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Why Is There An Extra Point In Football, And Do We Need It?

Sep 2, 2015
Originally published on September 2, 2015 11:18 am

On Wednesday, in honor of footballs that are inflated, we must discuss extra points. The NFL is monkeying around with the extra point again. You think it should? Do you have a better idea? Do we even need an extra point? Why do we have an extra point?

Well, the extra point is vestigial, a leftover from the good old 19th century days when football had identity problems and couldn't decide whether or not it was rugby. Or something. At that point, in fact, what was sort of the extra point counted more than the touchdown itself.

But when we leave the 19th century, we find that kicking the extra point has been an absolute piece of cake for many decades now.

Earn some extra points and click on the audio to hear Frank Deford's take on this issue.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

If you prefer to sit back and watch a football game, you'll find when the new season starts next week that the NFL has made some scoring changes. Yep. And commentator Frank Deford has seen this play before.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: Today, in honor of footballs that are inflated, we must discuss extra points. Yes, the NFL is monkeying around with the extra point again. You think it should? Do you have a better idea? Do we even need an extra point? Why do we have an extra point? Well, the extra point is vestigial; a leftover from the good old 19th century days when football had identity problems and couldn't decide whether or not it was rugby or something. At that point, in fact, what was sort of the extra point counted more than the touchdown itself.

But when we leave the 19th century, we find that kicking the extra point has been an absolute piece of cake for many decades now. I can't remember a time when guys kicking extra points weren't identified with the word automatic. In fact, the designated kickers were invariably set to possess educated toes. It was never said that quarterbacks had educated arms or receivers had educated hands. Only kickers dealing in the automatic had an educated body part. Of course that was when kickers' toes actually came face-to-face with the pigskin.

When the Hungarian-American Pete Gogolak introduced the sidewinder soccer style back in the 1960s, all that changed. But nobody's ever said that modern kickers have an educated instep. However, automatic has only become more so. And last season, NFL insteps registered 99.3 percent successful extra points, which is why this year the extra-point line of scrimmage has been moved back to the 15-yard line. Really, do you think this will make any demonstrable difference in lowering the conversion rate?

Since 1994, it has been possible to make not one but two extra points if instead of kicking the automatic, a team chooses to try and score from scrimmage. NFL coaches are notoriously conservative, however, so that ploy is almost never trotted out unless two points are absolutely required. Yes, it is much more exciting to see the try for the two-point conversion. And the hope is that forcing longer kicked extra points will encourage teams to try more two-pointers.

It's dicey, though. If the league risks making kicking extra points unautomatic while making it too attractive to gamble for two points, passing or running, you jeopardize devaluing the touchdown. A team goes 86 yards in two minutes for a TD but then gets greedy and goes for two and fails. Well, to coin an expression - the air goes out of the football. No, I'll bet most coaches stay with their educated instep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.