Preparing NFL kickers’ footballs: Do’s, don’ts and a race against the clock – The Athletic


The NFL rulebook particularly prohibits The subsequent factors from being carried out to the soccer Utilized by kickers and punters all by way of a recreation:

Subjecting the soccer to extreme warmth (warmthers, blow dryers, dryers, and so on.).

Submersing the soccer in water.

Altering the floor of the soccer (collectively with, however not restricted to, use of a buffing machine, attaching a Wilson-mannequined ball brush to a machine, non-Wilson mannequined brushes, wire brushes or completely different comparable devices).

Altering The Sort of the soccer (collectively with, however not restricted to, kneeling or standing on, bouncing, throwing, using A strong floor or completely differentwise exerting extra strain).

Inflating or deflating the soccer at any level Through The tactic.

Steve Hoffman has carried out 4 of the 5, and he in all probability would have carried out that final one, too, if he thought It Might have labored.

“I think about guys have tried To place helium in them and everyfactor else,” Hoffman said. “Somebody truly did a research about that, However it didn’t assist.”

Inside the NFL, discovering strategies To maximise the kicking recreation is Properly worth The problem. The mixed influence and capriciousness of the act of kicking is a set off why. The common season and playoffs noticed 34 video recreations gained by a area objective in The final minute, collectively with the one Photo voltaicday that despatched the Chiefs to the Super Bowl. The playoffs furtherly noticed Brett Maher, a kicker for the Cowboys who tied for the third-most factors scored in the NFL this season, all of a sudden miss 4 consecutive further-level kicks in a wild-card win at Tampa Bay.

Hoffman labored for the Cowboys from 1989 to 2004. Employed by Jimmy Johnson as particular groups coordinator and kicking coach, he stayed by way of Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey, Dave Campo and An factor of Invoice Parcells’ tenure. He acquired here up in the NFL in An simpler time earlier than the rulebook acquired so fastidious about who can do whOn the 11- to 11.25-inch, 14- To fifteen-ounce rectangular object that kickers and punters Try and make bfinish to their will.

“Dude, I’ve heard so many tales,” said Shayne Graham, a typeer NFL kicker who Hung out with 14 groups and made one Professional Bowl earlier than founding Elite Worthwhile Options, a particular groups teaching and consulting agency.

Stories about balls being put into industrial dryers with gadgets of turf, tales about soccers left all day prolonged in saunas, tales about stacks of weight plates being affixed to the balls’ leveled finish and left in a single day. These tales are The rationale the league now prescribes a prerecreation course of for getting ready kicking balls that even Professionalbably the most infacet infacetrs Have not any clue about.

It starts when an gear supervisor from every group goes to the officers’ locker room three hours earlier than kickoff Of every NFL recreation To primarytain a draft of six, mannequin-new Wilson soccers That are shipped Of their unique packaging to the lodge room of the referee the day earlier than The sport. That draft and The tactic that follows might decide who wins the Super Bowl on Feb. 12.

Sound like hyperbole? Confacetr thOn the Chiefs gained the AFC Championship Game with A forty 5-yard area objective from Harrison Butker Which may not have been good from 50 yards. Also confacetr that A minimal Of 1 kicker this season has blamed lacking a esdespatchedial kick on having To make the most of his second kicking ball. What’s a second kicking ball and why would that matter? That’s what we’re right here To elucidate.

Inside the prerecreation draft in the officers’ room, The house group’s gear supervisor picks first, the visiting group’s supervisor picks second And so forth till every group has three balls. The gear supervisors then have one hour To rearrange those balls Of their locker room — beneath The guidelines, Really. The one gear allowed is a moist towel, a dry towel and a “new Wilson-mannequined ball brush, or a group-currentd Wilson-mannequined ball brush, that has not been altered in any method.”

“I Did not know that,” Falcons broadspread supervisor Terry Fontenot said. “Tright here Want to be a docary on that.”

Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker boots the winning area objective in the direction of the Bengals in the AFC Championship Game. (Kevin C. Cox / Getty Pictures)

Even Hoffman, Who’s now a senior assistant for particular groups with the Falcons, didn’t know precisely how far the NFL has gone to sprime the shenanigans.

“Years in the past, kickers and punters would prep the soccers any method they needed to Through the week and break them in and get them stypicallyed up and make them simpler to kick and punt,” he said. “It acquired to The objective wright here it was simply ridiculous. The balls have been so fat and damaged in.”

Hoffman labored with the Cowboys’ kickers and punters To interrupt in the balls wright hereas they have been doing The identical factor with the soccers quarterback Troy Aikman would use in The sport.

“We used to take the balls to the racquetball courts with baseball bats and beOn them up in the direction of the partitions,” he said. “We’d throw it up in the air and bash it with a baseball bat. Then we’d put them in A garments dryer with damp towels. Then we’d take those huge flooring sprucing machines And change them The incorrect method up and run the balls over them. Typically we’d get it too slick After which we’d have to rub them down with alcohol to dry them out.”

Hoffman and his friends have been so good On their behind-the-scenes craft that in 1999, the NFL decided it needed To place a sprime to the antics and problemd its not-to-do itemizing for ball preparation. These guidelines nonetheless apply to each kicking balls and the balls Utilized by every offense. The distinction is thOn the balls Utilized by every offense Could be ready all by way of the week and “Could Even be tossed and accredited by The house group quarterbacks on The occasions main As a lot As a Outcome of the sport” (however not Utilized in apply) wright hereas the kicking balls “Shall be sealed by the manuactualityurer with a particular tape And by no implys opened till the day of The sport by the referee.”

“Do you have to contact a quarterback ball versus a K-ball, it’s utterly completely different,” Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo said.

After the rule change, kickers went from kicking what Graham described as “that good, gentle yard soccer” to what by comparability felt like a rock.

“A lot Of those wily veterans had actually been breaking these balls down,” Graham said. “They decided To start out instituting the K-ball. They have been principally making an attempt to make The sector goals and kickoffs extra sturdy. Kickers have been simply getting greater and greater.”

Hoffman remembers typeer Vikings kicker Gary Anderson being Responsible.

“Anderson went on a streak (making 122 consecutive kicks), and everyone went loopy about it So as that they modified the rule,” Hoffman said.

The drawback was thOn the 1999 rule change allowed solely the officers to prep the kicking balls as quickly as they have been opened on recreation day. What that implyt, Hoffman said, Is that they acquired no preparation In any respect.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever grabbed a mannequin-new soccer out of the area, However it’s Just like the seams have ridges They typically’re exhausting as rocks,” Hoffman said. “That’s like asking A critical-league briefsprime to play every recreation with a mannequin-new glove.”

Kickers and punters complained and complained Regarding The mannequin new rule, Graham said, however their considerations have been ignored till Jan. 7, 2007. That’s the day Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo dropped the snap on what would have been a 19-yard go-forward area objective with 1:19 left in the direction of the Seahawks in The primary spherical of the NFC playoffs. It allowed Seattle to prevail, 21-20.

Video replays of The sport current a shiny ball gitemizingening in the stadium lights on its Method to Romo’s palms, prompting conspiracy theorists On the time to marvel if someone from The house-group Seahawks had snuck A nasty ball into The sport in some Type of elaborate sabotage. Nope, it was simply The outcomes of the NFL’s misguided rule, Graham said.

“All it took was for An monumental-time quarterback like Tony Romo … dropping a snap earlier than the NFL said, ‘Hey, You understand what? We ought to alstrategies in all probability Permit them to have A wright hereas To interrupt the ball down earlier than The sport for Barely bit,’” Graham said.

The following offseason, the rivals committee accredited a change thIn any respectowed a group recurrentative 45 minutes to prep the balls earlier than The sport beneath the supervision of the officiating crew.

