By Skip Bayless
Page 2

For a vicariously thrilling moment on Sunday, I was Larry Allen of the Dallas Cowboys. I was the strongest man in the National Football League, and I had my kicker by the face mask. If I ripped off his helmet and his head stayed in it, so be it.

Not that I truly wish harm on any of the football subspecies known as place-kickers, but what player or coach or fan hasn't wanted to strangle one of these wimpy wackos?

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Allen went after Jose Cortez because Cortez had just smother-hooked an extra point attempt. Yes, the snap was off target and the hold was late, but Allen was in no mood for excuses or lip from a little non-football player whose unpredictable ability to kick the ball over the crossbar and between the uprights can win or lose games played by supremely athletic warriors.

For an enraged moment, Allen wanted to eliminate Cortez.

I'll go him one better: For a long time, I've wanted to eliminate place kicking altogether.

I'm not in the least bit kidding. I say kick kickers out of football. They're the only flaw in my favorite game.

But what an incomprehensible flaw this is.

Giant, gifted men battle their guts out playing a violent game, and the outcome is all too often decided by some former soccer player who has absolutely nothing to do with football. No football talent. No football heart. No football mind.

No joke? Yes, joke.

If a Martian landed in your backyard one Sunday afternoon and you invited him in to watch some NFL, he would soon conclude that the little guys who kick are the most valuable players in football. And surely the highest paid.

After all, New England's Adam Vinatieri has won two Super Bowls with late field goals. Jim O'Brien won one for the Baltimore Colts. And of course, Scott Norwood's wide-right miss stained the careers of Buffalo greats Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith, who could have been remembered for one Super Bowl win instead of four losses.

College football has been equally plagued. How many times have kickers cost Florida State games against arch-rival Miami? More than Bobby Bowden has clichés.

My point: Three-point field goals count way, way too much.

So do away with them. Purify football. Let the real players decide the game.

When an offense faces, say, fourth-and-4 at its opponent's 29-yard line, no more automatically lining up for a field goal. You go for it!

And you keep going for it on fourth down until you fail or score a touchdown.

When you do score, you don't automatically trot out a guy who looks like an accountant and whose neck barely supports his helmet. No more ho-hum PATs. You go for two every time!

You actually keep playing football.

Sure, you can argue that the field goal is football's most exciting play. But that's for all the wrong reasons. What if the deep snapper (who usually isn't good enough to play regularly) misfires? Or what if the holder (who's usually the backup quarterback) muffs a good snap or fails to spin the laces away from the kicker's foot?

And worst of all, what if the kicker suddenly goes Ian Baker-Finch and develops an incurable case of the hooks or shanks? Kickers routinely go even further south psychologically than golfers do. When they lose it, as several will in the coming weeks, coaches throw up their hands (if not their lunches) and cut them, and then sign another vagabond kicker who claims to have regained his kicking mojo.

This isn't exciting. It's insanity.

This silly gimmick is beneath this great game's dignity, and an insult to those who play it.

No other team sport features a player who has so little to do with it. At least baseball's designated hitter and relief specialists are still hitting or pitching. At least basketball's 3-point shooters occasionally have to dribble and play defense. Goalies are the ultimate defenders.

I get no kick from champagne or kicking.

Sure, if you're a gambler who revels in "why-me?" misery, you love to hate kickers who wide-right you at the gun.

Not me. Give me repeated fourth-down conversions in the last-ditch, game-winning drive. Give me a touchdown bomb or breakaway run ending a game in overtime.

No more winning the overtime coin flip and driving only 27 yards for a 52-yard field goal. Play football.

But no, this isn't to harrumph that football needs a new name. Let's keep the foot in football. Kicking off and punting are necessary and logical elements of the game.

Punters are generally more athletic than place-kickers. Punting requires catching the equivalent of a 15-yard pass that can sail or sink or swerve. Launching 40-plus-yard punts with easy-to-cover hang time is a little more difficult than place-kicking, because the ball must be dropped onto the foot in windy or rainy conditions.

And punting requires some strategy and finesse. Can you punt away from a dangerous return man? Can you get the nose of the ball to stick at the goal line and bounce backward? Can you nail one in the coffin corner?

Punting occasionally even requires the punter to turn into a ball carrier or passer. Bad or dropped snaps force punters to quick-kick in the face of diving punt-blockers or tuck and run for their lives. Defenses hell-bent on blocking punts tempt punters to signal for passes to uncovered "gunners" in the flat.

And punters occasionally are required to attempt to get in the way of returners who have bolted through 10 potential tacklers.

OK, so are place-kickers on kickoffs. But punters belong in football.

And surely, punters could learn to double as kickoff specialists.

After all, once upon a time, real football players kicked. That, I loved. Paul Hornung was a star halfback and a star straight-on kicker. George Blanda was a star quarterback who could kick toes-first with the best of his era.

But in 1964, the Buffalo Bills took a 12th-round chance on a soccer-style kicker named Pete Gogolak from Cornell; and soon, all of football realized that side-winders could get the ball up a little quicker and carry it farther.

Soccer permanently contaminated football.

Of course, the antidote would be to require place-kickers to play a position. It did my heart good two Sundays ago when 245-pound Philadelphia linebacker Mark Simoneau stood in for an injured David Akers and soccer-styled a perfect hook through the uprights on an extra point.

But how would you govern player-kickers? Would they be required to play 10 plays a game? Twenty?

No, eliminating place-kicking is the only way.

Of course, if you're a New England fan, you consider this proposal somewhere between heresy and lunacy. You have the greatest clutch kicker in NFL history: Vinatieri, who's an uncharacteristically athletic and well-conditioned kicker. Ditto the Eagles, whose Akers is so powerfully built that he tore a hamstring. Most kickers aren't wound tightly enough to pull muscles.

But Vinatieri and Akers still aren't football players. They're merely the best of the worst aspect of any team sport.

Football would be a much better game without field goals or PATs.

Go ahead: Tell me I'm wrong.

Better still, tell Larry Allen I'm wrong.

Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice a week on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.



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