King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Orange Bowl gives Death to Placekicking campaign a shot in the leg. Plus: USC-Texas predictions.


Salon Staff
January 4, 2006 10:00PM (UTC)

Tuned in to a football game Tuesday night and a soccer match broke out. Except the goalie was invisible and 10 feet in the air. Kicks were sailing wide left and wide right, and if there were some other direction for them to sail wide, they'd have done that too.

It was the best free advertising the American Society for the Abolishment of Placekicking could have hoped for, according to the ASAP's handsome and charming founder.

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In the end, Penn State's kicker, Kevin Kelly, booted a chip shot through from 29 yards, making him the hero even though he'd previously missed 847 makable field goals. The Nittany Lions beat Florida State, the field goal missingest team in football history, 26-23 in triple overtime.

Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden have figured out a way to win 713 games between them, but they can't find a guy who can punch the pigskin between the yellow sticks in the big game.

Kelly actually only missed two field goals, from 29 and 38 yards, both of which would have been game winners. His opposite number, Gary Cismesia of Florida State, missed an extra point in the second quarter and game-winning field-goal attempts of 44 and 38 yards in overtime.

It turned out there were still about four hours of football left to play when Cismesia sent that PAT wide, and who knows how the rest of the game might have played out had he made it for 14-7 instead of missing it for 13-7.

But mathematically, at least, if he makes that innocuous kick, something he'd done on every opportunity all year, then FSU wins in regulation. And really I can't see anything Penn State would have done different strategically if Florida State had had that extra point from the second quarter on.

All of this is too bad, as all things placekick always are, because the missed-kick fest overshadowed what was a pretty good football game, especially if, as ABC announcer Mike Tirico put it, "you like punts."

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There were 20 of those, exactly twice the average in the previous 26 bowl games this year, and five more than the previous bowl-season high of 15 punts in the Champs Sports, Alamo, Holiday and Houston bowls.

But I'm being a punk. It really was a good game, the punts the result of punishing defenses, not bad offenses, and the hitting and intensity levels both as good as it gets. I don't know that the world needs to avoid tie football games as much as it needs to avoid five-hour football games, but there's no denying that college football's overtime is a white-knuckle ride.

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Which makes it all the more frustrating that the game can be turned over to kickers. If we can't eradicate placekicking -- just as we can't eradicate poverty, war and injustice, which are almost as bad -- can we at least get rid of it in overtime? Teams start every possession in field-goal range. They can just kick on the first play if they want. It's bogus.

One of the most distasteful things about placekicking was written all over the face of kicker Cismesia Tuesday night as he sat slumped on the ground in the Florida State bench area, his teammates trying to shield him from the view of the TV cameras.

Cismesia was the absolute, supreme, no ifs ands or buts goat of the game, just as Penn State's Kelly would have been had Cismesia made one of his overtime kicks. I hate to see anybody go through what that kid was going through.

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The only figure in North American sports who's comparable to a kicker who's blown a makable game winner is a relief pitcher who comes in to give up the game-winning hit. Think of Ralph Branca, or think -- as I did when I saw Cismesia brooding -- of Donnie Moore.

But that relief pitcher, while a specialist, is playing the same game as his teammates. In most cases, especially in the current game, he's in there because he's earned that spot by getting tough outs in many other games. The goalie who lets in the game winner has stopped many other shots. The shooting guard who misses the 3-pointer at the buzzer has probably already scored a bunch of points.

What can you say to a placekicker who honks a big kick after having spent most of the game, most of every game, trying to stay awake without picking up a magazine? "Hey, listen, at least you made those extra points earlier." Cismesia didn't even have that to hang on to.

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I have two suggestions short of the nirvana of abolishing placekicking, neither of them my idea and, thus, both of them good ideas.

First, require that anyone attempting a placekick must have been in the game on the previous down. You'd still get some kneel-downs just before game-winning attempts, but in most cases, the kicker would have a chance to make an actual football play, and would have to be proficient enough at football -- the game being played here, after all -- to at least be a decoy on third down.

This would have the salutary effect of turning placekickers into actual football players. They'd have to wear pads, regular face masks, both shoes, the whole deal. And if one blows a game winner, at least his mates could potentially point to that big touchdown catch in the third quarter.

The other suggestion is courtesy of Doug Flutie, who drop-kicked an extra point for the New England Patriots Sunday, the first successful drop kick in the NFL since 1941. A drop kick is a real football play, akin to a punt, since the kicker has to actually catch the snap and handle the ball.

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Also, it's much, much harder than a placekick. Flutie later said he figured he had about an 80 percent chance of making that PAT Sunday. NFL placekickers make well over 99 percent of their extra-point attempts. Flutie's not a kicker. A specialist might have better than an 80 percent shot, but not 99-plus.

A kicker missing even a short game-winning drop-kick attempt would be more like a basketball player missing a game-winning shot attempt. It'd be a lousy feeling, but not one like Cismesia had: I'm here to do one thing, that one thing wasn't that hard, and I screwed it up.

And the degree of difficulty would mean that when teammates came over to tell him not to feel so bad, they might even be sincere about it.

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USC vs. Texas [PERMALINK]

Three predictions about Wednesday's National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl between Southern California and Texas:

1. USC will win and will beat the point spread, which is a touchdown.

2. There will not be 20 punts in the Rose Bowl. Both of these teams have ridiculous offenses, averaging at least 50 points a game. That's what makes this game so interesting. You know, if Southern Cal's 3-point shots aren't falling ...

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3. The telecast will have more than 20 separate shots of celebrities in USC gear by halftime. And just to be clear, for the purposes of this prediction, the definition of "celebrity" is broad enough to include Nick Lachey.

Celebrities who are former USC athletes don't count, but if O.J. Simpson shows up, I get to count him. Also John Wayne.

Previous column: Deep bowl-game thoughts

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