The premise is that the point-after has become pointless. A mere formality of a play. To that I say, what’s wrong with formalities? They have their place. Even in football.
I know it’s not what passes for the popular group-think in the debate over what to do about the extra point in the NFL, but I’m not really hot and bothered that there’s one play in football where not much happens and the outcome is largely a foregone conclusion. The Bucs’ new uniforms, those bother me. The news that the Cleveland Browns—the Cleveland Browns!—are going for a “cutting-edge’’ look starting next year, that almost offends me.
Extra points being too easy for today’s insanely accurate kickers? I’m not feeling the outrage.
Which is why I’m happy to hear the NFL might not be either. According to The MMQB’s Peter King, even though the league might experiment with considerably longer PATs in the preseason, there’s only a very, very slight chance team owners will tinker with the play in the regular season. It could take three or four years of gathering momentum before the NFL deems to make a change in the point-after.
Well, bully that. Score one—rimshot!—for procrastination and foot-dragging. For once the league might not be falling into the change-for-the-sake-of-change trap and deciding to not fix what isn’t broken. Playing around with the extra point is your classic solution in search of a problem.
Here’s my main point about point-afters: So what? They’re gimmes. I get it. But in championship-level golf, they still make you putt those out. They’re not contemplating making pro golfers move the ball back three feet in order to add more drama. And let’s face it, we do tend to love those memorable misses from six inches or closer, which always make the weekend duffer crowd exalt with a smug sense of satisfaction.
It’s the same way we feel when we watch the human element come into play every once in a while with baseball’s intentional walk, when somebody’s pitcher can’t seem to lob four pitches way outside and winds up sailing one to the backstop—or worse, over the plate where the batter can take a free hack at the meatball. A rarity, to be sure. But that’s what makes them worth waiting for. (I digress, but to this day, I haven’t been able to forgive A’s reliever Rollie Fingers for suckering my boyhood baseball hero, the Reds’ Johnny Bench, on that faux intentional walk turned strikeout in the 1972 World Series. A dastardly deception by a man who still wears a handlebar mustache.)
And where exactly did the idea start that the NFL is in dire need of a boost when it comes to excitement? So the PAT has become a tiny little breather built into what is still a riveting game. Fine. Does anybody really suffer for it? We can’t even abide one moment in today’s game when we are not entertained to the maximum?
There’s the notion that point-afters in their current form have become a waste of our valuable time. So automatic as to not even warrant our attention. Try telling that to Tony Romo. Just mention the words “Seattle, 2006 playoffs, bobbled snap,’’ and then back up quickly. It was a 19-yard field goal attempt that Romo botched the hold on, costing Dallas a 21-20 last-second loss in his first career postseason start. But a 19-yard field goal and a PAT are one in the same. That was fairly dramatic, as I recall.
The NFL certainly has room for improvement and upgrades, and change has to be part of the equation. But providing fans with more drama on game day is not one of the league’s most pressing issues. Nobody is going to stop watching football if the NFL doesn’t do something about its point-after problem and the tiny lull in the action it produces. You might have noticed the fan interest, television ratings, ticket sales and coverage decisions the league has inspired over the past 20 years or so? The phrase “through the roof’’ comes to mind.
I don’t get those who apparently feel cheated if every play doesn’t rise to the level of can’t-miss viewing. This is not baseball’s American League adopting the designated hitter in 1973 to try and juice the game’s offensive potential, in order to get butts in the seats at the ballpark. The NFL doesn’t need an injection of further excitement, or to introduce innovations into the game just to keep us interested. We’re hooked. They know it. And it shows.
To be sure, there are pressing problems to be fixed in the NFL. But the humble little extra point doesn’t strike me as one of them. Any time or energy spent on improving the PAT seems to be attention that could have been better focused elsewhere. Certainly the game has to keep evolving and getting smarter. In terms of both player safety and the updating of the game’s playing rules, the status quo isn’t the safest of ground to stand on, and I totally understand the continued study of kickoffs and where to draw the line in terms of the physical costs incurred by that traditional part of the game. But moving the PAT around to figure out where the conversion success ratio becomes acceptable to everyone? With apologies to chief advocate Bill Belichick, it sounds like a rather trivial pursuit.
I don’t really care what the league tries in the preseason by way of experiment with the rulebook, because, well, you’ve seen the NFL’s preseason. It can be tough to watch for even diehards. But a 42 or 43-yard extra-point attempt in the preseason, as is reportedly being discussed by the league’s agenda-setting competition committee? That’s clearly an over-reaction, especially if the league plans to continue awarding three times that many points for any old chip-shot field goal of say, 19 to 35 yards. Where’s the logic and balance of that approach to kicking specialists?
Leave the near-automatic PAT alone, NFL. It’s not a pointless exercise that serves no purpose, and I almost like having something you can count on in a game that has changed so much in recent years. The NFL should recognize it has far bigger moves to ponder than where to locate the snap, the hold and the kick after touchdowns.
I’m in the minority perhaps, but I hope this is one rules debate that goes nowhere with the league’s decision-makers, eventually fading from our radar screens. The NFL should stick with tradition and keep going for one from the 2. The call on the PAT … It’s good. And doesn’t need fixing.