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On punters, kickoffs and personal fouls …

Published 10:14am Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Column: Pothole Prairie, by Tim Engstrom

The NFL has found success in parity, because fans love hope. Labor, owners and petty differences keep other leagues from achieving the same results.

OK, on the premise that the NFL does a lot of things right compared to other sports leagues, there are some things it does wrong, and some of them were on display this past weekend.

 

No punters in Hall of Fame

Minnesota Vikings punter Kris Kluwe is right. Punter Ray Guy belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He taped a message to his jersey Sunday that said “Vote Ray Guy” over a Hall of Fame commemorate patch as a protest. There are no punters in the Hall of Fame.

Kluwe told the Pioneer Press: “If you’re going to have a Hall of Fame and you don’t have the most famous guy at his position, what’s the point?”

The Hall of Fame needs to alter its selection process so that specialist players — even the guys who are good at kick or punt returns but not other roles — can get in, too.

 

Get rid of kickoffs?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell must not know what the F stands for in the league’s name. It’s football, and there are times in this game where the ball comes in contact with a foot. The most well-known time for this to happen is at the beginning, which is called the kickoff. Duh!

Kickoffs can have a huge impact on the game, and Goodell proposed getting rid of them. The New York Giants beat the New Orleans Saints on Sunday thanks to racking up 287 yards on kickoffs.

If we want to make the game safer, there are smarter ways to do it. Kickoffs themselves aren’t unsafe; it’s the fact that the players aren’t wearing their flags. Oh, did I say that out loud, Roger?

What I meant to say is, kickoffs already were made safer by moving kicks to the 35-yard line, instead of the 30, and new rules on hitting have helped, too.

 

Players drink so much

I cannot believe just how much NFL players get in trouble for drinking. USA Today said 28 percent of arrests of NFL players since 2000 have been related to alcohol or drugs. And players this weekend, since the death of Dallas linebacker Jerry Brown, have described how much drinking and driving happens — even during the season.

Geez, I don’t know what all they go through, and I know it is tough, but if I was making millions of dollars and it probably was the only time in my life that I could garner that size of a paycheck and that sizable income relied 100 percent on my body’s top-notch health, I wouldn’t party nearly that hardy. Have one or two, then go home.

 

Pass interference

The NFL has gone from a running league to a passing league. Yet in far too many games receivers are allowed to shove the defenders, but the defenders cannot so much as brush the jerseys of the receivers. Someone needs to take the officials back to training on what the rules actually say so that more of them actually call offensive pass interference. It truly gets ridiculous.

Offensive pass interference calls deter teams from having their receivers go long and purposely tangle with defenders in hopes of drawing a flag from an official. Why catch the ball when the refs will walk it downfield for you? The result: real football, which is to say two men leaping for a rotating prolate spheroid.

 

Unsportsmanlike conduct and personal fouls

These penalties have been a complaint of fans since I was a child. It’s never been made a big issue, but week to week in living rooms across America, fans scratch their heads. It not that we don’t think unsportsmanlike conduct and personal fouls shouldn’t be penalized. It’s that referees too often penalize the wrong player.

A primary example happened Sunday. An official threw a flag on Jared Allen for personal foul for a late hit on a Bears runner who was going out of bounds — but was still in bounds. It reminded Vikings fans of the penalty he drew for a hit he gave to Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts. If a player is headed out of bounds, they should go out, not dance along the paint baiting defenders for a penalty.

And who hasn’t seen referees penalize the second guy in an unsportsmanlike situation? One player gouges another’s eyes or something vile like that, then the man retaliates and draws a flag. Anyone with a TV set watches the original offender get away scot-free.

Why not allow these to be reviewable? Allen wouldn’t get a penalty for knocking a sideline dancer out, and true unsportsmanlike conduct would be caught. Fans want all calls right, not just some.

 

Coach rotation

Fans are impatient when it comes to coaches, and thus the owners are, too. Sometimes, I think the fans and owners entice coaches to coach themselves out of a job. After all, people like Brad Childress get fired and still make millions sitting around doing nothing for two, three or four years after getting canned. That’s a lot of dough without a lot of stress.

Lovey Smith in 2006 coached the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl — a place Vikings fans have been longing for since 1977. Smith is 79-62 as Bears coach. He has won three NFC North Division titles (2005, 2006, 2010) in what some call the toughest NFL division. If it isn’t the toughest, there is no doubt it is consistently strong.

What the Bears need is just a better offensive line, not a new coach.

I like the direction that Leslie Frazier is taking the Vikings organization, even if I don’t agree with the play calling. (Seriously, a handoff to Toby Gerhardt on 3rd and 13?) We don’t have players getting in big trouble with authorities anymore. To me, he seems like a chef seeking the right ingredients, but sometimes, we have to go with what’s in the cupboards instead.

 

Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.