DENVER — The eight teams left in the NFL playoffs can thank their special teams for a good part of their success. Thats one reason players are still upset commissioner Roger Goodell has floated the idea of abolishing kickoffs.
Baltimore Ravens return specialist Jacoby Jones, who returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season, said if the league gets rid of the electrifying plays, Im going to retire. I will go (ballistic). If they take out kickoffs, theyre going to hate me in this league.
The idea is only a suggestion, one Goodell says the league will consider in the offseason for safety reasons, but players are vehemently opposed to such a radical change they contend would shake the foundation of Americas most popular sport.
I havent found anybody that likes the idea, because, first of all, the sport is called football, so you cant keep taking the foot part of it out, Denver Broncos punter Britton Colquitt said. It would also be really confusing if they were like, Stay tuned for kickoff, and there was no kickoff, you know? What are they going to say, Stay tuned for the start of the game?
Abolishing kickoffs would eliminate the onside kick as an option like the one the New Orleans Saints used to turn the tide against the Indianapolis Colts coming out of halftime in the Super Bowl three years ago and it would prune some pizazz from the game, like Desmond Howards kickoff return for a touchdown that gave Brett Favre his only championship ring in the mid-1990s.
Of the 13 kickoff-return TDs this season, seven came from teams that reached the playoffs. The Ravens, Colts, Patriots, Broncos, Seahawks and Vikings all sported resumes that boasted at least one of the backbreakers.
Players say rules changes such as banning the blocking wedge, moving the kickoff up five yards and limiting the number of players who can line up on one side of the ball for an onside kick have lessened the number of violent collisions in games, and they wonder if messing with the kickoffs is going too far.
If youve got to do something about it, if you still feel like its injuries, then move it up to the 40 and then its like 99 percent of the time its going to be a touchback, Colquitt suggested.
That way, the onside kick would still be an option.
But you even see the returners, theyre returning the ball from deeper in the end zone than they used to because they want to return it, Colquitt said. Theyre not out there in fear for their life, theyre not saying, I dont want to do this.
Indeed, there were eight 100-yard kickoff-return touchdowns in 2012, the most of any season in NFL history.
Bringing one out, how is that unsafe? Its football, Jones said. Everybody doesnt take them out from 8 yards deep, but I take my chances because I have fun. And I have guys in front of me that do a heck of a job blocking. We take care of each other and roll with the punches.