In 2020 the league arrived On The current rule, which the rulebook spells out as: “For all video recreations, six new soccers, sealed in a particular area and shipped by the manuactualityurer to the Referee, Shall be opened in the officers’ locker room.” Once the areaes are opened and the gear supervisors make their choices, the countdown clock starts.

“They will typically start by getting the ball as moist As a Outcome of they will get it After which they’ll take that sharp Fringe of the picket brush And they’ll scrape it Proper down to get those nubs as abrasive As a Outcome of they will,” Graham said. “Then they will take that prime flat An factor of The comb And they’ll truly Try and rub that flat edge on the ball actually exhausting to take that abrasive facet off. They will Do this to The complete ball, After which break down the seams with the flat Fringe of The comb. Do you have to ever Take A look at an NFL K-ball, You will discover those seams look Tons darker than The Reprimaryder of the panels.”

The first ball is allowed to dry wright hereas the second ball will get its preparation, Graham said.

“Once that ball dries, they will aggressively brush it with the bristles,” he said. “It Should be dry for that Beset off it’s creating virtually Barely buff. Do you have to rubbed your finger on it, It’d Type of squeak. Your finger will grip and squeak Barely bit on the leather-based.”

Don’t inform an NFL kicker that this preparation course of really feels overly complicated.

“The slightest variance Which will Supply you any Little bit of comfort can imply the distinction between having a job And by no implys having a job,” Graham said.

The new system has given gear supervisors a strategic choice to make earlier than every recreation beset off They will use as a lot or as little time on every of their three soccers as they choose.

“Do You must spfinish extra time on one and two and none on the third?,” Koo said. “Or do You must spfinish More typically than not on the one and what if you lose it? If it goes over The internet or no matter And also you may’t discover the ball, you get caught with two. If it’s an indoor recreation, The prospect of dropping The primary one is low, so we’ll in all probability break in The primary Ancompletely different, But when it’s An outfacet recreation and it’s windy and tright here’s An alternative of dropping The primary one, then We’d Want to interrupt In further Of 1 and two equally.”

The Cowboys Bumped into this problem earlier in these playoffs when Maher started spraying further-level kicks. Two of Maher’s of his 4 further-level makes an attempt have been missed so badly thOn they went broad of The internet behind the objective posts and into the stands.

“Tright here was An monumental dialogue on the facetline beset off we have been Proper down to our third and final K-ball that hadn’t been doctored up,” said Jim Fassel, the Cowboys’ particular groups coordinator. “That was A primary for me on the facetline (talking) about dropping K-balls and probably having To make the most of theirs.”

Nobody wants what Koo calls “the six ball,” which Usually has acquiredten no prerecreation consideration And may really feel like kicking a cannonball. “Again in the day I’ve heard tales wright here They current the six ball on objective,” Koo said.

When Bears kicker Cairo Santos acquired here up simply brief on a 56-yard area objective in Week 11 in the direction of the Falcons, a kick that snapped his string of 21 consecutive makes, he informed the Chicin the past Photo voltaic-Times that using his second-selection kicking ball was partly Responsible. The ball thOn the Bears’ gear staff had spent Professionalbably the most time getting ready that day was taken out of The sport minutes earlier when Atlanta’s Cordarrelle Patterson ran a kickoff back for a contactProper down to set an NFL doc with 9 profession returns. The Falcons gained 27-24.

Falcons punter Bradley Pinion estimated that three people in his locker room knew the course of for getting ready kicking balls — himself, Koo and prolonged snapper Liam McCullough.

“It makes a distinction,” Pinion said. “Do you have to get a well-damaged-in ball, It is going to journey farther, maybe 5 yards, however that’s An unrestricted distinction.”

But Pinion said even he doesn’t know precisely What’s allowed and What’sn’t when the balls are ready.

“The gear supervisors know The guidelines method greater than me,” he said. “We simply Type of hope and pray They’re good balls.”

(Illustration: Eamonn Dalton / The Athletic;
Photographs: Carmen Mandato, Cooper Neill, Bob Kupbens / Getty Pictures)


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