There are few people in the National Football League who are as recognizable as Kansas City Chiefs’ Head Coach Andy Reid. From his large size, large play-calling sheet and can’t-miss mustache, Reid is a man who cannot be missed. But there’s a lot more to Reid than what we see. You don’t win two Super Bowls without being a thoughtful, intelligent individual. With most NFL teams in the midst of their OTAs, Reid made a statement this week not about his team, but about the state of the game of football that should not be dismissed.
Earlier this week, the owners of the 32 NFL teams voted in a new rule. The rule states that a kick returner may now call for a fair catch anywhere short of the 25-yard line and the ball will be placed there for the offense to begin their drive. As an example, the Steelers’ Chris Boswell could boot a beautifully high kickoff that is caught by a return man at his own two-yard line. Under the new rule, the player can signal for a fair catch. As long he catches the ball cleanly, the ball will be placed at the 25-yard line.
Many fans, including this one, immediately balked at the new rule. Why? Because we are a step closer to eliminating the kickoff altogether in the game of football. But Andy Reid can spell it out better than I can and when he did, he issued a pretty dire warning for what could be coming.
“My thing is, where does it stop, right?” Reid said. “We’ll see how this goes. You don’t want to take too many pieces away and you’ll be playing flag football.“
Actually, what Reid says above is two things if you’re paying attention. The first part he’s absolutely correct on – where does it stop? The answer to that question is actually in his second comment. “Flag football.” The Pro Bowl Game this past season in Las Vegas was a flag football game. If you think that was played just because the actual game itself had become anything but football, well, that’s just part of it.
If you back to 2010, that’s really when all of this ‘player safety’ stuff started. More specifically, it’s when changes to the game started to really take shape. 2010 was the year when the Steelers’ James Harrison leveled the Browns’ Mohamed Massoquoi in a game at Heinz Field. The image of the hit was on the Sport Illustrated cover accompanied the word “CONCUSSIONS” and articles by Peter King and David Epstein that pushed to remove these big hits from the game. (Side note: I’d LOVE to see those uniforms come back)
Just as importantly, the NFL was starting to face the first of many lawsuits by former players regarding the lack of health care and concern for the head trauma so many players suffered from. THAT is where the changes to the game really started to happen.
Back to Reid’s points however… Kickoffs used to be incredibly exciting moments in games. Not only was one returned to the house an awesome moment, but it was also momentum-changing too. To go further, kickoffs also allowed coaches to try and flip field position or take advantage of weaker return teams. Any kicker with the ability to knock it high and inside the five yard line is a legitimate weapon. Covering the kick and limiting the return yardage means an offense starting at their own 15 rather than the 25. Believe me, that makes a huge difference in how plays are called by the opponent.
This new rule eliminates that. And of course it removes the potential for injury too. This is where the old school part of me comes out. I know football is dangerous and violent. I am totally on board with getting the ‘head out of the game’ and I’m all for player safety but Roger Goodell and the owners have gone too far. Quarterbacks are protected way too much and the offenses are consistently given more and more advantages over their defensive counterparts.
Reid knows this and it’s why he said what he said. He sees the actual game becoming something doesn’t really make it football any longer. As for the flag football comment… If you think that game in Vegas was played just for the hell of it then wake up. That was a proving ground, a test case, a trial run, whatever you want to call it. If owners can still make money from guys playing flag football, thereby reducing head injuries, then they’ll do it.
No one knows it better than Andy Reid.