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Friday, September 24, 2004

"Hooray, I Keek Touchdown"

Remember those words? Alex Karras, Iowa alum, former stellar defensive tackle with the Detroit Lions, one-time actor, made this comment in partial response to a question about the frustrations of professional football. In essence, Karras said, "You battle for 59 minutes, and then some little guy with a clean uniform comes in to kick a field goal to win the game, and he says, 'Hooray, I keek touchdown.'" Needless to say, this old-school DT wanted to figure out a way to have the games decided by the real men out there, and not the Governator's version of "girlie men."

If you're interested in this line of thought, then check out this article in today's USA Today about the increasing number of PATs that college kickers are missing and the importance of some of those kicks. Last year, DI kickers converted on 95.3% of PAT chances; this year, that percentage right now is 94.9%. Which means, basically, that collegiate DI kickers are missing 1 of every 20 PATs. So, if you're Penn State, you shouldn't be worried if your kicker misses a PAT in the waxing you gave Akron and Central Florida, but you should be concerned that his number will be up and he'll blow (or the holder or the long snapper or the blockers will blow) a big PAT with the game on the line against a Big 10 opponent. Ouch! What a way to lose a game.

If you look at the conversion rate from another angle, 95% is a pretty good score. If the football player gets that score in his academic curriculum, he's Dean's List, perhaps even Phi Beta Kappa material (which means that under the thinking of some football coaches, he has to prove that his book smarts don't impede his ability to take their direction and react on a football field). If the school in question graduates 95% of its football players, well, it would be at the top of the list. Even fair Duke, lofty Vandy, small-but-mighty Rice, holy Notre Dame and throwback Penn State don't hit that graduation percentage.

But 95% of PATs? Some football experts would say that hitting 95% of PATs isn't like getting a 95 on your final in freshman honors calculus. No, they'll argue that hitting 95% of PATs is more like getting a 72 on that exam. I'm no expert on the ins and outs of the collegiate kicking game, but one thing is for sure, some of these missed kicks really have made a difference in a game's outcome.

As have the following: dropped passes, poor throws, missed blocks, kids perhaps not honoring curfew, eating poorly, and a whole host of other things that don't get the spotlight that a kicker does. As a result, there's a real tradeoff: if you want to get carried off the field or have an Adam Vinatieri moment, then you have to take the heat if you miss a PAT that costs you the game. And how a collegiate kicker takes that heat probably will determine how he'll perform when he gets a chance with the game on the line, trying to "keek" that touchdown. After all, some of the PAT misses can come in the first quarter, but ultimately the observers will determine that the kick was costly, for example, if the team lost by a point. At that point in the game, the kicker really wasn't feeling a lot of pressure; his special teams unit just didn't execute properly. Which means, of course, that if you're a fan you're even more nervous when the game gets close and the kicking team has to come back onto the field.

Parents often joke that they advise their kids to take jobs that involve indoor work and no heavy lifting. The football equivalent, of course, is punting and kicking, which involve physical activity but no collisions. Contact? Occasionally. But day-to-day head-butting? Not a chance.

But if you're a kid who gets the privilege of not having to endure all of the collisions, you also have extra responsibility. The fate of your team rests on your foot.


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