Fair catch kick would add old-time pizzazz to playoffs


I watched all four NFL divisional playoff games this weekend, which was out of character: I don't watch that much pro football anymore, because almost every play is a pass, and fullbacks mostly block, and there aren't any guys named Fuzzy or Night Train or Tuiasosopo still playing.

The playoffs seemed more intriguing when fullbacks ran with the ball, preferably in snow and mud, and the final score was 10-6 or 13-10, and when the players took their helmets off, steam rose from their heads the way steam rises from manhole covers because it was 16 degrees outside. And that's where the games were played, outside, on frozen tundra, unless the Oilers made the playoffs. Or when the Dolphins had home-field advantage.

So when I insisted on watching all four games, my wife asked why. She caught me off guard, in the manner Joe Flacco caught Champ Bailey off guard with his long passes.

I told her I had this gut feeling that somebody might win on a fair catch kick: One of those quirky, under-the-radar, fine-print-in-the rule book plays that, unlike The Tuck Rule, has never decided a playoff game.

She almost bought it.

Successful fair catch kicks are more rare than moonwalks. There have been 12 moonwalks; there have been five successful NFL fair catch kicks, none since 1968, Bears vs. Packers, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis. Tundra: only slightly frozen. It was Nov. 3.

That was when fullbacks ran with the ball - when I was 11 - so I was watching when the Bears' Cecil Turner called a fair catch, and made it, at the Packers' 43-yard line with 20 seconds to go; watching as Mac Percival, the field-goal kicker, came trotting onto the field, one bar on his facemask; watching as the refs told Ray Nitschke and the other Packers to back off, because the Bears had called for a fair catch kick, and the defense must line up 10 yards downfield on one of those.

I was watching when Percival, who kicked his field goals the old-school way - straight on, Lou "The Toe" Groza style - booted it through, thus making Mac Percival of Garland, Texas, the Gene Cernan of field-goal kickers. Or maybe even the Charlie Duke of field-goal kickers.

It wouldn't have surprised me one bit had Nitschke had the same conversation with the officials he had in "The Longest Yard," when he was Bogdanski of the Prison Guards, and The Indian (former Washington Huskies quarterback Sonny Sixkiller) made a successful drop kick for the Mean Machine.

"Three points? For that?" Nitschke/Bogdanski asked incredulously. And when he was told yes, three points for that, Ray Nitschke started swearing and threw his helmet.

That uncontested field goal by Mac Percival 44 years ago was the last fair catch kick to win an NFL game.

Ray Wersching, then of the Chargers, made the last one, at the end of the second quarter from 45 yards, against the Bills in 1976; Mason Crosby of the Packers was last to attempt one, against the Lions in 2008. He was short from 69 yards.

Mike Cofer, who sometimes drives stock cars at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, was the only man to try a fair catch kick in the playoffs. He came up short from 60 yards for the 49ers just before halftime against the Vikings on New Year's Day, 1989.

The longest fair catch kick was attempted by Mark Moseley of the Redskins against the Giants in 1979. He missed from 74 yards.

George Allen should have just let his fullback run with the ball.

THREE UP

■ Oklahoma defeated rival Oklahoma State 77-68 on Saturday to improve to 11-3 - including 6-2 on the road - under former UNLV coach Lon Kruger, who lit up the postgame news conference by saying "it was a good win" and "there's always room for improvement."

■ Longtime former Las Vegas Bowl director Tina Kunzer-Murphy has accepted a fundraiser position with the UNLV alumni association. I predict she will be successful even without Bronco Mendenhall and Brigham Young and some 6-6 team from the Pac-12.

■ Former UNLV football assistant - and ex-Fresno State head coach - Pat Hill is going to the NFC Championship Game with the Atlanta Falcons, as their offensive line coach. His fu-manchu mustache is a small favorite vs. Colin Kaepernick's tattoos.

THREE DOWN

■ The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the "NASCAR loophole" allowing track owners to accelerate depreciation expenses will cost taxpayers $46 million this year, and an additional $95 million through 2017. In a related note, NASCAR fans can purchase a set of Dale Earnhardt Jr. can koozies at the Daytona International Speedway gift shop for the low price of $19.99.

■ It was 29 degrees with a hard freeze warning at Rio Secco Golf Club in Henderson on Sunday for the final round of the East vs. West Winn Junior Cup Challenge. Some kid from Frostbite Falls, Minn., shot 65.

■ Miss New York Mallory Hytes Hagan was crowned Miss America at Planet Hollywood on Saturday night. Just to be on the safe side, Brent Musburger apologized.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

 

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