Eliminating Kickoffs Would Ruin Football, According To A Kicker And A Kick Return SpecialistS

Yesterday, we discussed the possibility that the NFL will do away with kickoffs and instead institute a punt-or-4th-and-long option. On its face, the idea seems logical, maybe even preferable, if not necessarily a top-priority reform. The NFL can frame it as an issue of player safety, but truthfully, the increasing skill of kickers and the regularity with which they can force touchbacks means that any change is likely a response to the need for entertainment—kickoffs are perfunctory now; this new rule might be a little more exciting. Sounds OK, right?

Oddly enough, there is a segment of NFL players that opposes this new measure: the segment whose livelihoods and feelings of self worth depend on the existence of the kickoff. Josh Cribbs is a return specialist, but he's returned almost exactly twice as many kickoffs as punts. He needs kickoffs. His principled argument against the elimination of the kickoff?

"They need to call it a different league if they do that," Cribbs said. "It'll change the game drastically."

...for Josh Cribbs. In fact, let's just annotate his argument, as given in this ESPN article, so we understand his objections as clearly as possible:

"They need to call it a different league if they do that," Cribbs said. "It'll change the game drastically [for me, Josh Cribbs]."

"I couldn't ever see that [unless I was watching a game on TV, because I wouldn't be on an NFL roster anymore]," said Cribbs, sixth on the career kickoff yardage list. "That's like taking the goal post out of the stadium [or, more accurately, like taking me, Josh Cribbs, out of the stadium], taking the whole post and uprooting it. Only play offense and defense, just like intramurals [except for punts and punt returns]. Then play indoors and put flags in our [the remaining football players'—not me, Josh Cribbs's] pants."

"It's getting to be too much of an entertainment business instead of a sport [because what I specialize in has become boring over time]" he said. "I know it's a sport and entertainment and there's a lot of revenue involved [because I'm tenuously holding on to my share of that revenue], but it'd be straight entertainment and no sports. We [they] won't even be on NFL Network, we'll be on MTV [except for me, Josh Cribbs, who won't be on TV at all]."

"It'd be a made-up sport [because football — Josh Cribbs = Twilight Zone Calvinball chaos disaster]."

We kid Josh, sort of—he's not an altogether awful receiver, has had his moments as a back, and would still make a living as a punt returner—but it's great to see a microcosm of that first, fearful reaction to some innovation that just might steal your job, and will almost certainly hurt your value. We're sure we'll have the same reaction when they invent the Sports Blogger 3000.

What's that? Browns kicker Phil Dawson doesn't like the idea either? Whysoever could that be? Here's his answer, annotated once again for clarification purposes:

"When the ball is 50 yards down the field, guys are running full speed and you get a lot of cross blocks and guys getting knocked out," Dawson said. "I still wouldn't say it's any more dangerous than any other play. I watch wide receivers get concussions each and every week in the NFL, yet we're going to pick on kickoffs? That doesn't add up to me [a kicker whose professional identity revolves partly around kickoffs]."

"There is so much scheming, personnel matchups, strategy that goes into each and every kickoff that people will never understand [even though my goal is to end the play before it starts, and I and my fellow kickers succeed at a high enough rate that the league is considering a rule change]" he said. "All they see is a guy run and kick the ball [because the play usually ends there]. But there's a lot that goes into it [and a lot that I, Phil Dawson, gain from it] and it would be a shame to see that much thought [and half my job] be removed from the game.

"And, hey, I'm probably someone who would benefit from this rule [in that I could take up a new hobby—whittling or something—on the sideline], so I don't have a vested interest [in my own value as a football player]. I'm known as a field-goal guy, so if anything it would help me [share my locker, and salary, with an additional punter], so I'm not saying this because I'm mad [though I certainly am mad], I'm a kicker and I'm going to lose. I don't think this suggestion makes sense [for me, Phil Dawson, a kicker]."

"From when I was a little kid I dreamed about having the opening kickoff in the Super Bowl and all the flashbulbs go off [which is why I'm not mad that they might eliminate kickoffs, and don't have a vested interest]," he said. "I want to be that guy [or not—no big deal]. There's so much that can be accomplished on that play for both sides [such as me, kicker Phil Dawson, picking up a paycheck for forcing a touchback]. To think a guy like Josh Cribbs wouldn't have the opportunity to have the career he's had because of all the excitement he's brought the game.

To think that a kick returner—sworn enemy of the kicker—wouldn't have the opportunity to have a long and fruitful career! Woe is Phil Dawson! Concern-trolling at its most convoluted. You know who might stand to gain from the new rule? Punters and punt return specialists. That's why you don't hear Chris Kluwe and Devin Hester crying injustice and bemoaning the downward spiral of the game. Or maybe they're just looking forward to playing flag football on MTV.

Josh Cribbs: Kickoff Ban A Bad Idea [ESPN]