AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
With the Super Bowl just days away, it's time to consider perhaps the most taken-for-granted play in professional sports. After a team scores a touchdown worth six points, the kicker boots the ball through the goal posts for the extra point; thus, seven points on the scoreboard.
That attempt is successful 99.5 percent of the time - so successful that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell talked about eliminating the extra point. Here's NPR's Mike Pesca.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: The extra point is officially the point after touchdown and thus, one of those phrases like after-dinner drink or West Virginia that defines itself in relation to another entity. In football's case, that other entity is the essence of the game; the exciting culmination of strategy and skill that offensive players train all their lives to achieve, and that the defense attempts like mad to avoid. The touchdown is the symphonic orchestration of highly skilled players - the crescendo, the climax.
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PESCA: But wait! Still the musicians, stay the conductor.
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PESCA: And that is the extra point. Two hundred sixty-seven times last season was an extra point attempted. Two hundred sixty-two times, was it made. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in an interview, toyed with idea of making touchdowns worth seven points. Of course, some kickers, like Matt Stover, say don't blame us for our skills. There are lots of plays that athletes are supposed to make, as Stover analogizes.
MATT STOVER: It's a pro golfer hitting a 5-foot putt.
PESCA: But pro golfers miss 5-foot putts a lot. Tiger Woods missed 11, 4-foot putts in 2013. Jason Dufner won the PGA championship last year but missed 19, 4-footers. First basemen aren't supposed to make errors, but only three in history have actually had an errorless season. But the vast majority of kickers finish the vast majority of seasons without missing an extra point.
Stover ended his career having made his last 422 tries. His fellow kicker, Billy Cundiff - last year, of the Browns - has made 249 of the 250 extra points he's ever tried. But he does remember that one miss. It was Week 1 of the 2003 season, and Cundiff also recalls the fans' ire leading up to Week 2.
BILLY CUNDIFF: Everybody was kind of calling for my head before that game. So I can remember 'cause they kept saying, who misses an extra point'
PESCA: So Cundiff went out and nailed seven field goals the next week. He also converted two extra points, but even he doesn't include that stat in retelling the story. Cundiff wants to keep the extra point. Matt Stover worries that doing away with extra points might diminish the kickers' importance to the team.
STOVER: The more part of the game you are, the more valued you are.
PESCA: From a practical standpoint, Stover wonders if eliminating the point after might affect the kicker's main job - converting field goals. Those extra points are a chance to get some real game reps, which helps with the more challenging kicks. Of course, field goals themselves have also gotten so accurate that there has been some talk of making them harder, perhaps by narrowing the distance between the goal posts.
Maybe that's a real proposal, maybe just the sort of idea meant to intimidate kickers so they quietly give up their point afters. In any case, should the league decide to change therules, the protestations of a few field goal kickers would be, like touchdowns themselves, extra pointless.
Mike Pesca, NPR News.
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