breaks you. How many average guards in the NFL miss getting to the linebacker 2 or 3 plays a game? How many tackles hold a defensive end negating a play? These are all mistakes that are no different than missing a kick. The difference is the guard wasn’t trying to score. The result of the mistake wasn’t a turnover.
Kickers are more like quarterbacks than linebackers in that it’s harder to play, at level, with pain. Ray Lewis at 95% is still Ray Lewis. David Akers at 95% is nobody. Injuries are magnified and impossible to hide and nearly impossible to play with at all. It’s hard to throw a 15-yard out with a strained abdominal muscle. It’s hard to kick with a tweaked groin. The same groin injury, for which someone like Jason Taylor might just get a Toradol shot, shuts down a kicker. I know, I took Toradol for a pulled quad in the 1990's. I could run, but I couldn't kick, well. I could get my leg off the ground, which I couldn't before I took it. I could tackle, which I had to prove after a blocked kick.
The guys that lose it, mentally or physically, get asked to leave the game, regardless of position. Again Ryan Leaf, he’s an easy target, but there are others, Lawrence Phillips, for instance. Phillips and Leaf had the physical tools to make it, but not the mental ones. So they don’t play anymore. Kickers don’t expect it any differently. It just so happens that being a specialist is harder physiologically than being a linebacker or a quarterback. Throw a pick, hand it off the next play to get "back in the groove." Miss a 30 yard chip shot: sit on the bench for two quarters and here's a 47 yarder to get back in the groove, win the game and determine if we release you tonight.
Skip can’t stand to watch Akers decline and because his role is crucial, so he’d eliminate the role. What of the decline of Favre? Should we eliminate QB’s because GMs kept giving him a job? Kicks get missed in crucial situations and interceptions get thrown in crucial situations. Running backs and wide receivers fumble walking into the endzone. One team wins and the other loses. That is the game of football. If Akers or Norwood or Cundiff isn’t the answer, then cut them and sign someone else. If Favre or Saturday or Tebow can’t cut it, get someone who can.
Chilly is a former collegiate kicker. A well-known journeyman NFL kicker broke a couple of his records in college.