December 15, 2017

Extra Points, Catching Up and Remembering #55

May 20, 2015

Extra Points, Catching Up And Saying Thanks

The most boring play in sports will be a few percentage points less boring this fall now that the NFL has voted that extra points will be kicked from the 15-yard line instead of the 2-yard line.

League owners voted 30-2 to make the change with the two teams voting against also clamoring to bring back leather helmets and stickum.

The change is welcome but a bit odd. The longer distance comes about because NFL kickers are so good (plus many of them play indoors) that they make more than 99% of their extra point conversions. But Pro Football Focus says the new distance, basically a 33-yard field goal instead of a 20-yarder, reduces kicker accuracy only down to 97.6%.

So kickers will keep converting at an alarming rate but there is some added spice as two-point conversions, which will still take place from the 2-yard line, can now be returned by the defense all the way to the other end zone for 2 points.

So, with kickoff and punt returns being diminished because of concussion fears picked off 2-point conversions might provide the only opportunity for NFL fans to see a guy take one the length of the field for a score. How many of these players will be huffing and puffing and then get to the 40 and realize that all this running will only get them two points and say “the heck with this” and take a knee?

And what happens when a defensive player intercepts a 2-point conversion pass and then fumbles and the offensive team gets it back? Do they get a point for that? Or can they run it into the end zone and still get the original 2 they were hoping for?

All this confusion and Sturm und Drang will probably force NFL coaches to just stick with the 1-pointer more than ever.

Oh, and are you allowed to squeeze the ball a little tighter on an extra point?

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady didn’t do anything that bad, did he? When Brady and Peyton Manning campaigned to get control of their own team’s footballs before the game didn’t everyone know it was to tweak the game balls a little bit?

There are those who say “cheating is cheating” which is a phrase I often heard flowing up from the living room during my parents’ bridge night with friends in the 1970s followed by some other phrases which cannot be repeated here followed by punches and broken gin bottles and shattered friendships.

But, while deflating footballs is certainly done to get a competitive advantage that the rules do not allow for it’s a lot different than a pitcher scuffing a baseball because, in that case, the hitter, the opposing team, is directly getting screwed. But in football, the other team’s QB has always been welcome to doctor the footballs as well. What? Think Tom Brady is the only one who does this? That is, of course, in all seriousness and fairness, if he did it. He says he didn’t and he has his right to appeal.

If Brady is guilty then he should have said, back before the Super Bowl “Hey, I have always looked at this as more of a guideline, not a hard, steadfast rule. This is something quarterbacks and kickers have long done but now I won’t do it again. Now stop staring at my wife.”

There are those, possibly Patriots owner Robert Kraft among them, who might say Brady should just admit guilt now and perhaps that admission and, likely, contrition, might lead the NFL to lessen his four-game suspension. Kraft seems to be thinking along those lines as he says he will no longer fight the NFL’s punishment of a $1 million fine and forfeiture of a first-round draft pick next year and a fourth-rounder the next year.

But Brady, it seems, despite some troubling evidence, is going to keep fighting. Is he a guilty man who refuses to pay for his crime because he either really doesn’t think it’s a crime or because, hey, doesn’t everyone know I’m Tom Brady? Or is Tom Brady really an innocent man battling to clear his name?

How will the Patriots be if they have to play their first four games without Tom Brady? Brady wins about 77% of his games (best of any QB in NFL history) so it’s safe to say the Pats would probably go 3-1 with him in the lineup. If they go 2-2 then in the long run, Brady’s absence probably won’t matter. But what if the Super Bowl champs with Jimmy Garoppolo at QB, go just 1-3 or, gasp, 0-4, against the Steelers, Bills, Jaguars and Cowboys? If so then the defending champs will probably miss the playoffs.

If New England isn’t a playoff team this year than that first-round pick they don’t have next year will be that much more valuable. We don’t yet know where next year’s draft will be held but Chicago certainly made the case this year that moving the draft out of New York and giving other cities the spotlight is only good for the league.

Chicago enjoyed beautiful spring weather and thousands of fans crowded the Auditorium Theatre and Draft Town in Grant Park for the three-day pigskin celebration. By all accounts it was fun, it was cool and, the NFL being the rock star that it is, it doesn’t matter where it performs, the fans will find it, watch it, love it and sponsors will pay for it.

The last time the NFL draft had been held in Chicago was 1964, back when the league’s annual selection process was less like a reality show and more like roll call. Two years after that draft the Bears selected a skinny linebacker out of Louisville named Doug Buffone. The Monsters of the Midway plugged in #55 and he was a mainstay on the Bears’ defense through 1979.

Doug Buffone was talented and tough as nails and was one of those guys who, had he played on better teams, probably would have gotten a few Pro Bowl honors. Instead, he played on just two winning teams and made the playoffs just twice, both first-round losses.

So Doug Buffone never became a superstar, a legend or a millionaire. He was simply Doug Buffone, the old Bear. Or, as generations of Chicagoans knew him simply as, “Buffone.”

After his playing days he went into broadcasting and he and fellow former Bear Ed O’Bradovich’s analyses of the Bears in good times and bad were heartfelt, funny and priceless.

Doug Buffone left us suddenly and far, far too early when he died last month at the age of 70. I watched Buffone play, remember his final game and listened to him for a long time but never met him. I did see him in the building once as we worked for sister radio stations and I nodded and said hello and he said hi and smiled and, I’m not kidding, he really seemed to mean it. He appeared genuinely happy to see me even though he had never seen me before.

I have told others who did know Doug Buffone that story and they say that’s exactly how Doug Buffone was. More than being talented, strong, tough, loyal and entertaining, he was nice.

And that never fades. –TK


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