Ok, admittedly, calling it “The Fight to Save Kickoffs” may be a bit on the dramatic side. But you really never know what the NFL will do to this game we love in the name of “player safety”, which is in “air quotes” because “player safety” is “NFL-speak” for “please stop talking about head injuries, we’ll do anything” and a “token we-care-a-lot move”.
(shout out to the late, great Chris Farley. You were the best, man)
Interestingly enough, you’ve probably never heard a single player say that they’re in favor of eliminating the kickoff. Weird, right?
And then there’s guys like Matt Slater, Mr. Special Teams and all-around “man, that guy has his life together”, who pour their hearts out for the world to hear explaining the beauty and quintessential football-ness of a flawlessly executed kick return (no wonder Belichick made Slate a Patriot for Life, right?). When Slater talks, especially about special teams, it’d be best if you listen first and then ask questions, in that order.
Tag in a former nemesis to help with the cause - safety and fellow special teamer Michael Thomas, who Patriots fans probably best remember as a five-year veteran and three-year starter for the Miami Dolphins has joined Slater’s cause to keep the kickoff in football. Thomas signed a two-year deal with the New York Giants this offseason.
Put your headphones on and check out Thomas’s two-minute message to football fans and the league: it’s almost as good as Slater’s, promise.
Oh, and he shouts out Slater for kick-starting (no dad joke intended) the movement at the end:
Stop spreading the false narrative that “kickoff” is a dangerous play. So many other ways to protect players on the field. So many other ways to shorten the game to help viewership. Be real about this objective, and how many families will be effected... pic.twitter.com/2bFQLcsgMb— Michael Thomas (@Michael31Thomas) April 20, 2018
Here’s the transcription, for those of you stuck at work or in class - his tweet summary is actually pretty on point.
“What’s up y’all, I just wanted to touch on a topic that’s going on right now, I think it’s important. The league is talking about getting rid of the play, kickoff. They’re hiding behind this false narrative saying the play is so dangerous, and it’s just not true, man. You know, if you’re trying to do this because you’re thinking of player safety, or you’re trying to protect guys, or even if you’re thinking about future lawsuits, then, you know, there’s so many other things and ways you can protect this game, and getting rid of kickoffs isn’t one of them.”
“When you think about all the unnecessary roughness hits, the hits against ‘defenseless players’, you know, that never happens on kickoff. The returner, when he gets the ball and it’s kicked off, he has time and distance to see guys running down to try and tackle him, he can avoid and protect himself. Same thing with guys who are running down ON kickoff - they have time and distance to see how the blocks are formulating, man, and they can avoid those blocks and protect themselves, man.”
(This is where he starts visibly getting more fired up)
“Like, back in the day, and this the part that gets kind of frustrating, cause the people who are spreading this false narrative, they’re people who may even be former players, who are in executive positions or commentating or radio or what have you, they’re saying ‘We gotta get rid of it, it’s a dangerous play’. It’s just not true, man! I’ve heard whispers saying ‘Oh, if we take away kickoff, it might help viewership’; there’s so many other ways to shorten the game, man.”
“So, maybe back in the day, when there used to be a four-man wedge, and somebody’s job on kickoff was to literally run down full speed and their job was called the wedge-buster, and he’s just running into a brick wall, yeah, that was dangerous. But those days are over, man. You know, the NFL got rid of that, that’s not even the problem anymore.”
“Kickoff is not the most dangerous play in this league, so if you really want to try to protect the players and thinking about player safety, there’s so many other plays and things you could get rid of, right? And also, think about when you say ‘just get rid of kickoff’, think about all the people you’re going to affect. All the coaches, not just the players and their families that they have to provide for, but the coaches who are going to lose their job. And what we do on this level, always trickles down to college and high school, so all those college coaches are going to lose their job. It’s going to affect their families. I mean, come on, don’t do it, man. Do not continue to spread this false narrative. We need all these players - appreciate you, Matt Slater for speaking up, man - we need all the players to say something. Holla at ya.”
We’ve seen the league tweak the kickoff rules recently with the touchback rule change, of course, in a situation that everyone except the NFL apparently saw backfiring before it even got started. Instead of reducing the amount of kickoff returns by starting all touchbacks at the 25-yard line, teams like the Patriots and Ravens that run the league’s best special teams started dropping the ball as close to the goal line as possible to force a return, and ideally drop the returner deep inside his own 20.
When a seven-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro like Matt Slater and a special teams captain and starting free safety who spent years trying to pick off Tom Brady (and occasionally take his head off) are saying the same thing, maybe the NFL could take notes so their latest effort doesn’t, you know, faceplant again.