Monday, November 24, 2008

The Fair Catch Kick

Maybe you've guessed this about me by now: there's nothing I love more than an obscure rule, a strange twist, a bizarre outcome.

So I'm pretty jazzed about what Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt did this weekend. He sent placekicker Neil Rackers in to try a 68-yard field goal near the end of the first half.

"What!?", I hear you saying. "68 yards? Is he nuts?"

Well, maybe. But at least he knows the rules. See, Rackers' field goal attempt was actually a fair catch kick. It seems few people realize the NFL still allows a team making a fair catch two options: run a play from scrimmage, or kick the ball from that spot (either a placekick or a dropkick). In other words, without having to worry about a snap-and-hold, and without having to deal with a rushing defense, you get a chance to score 3 points.

"But still," you say. "68 yards!" Well, get to an NFL game early some day and watch the kickers. Most of these guys have the leg to hit from 60 and beyond. It wouldn't shock me if the Raiders' Sebastian Janikowski could nail one from 75 or 80 yards. Remember: in a fair catch kick, there's no snap, no hold, no rush. The holder puts the ball on the turf and the kicker just fires when ready.

Rackers totally muffed his kick, but that doesn't mean the decision was a bad one. The option was to go to the line of scrimmage and run the last-minute offense. Good luck with that.

What strikes me as strange is not the fact that the Cardinals would try a 68-yarder. I find it odd that no NFL team has made a free catch kick field goal in 40 years. The last successful free catch kick was a game-winner in 1968 by Chicago's Mac Percival. His 43-yarder beat the Packers with 20 seconds on the clock.

Send Rackers out there again!

Monday, November 17, 2008


I didn't believe it when I first heard it. I'm still having a little trouble believing that the Pittsburgh Steelers' 11-10 win over the San Diego Chargers was the first 11-10 game in the history of the NFL.

In case you're scoring at home, that's 12,837 games. Not even in the days of the Columbus Panhandles and the Toledo Maroons did the NFL produce an 11-10 score.

The 10, of course, is easy: a touchdown, a conversion, and a field goal. 11 is a little trickier, but not that odd: three field goals and a safety, or a TD, a missed PAT, a field goal, and a safety.

Of course, the officials had to pull a little trickery to cement the 11-10 Steelers win. They admittedly blew a call on the game's final play, nullifying a Troy Polamalu fumble recovery that would have pushed the score to a more normal (and not-unprecedented) 17-10 (or even 18-10 with the extra point).

Too bad for Polamalu, who is one of my favorite NFL madmen. But I'm glad the refs missed the call.

11-10 is too beautiful to waste.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Change Has Come

No, I'm not writing about Barack Obama's landslide victory.

I'm talking about Tim Lincecum's landslide victory.

Good for the baseball writers who vote for the Cy Young Award. They managed to look past the Giants' 90-loss season and see the transcendent talent of 24-year-old Tim Lincecum.

I've seen a lot of good ones. Koufax. Marichal. Gibson. Valenzuela. Carlton. Ryan. Gooden. Clemens. I'm telling you, Tim is as electrifying as any of those guys were. You can't turn away when he's on the mound, because you might miss something. A sick changeup. Maybe one of those TNT-laden fastballs. A good hitter looking childish.

How much of Lincecum's charm is his oddball delivery, or his "card-that-guy" boyish appearance? Some, for sure.

But mostly, he's fun to watch because he's so gosh-darned good.

Good on you, sportswriters. Good on you, Tim Lincecum.

I can't wait for Opening Day.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sick Locker Rooms

There's something nasty going on in the world of sports, and it has nothing to do with any of the usual suspects.

No, it's not greedy owners, obnoxious agents, or childish players that have me worried.

It's Staphylococcus aureus, and it's truly ugly. Don't believe me?

Ask any of a growing list of superstars who've been hit by staph infections: Peyton Manning, Barry Bonds, Tom Brady, Kellen Winslow. Even journeyman receiver Joe Jurevicius missed an entire season and needed numerous surgeries to tackle a persistent staph infection, and he's still not 100% right.

Most of these cases involved athletes who'd had knee surgery. That used to mean a few weeks or months of rehab. Now, it often means a scary detour into infection-world.

What's going on? Nobody really knows, and that's what's really frightening. It appears, though no one can say for sure, that these athletes either picked up the germs at their team's training facilities or at the hospital.

The NFL, after initially seeming rather blase' about all this, is now intensely interested in getting some answers. Commissioner Roger Goodell is calling in some high-powered medical experts to provide advice.

It's important to note that this isn't just a problem for bazillionaire pro jocks. There have been staph infections reported among college, high school, and health club athletes. I watched a friend struggle for well over a year with an infection in his foot. He was reduced to carving pieces out of his shoes just so he could get out for a bike ride. You don't want to go there.