If I ruled the National Football League, I would go back to the old Kickoff rules and move the ball to the 30-yard line so that kickoffs are more exciting.
Much of the excitement was taken away before the 2011 season. The NFL voted to move the kickoff line from the 30-yard line up to the 35-yard line in order to keep players safe.
Of course you have to keep players’ safety in mind, but with the increasing distance that kickers can boot the ball, this rule was put in place so that players would not run the ball into play and would have to settle for a touchback. What the NFL would prefer is that kickers just rocket the ball behind the end zone with no chance for any play.
One of the most frustrating instances that a fan can experience while watching an NFL game is when the kick returner decides to take a knee in the end zone and not run the ball out. Many times you can tell that they want to. But a teammate will get in the returner’s way and instruct him to settle for a touchback. When this happens, the returner is usually visibly angry at himself as he thinks about what could have been the outcome if he did not opt for the smarter move.
Many players such as Devin Hester, Josh Cribbs and Brad Smith made their careers on being kick-returning specialists. They were all must-see players and fan favorites. According to NFL.com, when the rule first came out, former Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets kick-returner Leon Washington said, “I don’t like the rule … It’s part of the game that’s really exciting. I think fans look forward to it because it’s an instant momentum-changer.”
Washington, Hester, Cribbs and Smith all lifted fans from their seats. Whenever any one of them touched the ball for a kick-return those same fans would rise from their seats and cheer.
Cribbs, now 31 years old and not currently on any NFL roster, was a star for the Cleveland Browns. He is tied for the most kick-return touchdowns in a career with eight. He shares this record with Leon Washington, who now plays for the Tennessee Titans.
It comes to no surprise that for Cribbs all eight of his return touchdowns came before the kickoff being moved up to the 35-yard line. He has had no return touchdowns since 2009 despite having 142 attempts to do so. As for Washington, his career as a returner has gone downhill since the rule was put in place. He had seven touchdowns before 2011 and only one after that year. Devin Hester is now being tried out as a wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons and Brad Smith is not on an NFL roster this year. In the off season before the 2014 NFL season, the NFL’s competition committee had a vote to move the kickoffs up even further to the 40-yard line. It is a good thing that this did not go through. The NFL is attempting to put a less importance on special teams and it makes the game less exciting for fans. Fans come to NFL games for excitement and hard-hitting action. If I ruled in the NFL, the kickoff would be moved back to the 30-yard line. Many players come into the league as return specialists; it would be great for the fans and those players.
Mike Miezejeski can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org