By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
CBS — Football people love to say football things about their football players on football teams.
No other sport has this particular affectation, at least as noticeably at every level of the game, from the mouths of all involved. Coaches and players, executives and broadcasters, everyone with the seeming need to remind themselves of the enterprise at every turn. It comforts them, apparently.
“This is a matchup of two historic football programs, each with a legendary football coach,” we hear. “It should be an excellent football game.” As if the possibility existed that at the last second, everybody could decide to play badminton. Or Boggle.
But in a few years, perhaps, we may have to explain to kids why the sport they’re watching has the word “foot” in it at all.
There have already been rumblings about the abolition of kickoffs, due to the number of isolated, easy-to-see collisions that make NFL attorneys nervous. The excitement of the play has already been drained by the increased number of touchbacks resulting from rules changes and mega-leg kickers, so it will surprise none of us when the day comes that all drives start at some set position.
And now commissioner Roger Goodell himself has floated the idea that the extra point is similarly endangered. “The extra point is almost automatic,” he told NFL Network, then laying out an alternative plan, saying “There’s one proposal in particular that I’ve heard about. It’s automatic that you get seven points when you score a touchdown, but you could potentially go for an eighth point either by running or passing the ball. So if you fail, you go back to six.”
Fine. I’m sure that’s inevitable, now, but there’s still something to appreciate about the NFL’s vestigial organ, its human appendix.
The PAT has been compared to the penny, that quaint metal disc that clutters our cars, rattles in the dryer as if fighting to escape, and hibernates on kitchen counters in whatever dish of glazed clay our kids brought home from art class years ago. The most joyful moment it brings is the occasional, triumphant, exact-change purchase of an Egg McMuffin that is more satisfying than the meal itself, since I had long been too lazy to pry those coffee-stained coins out of the cup-holder.
I see it more like the tip of a chicken wing, the meatless third appendage. Argue all you want about the superiority of either of the two stars of the affair: the drummette — with its ease of dipping and eating like a lollipop – and the mid-joint winglet, it of the trickier ulna and radius counterbalanced by more skin and flavorful surface area. The poor wingtip rarely even gets to play, almost always excised. But when it does it may merit a nibble, looking and tasting like something that belongs, but not meaning anything.
So it is with the extra point. It’s football, but not really. More than anything, it’s punctuation.
There’s the initial excitement of your team scoring, the tenuous expectation of a penalty flag, and then the TV replay that either results in greater admiration of the work of those involved or the recognition that it will be overturned on review. In a game of capricious, uncertain officiating, hi-def cameras and shifting rules, the PAT blasted into the net is the rubber stamp that the points are in the books, for real and for good.
It’s the fan’s feeling of “Yes. That happened,” before he gets up to use the bathroom or grab a handful of Cheetos.
We’ll be thankful for it while we can, accepting that it may mean little. It’s a superfluous activity providing little more than a familiar, habitual marking point in the rhythm of the game, soon to be kicked to the curb.