The National Football League's annual war of attrition -- also known as the playoffs, or The Road to The Super Bowl -- begins tomorrow on two fronts. And, with his team on a bye week, this has New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, the gridiron's grumpy guru, contemplating football's big picture and, well, the point.
No, not the point of the playoffs. Or the point of the game of football. But, rather, the point of the point. You know, the PAT (Point After Touchdown). Which some call the 'conversion'. And others call the 'extra point'. And which esteemed Sports Illustrated scribe Peter King calls "the biggest waste of time in sports..." Perhaps Pete hasn't seen the pointless scuffles and gloved face-washes that inevitably follow each whistle in a hockey game -- tussles that go nowhere and disrupt the game's natural flow.
Regardless, Belichick sides with the King, which may be a first for the hoodie-wearing, anti-media coach. At a press conference this week, the typically terse and at times bellicose Belichick voiced disdain for the proverbial one-point chip shot.
"I would be in favor of not seeing (PATs) being at an over 99 per cent conversion rate," he said. "It's virtually automatic."
Virtually automatic? Practically, to the point where you can remember the last passing of Halley's Comet more clearly than you can recall the last time you witnessed a kicker shank an extra point. And that 99 percent conversation rate the coach cited, well, it's not an anomaly; it's been in that range for the past decade -- a monumental increase from the good old days of, say, the 1930s, when four of every ten extra points went awry. As New York Times scribe Dave Seminara wrote back in 2011, in the current era the extra point has become "equal parts automatic and superfluous."
"That's just not the way the extra point was put into the game," Belichick continued. "It [began as] an extra point that you had to execute and it was executed by players who were not specialists, they were position players. It was a lot harder for them to do. It's not like it is now where it's well over 99 per cent. I don't think that's really a very exciting play because it's so automatic."
Indeed, kickers -- now specialists, each and every last one of them -- are too good. Too good for the good of the game. If the NFL wants to address this issue, it has assorted options. It could outlaw PATs in favor of the more exciting two-point (non-kicked) conversions; make the 19-yard kick for a PAT longer (extend it to 30 or 40 yards); or have the opposition coach pick any cheerleader from the other team to kick the conversion. Okay, I'm kidding on that last one.
Still, even Belichick, who respects the game as much as he disrespects PATs, says that overall he believes the kicking aspect of the sport should remain intact. He just wants things tweaked to better fit the modern game.
Personally, I'd be up for more than a tweaking. I think the NFL needs a good kick in the PATs. While extra points bore me to tears, field goals likewise fail to give me goosebumps 100 per cent of the time. And, frankly, I don't care how long the kick is -- when a kicker is summoned onto the field, it's still snooze time.
So, will the NFL make changes to the kicking game? Probably not. Why?
Well, now that I've expounded on the issue and come out in favor of change, you all know what's going to happen, right? One of the four games on this Wildcard Weekend will invariably be decided by... one measly point. One missed PAT. An automatic chip shot shanked wide by one incredulous kicker.
Because that's life and that's sports. I don't know if Yogi Berra ever said this, but he should have: Even the automatic ain't always automatic.