John McGrath: Extra points getting extra attention from NFL commish

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.comMarch 5, 2014 

My favorite memory of an extra-point kick attempt might be my only memory of an extra-point kick attempt.

It was 1971, the Chicago Bears’ first season at Soldier Field. My dad and I were sitting in the west corner of the north end zone, which the Bears had just crossed for a tying, fourth-quarter touchdown against the Washington Redskins.

The extra-point kick was supposed to give the Bears a 16-15 lead, but nothing came easy for that team in those days. The snap was bobbled by holder Bobby Douglass, a quarterback well familiar with the fire-drill process of reacting to an errant snap. Douglass lofted a wobbly pass toward the northwest corner — our corner — where a teammate fought off three or four defenders to make a lunging catch.

The receiver turned out to be No. 51, Hall of Fame middle linebacker Dick Butkus. It was worth only a point (two-point conversions weren’t adopted by the NFL until 1994), but it had to be the most exciting one-point score in Bears’ history.

During the 43 years since Dick Butkus morphed into a tight end for one play, I have seen thousands of extra-point attempts. I remember none of them.

Check that.

I remember Rich Karlis, the Denver Broncos barefooted kicker, converting the extra point that punctuated the last-minute, 98-yard touchdown drive quarterback John Elway authored in the AFC Championship Game at Cleveland in 1987.

Elway’s poise had put the Broncos in position to win in

overtime, but getting to the overtime hinged on Karlis converting a kick, off a bare foot, in subfreezing weather. The extra point was sure, assuring Elway his legacy and Karlis his life.

But that’s it: Two extra-point kick attempts come to mind during the half-century I’ve spent following the NFL, and one of them wasn’t even kicked.

The virtual certainty of an extra-point kick clearing the crossbar finds league commissioner Roger Goodell wondering if there’s a more entertaining, more suspenseful way of doling out scores after scores. Goodell has noted that of the 1,267 kick conversions attempted this past season, 1,262 were good. That’s a success rate of 99.6 percent — persuasive evidence that point-after kicks are a waste of time.

Goodell has put forth a suggestion: Reward seven points for touchdowns while allowing a team the option of attempting a two-point conversion. The caveat? If the offense is denied, the touchdown is worth only six points.

The NFL’s Competition Committee met last weekend and proposed another idea. Instead of using the 2-yard line as a launching pad for extra points, move it back to the 25, where the 43-yard attempt isn’t so automatic.

There’s some math to probe here, and it’s rich with intrigue. Field goal attempts between the 40 and 49-yard line were made at an 83 percent clip last season. Rounding off the numbers, let’s just say there’s an 8-in-10 chance of converting an extra point from the 43.

The odds of executing a two-point conversion from the 2-yard line, meanwhile, are about 50 percent. What to do?

Crunch the numbers.

The coach who decides to kick can figure on collecting eight points for every 10 attempts. The coach who decides to go for two can figure on collecting 10 points for every 10 attempts.

Ten trumps eight, no?

The Competition Committee meetings ended without consensus on how, or when, to implement experimental extra-point alternatives, but it’s obvious change is afoot, and change isn’t for everybody.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is a popular axiom repeated by those who believe Goodell is doing too much tinkering with the No. 1 professional sports league in the world.

But the extra-point format is broken, and it’s been broken for decades. When the NFL rules scream for change — and does anything scream louder for change than a 99.6 percent success rate? — the rules are changed.

The league began play in 1920. In 1933, passing finally was permitted from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage. In 1962, tacklers were penalized for grabbing the face mask of a ballcarrier. In 1974, a sudden-death overtime was introduced. In 2012, overtime was tweaked to guarantee against one team winning on a first-possession field goal.

Extra points as we know them won’t be phased out in 2014, and maybe not even in 2015. But if you’re a fan of the snap-hold-bingo ritual, enjoy the tradition while you can. It’s about to become extinct.

Personally? I like Goodell’s idea of turning the conversion into a two-point, make-it-for-eight-or-settle-for-six option, and I like even more the Competition Committee’s idea of turning the kick into something of a challenge.

In the spirit of brainstorming, here’s two other suggestions:

 • Snap the ball for the extra point from, say, the 15-yard line, except require the ball to be drop-kicked instead of placekicked. A 33-yard drop kick seriously reduces a success rate of 99.6 percent.

 • He who scores has the opportunity — and yes, the pressure — of scoring again. Congratulations! You’ve made a touchdown! Now comes the kicker, and it’s you.

Officials would be on board with this one. They’d rarely throw a flag for an excessive celebration in the end zone.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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