I was certain John Carney would be the one guy who would fully support Roger Goodell's idea to do away with the PAT.
After all, despite one of the most impressive and prolific kicking résumés in history -- 23 years in the NFL, fourth highest scoring total in league history, two Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl ring with the New Orleans Saints -- the one kick that haunts Carney, to this very day, is the one our dear commissioner and all of his obedient lemmings now consider to be a passé, meaningless statistical certainty and a vestigial act that should be eliminated from pro football.
It was Week 15 of the 2003 season and the 7-7 Saints (stuck in full Aints mode three years before the arrival of Drew Brees) traveled to Jacksonville still in contention for what was then a rare chance at a playoff berth. With 6 seconds to play, trailing the Jags 20-13, the Saints appeared to have saved their season with a fantastic flea-flicker that went, if memory serves, from quarterback Aaron Brooks to Donte' Stallworth to Michael Lewis to Deuce McAllister (off Jaxson de Ville's blue tongue) and then to Jerome Pathon, who raced the final 21 yards to pay dirt as time expired.
When the TD was upheld after a long review, all that was left to do before overtime and imminent success against the 5-10 Jags was to complete the cursory PAT kick. At that point in his career, Carney had converted 403 of his 408 extra point kicks, including 35 straight that season. There's automatic. There's death. There's taxes. And then there's Carney kicking PATs. In fact, that very season Saints head coach Jim Haslett referred to Carney as one of the "great all-time kickers" and said he'd bet his life on Carney's right foot.
"Then, I'd probably be dead right now," a stunned Haslett whispered after Carney inexplicably pushed the ball wide right as the Saints lost 20-19. He says it was just a complete and utter once-in-a-lifetime break down in kicking fundamentals, like Tiger Woods sending one into the gallery on a Par 3. It happens. The epic shank didn't ruin the Saints' playoff chances as is often reported (as it turned out, they would have missed the postseason even if they'd won that game), but it didn't exactly help, either. Still, for kickers, Carney said, it doesn't get any worse.
So, despite what Goodell would have you believe about extra points -- a play that remains a direct link to the very origins of the sport -- these so-called meaningless kicks can absolutely alter a game, a season, a franchise or, even, a life. Before the insufferable stat nerds took over, that used to actually mean something, ya know?
"There is nothing automatic in sports, I sure know that," says Carney, 49, who retired after the 2010 season and now runs Carney Coaching in Encinitas, Calif., where he trains and coaches many of the top kickers in the sport. "No matter what I do, I can't ever erase that miss, that little scar. It remains, even on top of 23 years of other kicking accomplishments. Super Bowls. Pro Bowls. It won't go away."
Oh, but it could, if Goodell has his way. It could all go away. No kicker would ever have to suffer like that again because teams would just get the full seven points for a TD. So clean. So neat. So efficient. Wouldn't that be great?
"We're talking about one of the oldest plays in football," Carney says. "There's already so much history and tradition being pulled out of the game. With fakes, misses and kicking streaks, there's enough variables with this play that it's worth keeping in the game. It should stay. Yes, even I think it should stay."
As far as I can tell, before this week no one had ever thought to disagree.
Am I wrong? Had you heard one peep about the gawd-awful, spirit-draining, game-ruining PAT before Monday? So, forgive me, but I for one found the timing of Goodell's PAT bombshell -- right on the heels of more egregious officiating errors as well as the shocking news that a federal judge had rejected the NFL's $765 million concussion lawsuit settlement for possibly being too low -- to be curious, at best.
And the only thing more questionable than the timing was his logic.
Yes, there were five misses total out of 1,191 extra point attempts in 2013. As 49ers kicker Phil Dawson suggested in a tweet: Since when do we punish athletes for being too good at what they do? What's more, as little as three seasons ago the number of botched extra points was four times as high. Over the past decade, there has been an average of 10.5 missed PATs per season.
I'm all for Goodell searching for ways to improve the sport. But what's the rush? I mean, this is the NFL, a league that hasn't had a major offensive innovation in nearly four decades, a league that needed 20 years of study and data and deep, deep contemplation to change the archaic overtime rules, a league that, based on the goal-line fumble in the 49ers-Seahawks game, is perfectly willing to rely on karma to correct obvious officiating mistakes rather than expanded replay.
But we simply can no longer tolerate the near perfection of the PAT?
According to the folks at ESPN Stats & Information, who provided all the data in this column (since I often need my iPhone to calculate gratuity on a $10 check), in the past 10 years teams were a grand total of 11,795-of-11,900 on PATs. That's one miss in every 113 attempts for a conversion rate better than 99 percent. But am I to believe that while we can all get jazzed up about the 1-in-9 quintillion odds (that's a 9 with 18 zeroes after it) offered by Warren Buffett's NCAA bracket challenge, the 1-in-113 odds of an extra point going awry put us all to sleep? The classic "Dumb & Dumber" long-shot logic of "so you're telling me there's a chance" is one of the things I love the most about sports.
"In the PGA, because the two-foot put is such a high-percentage shot for a pro golfer, does that mean they should change the rule and have them pick up all those two-foot putts?" Carney asks. "No, they make them putt everything out. [Like PATs] it's another high-percentage shot by a professional athlete that still requires skill, focus, concentration and remains a part of the game."
After a botched snap on a 19-yard field goal attempt (closer than a PAT) cost the 2006 Cowboys a playoff win, do you think Tony Romo believes short kicks and extra points are routine? Certainly not after the 27-26 loss to the Cardinals in Week 16 of the 2010 season in which Cowboys kicker David Buehler missed a PAT with 1:41 left to play.
"Make sure you mention all of those so I'll blend in a little better," Carney joked when we chatted by phone Wednesday. "In all seriousness, every kicker I've ever worked with or kicked against or trained knows you have to be 100 percent focused on all kicks. If not, you'll see how easy and how quick one of these things can go seriously sideways on you."
You won't get an argument from former Washington Redskins punter/holder Hunter Smith -- or quarterback Donovan McNabb, for that matter. In Week 14 of 2010, a high snap went through Smith's hands and led to a 17-16 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Smith was cut the next day and never played again. McNabb was benched and never played again for the Redskins. Meaningless?
How about the 2006 Cincinnati Bengals? A missed extra point led to a 24-23 late-season loss to the Denver Broncos and kept the 8-8 Bengals from making the playoffs. Or, the 2010 and 2004 Arizona Cardinals as well as the 2005 Bucs, each of whom won one-point games after their opponents missed an extra point attempt. Or, for that matter, any of the teams that have won the 97 games during the past decade decided by a single point.
Listen, I get what Goodell is saying and there's no denying the recent data. But to suggest during Super Bowl week that extra points are totally superfluous and meaningless isn't quite true, either. Don't preach to us that special teams are a third of the game and then, on a whim, recommend doing away with PATs. Come on.
Back up the kick 5 yards if you want. Narrow the uprights. Heck, blindfold the kickers, I don't care.
But let's not put the game's real issues on the back burner and then use one season's worth of stats to justify eliminating a highly specialized part of the game that has worked for a century or so without complaints or objections until Goodell opened his mouth.
Or, how about this: If extra points are so simple and routine, Goodell can get rid of them right after he makes nine out of 10 himself.
He'll have to do it outside, of course, in the wind and snow and freezing cold. And, for good measure and added authenticity, let's put the Lions' defensive front on the field, featuring Ndamukong Suh.
"I think he should try it," Carney says. "Just make sure the commissioner knows he only has 1.3 seconds to get the kick off."
Automatic, right commish?