Vikings know all about altering kicking rules

Bud Grant (Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY)

The NFL's consideration to change field goals and extra points is familiar to old-school Vikings fans. Don Shula made a point to get a rule changed when Bud Grant got innovative with the way he defended field goal tries.

There are times when the NFL Competition Committee is the bully pulpit.

Bill Belichick has decided he's deep enough into the fabric of the NFL to make a proposal to The Alliance from the dark side.

Belichick and the Patriots organization, which has its share of sway on the Competition Committee – it's good to be Old School – are suggesting the NFL raise goal posts five feet higher in order to give referees a better chance not to botch a crucial call by human error. Seeing as they stand under the goal post and coaches like Belichick are typically about 150 feet away watching the kick from a cockeyed angle, why raise them? If anything, longer uprights would impact the wind factor that can move a goal post even more.

There's a reason for this suggestion to the Competition Committee.

It ain't business. It's personal.

At some point, the Patriots got burned by an over-the-post field goal and, in the 21st Century, you don't do that to the Patriots and walk away clean. In the 1970s, you didn't do that to the Miami Dolphins and that was in an era of mob rule.

When it gets personal, it brings out the fangs on the snake for the oldest of Old Schoolers – including the the Ol' Trapper himself, Bud Grant.

Grant never much cared for the Competition Committee. In his view, it was the House Un-American NFL Activities Committee from the McCarthy "Red Scare" days. If you weren't in the clique, good luck getting away with anything. Grant was never in the "wine and Cuban cigar" crowd that legislated the NFL post-merger with the AFL.

Don Shula was in that club. Given his proximity to Havana, he had the connections to pop open the box of Castro Selects – and pop the lid down on Al Davis Pretty Woman style just to get a giggle out of Uncle Al. Suffice to say, Shula was a "made man" when it came to the Competition Committee.

Bud burned "The First Donald" and he wasn't happy about it. Grant pulled a CFL stunt on the NFL and the NFL wasn't cool with it. The worst of it was that there was no rule to stop it.

Yet.

Field goals now are considered pretty much automatic inside of 45 yards. Why? Two reasons. Kickers are specialists. Back in the days of the Battle of Generals Grant and Shula, kickers were as reliable as an alcoholic designated driver. In the current era of the NFL, if a kicker makes 80 percent of his field goal attempts – regardless of whether a handful are from 52-plus – he's gone. Back then, you make 80 percent of field goals and all your extra points and you're breaking the ceiling for what kickers were worth to a franchise.

Bud had an idea. Some of his bottom-end-of-the-roster players weren't necessarily "down" with the idea. His special forces attack for field goals or critical extra points was to have two of his players in the middle of a field goal/extra point attempt to engage the opponent with a push, two more players to stunt and slide in behind them – dropping to all fours – and allow two teammates (from the sharp spike era) use their backs as launching pads to block the kick.

It worked.

It worked against Miami.

Don Shula morphed into Don Corleone.

The following year, the Competition Committee said no boosting would be permitted. Grant had beat the system. But, once the High Council met at the table, Bud got checked. Keep walkin', newbie. There's nothin' to see here.

Grant had found a way to beat the system under its own set of rules. He wasn't the Evil Empire. He was a guy who legitimately found a way to gain a singular competitive advantage – until he stepped on the toes of the Don of Miami. He got the "Johnny Roselli Oil Drum" treatment.

In a game where one play has always been able to turn fortunes, Bud found a way to circumvent the established tradition and conventional rules to give his team a unique and distinctive competitive advantage.

It wasn't illegal until he did it to The Donald. Once he did, The Donald said, "You're fired!"

Those unfortunate Vikings' special teamers on the receiving end of the tundra-sharped spikes in their backs when Alan Page was using them as a springboard happily relented to the rules change. The Vikings had perfected their technique and made kicks anything but automatic.
Flash forward 40 years.

The NFL is looking at making it more difficult for kickers to do their job. The flawlessness of kickers has found a way to impact the game within the rules. Now they need to be punished – just as the Vikings were when Bud figured out a way to beat the system. Extra points could be 35-yard field goals. Somewhere, the Ol' Trapper is shaking his head.

Given Belichick's Darth Vader reputation, he has all the telltale markings of Shula 2.0. There has to be a reason for his opposition. It isn't business. It's personal.

In this instance, however, an ideal solution is available.

Simply eliminate uprights and allow two beams – colors and advertising potential to be determined – to shine upward into the stratosphere. A red beam is brought to you by Budweiser or Coca Cola, depending on who is an official corporate sponsor. A blue beam is sponsored by Pepsi or Ford and, if a kick hits either beam it lights up, the kick is no good and the NFL gets yet another lucrative product placement – "Ford says No!" or "Yes! This Bud's For You!"

If the goal is to make every game as fair as possible by eliminating the potential for a game-changing miscue, why not use the technology that is available. Somehow, they use that technology in tennis, where a round ball hit at 100-miles-an-hour-plus can be determined within the fraction of an inch. An oblong ball spinning at about 20 mph should be easy to track.

Bud, this one's for you. Wild Bill has a reason for wanting to raise the uprights. No tangible explanation has been offered that wouldn't get at least one "harrumph!" from the old school.

Shula had a reason for eliminating special teams boosting. Kickers should make or miss on their own merit and Grant's Vikings made that too difficult for his special teams.

It took 40 years for the NFL to realize that, if you took the strategy out of kicking, kickers would adjust and become dominant at what they do given the set of rules legislated by the NFL.

While the current Vikings aren't the reason the owners will be discussing the height of goal posts – although Blair Walsh's rookie NFL all-time record for long-bomb field goals might have an ancillary impact – the old-time Vikings will be the reason longer extra points and twin tower goal posts are discussed.

Back when Grant figured out kicks could be missed by design, the NFL took away his innovation. Now they wish they had it back.

THURSDAY NOTES

  • The Vikings are reportedly scheduled to give defensive lineman Tom Johnson a visit and a physical today. If both go well, they are expected to sign him to a one-year contract. Johnson has been with the New Orleans Saints the last three years, playing in 40 games but starting none. He has 55 tackles, five sacks and a forced fumble in that time.

  • After visiting the Seattle Seahawks last week and the Dallas Cowboys over the weekend, Jared Allen is reportedly visiting the Seahawks again today. It could be the last chance for him to get a contract anywhere near his asking price.

  • The Vikings had general manager Rick Spielman, head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner at Central Florida's pro day, where quarterback Blake Bortles threw in front of NFL personnel. They will continue to make the quarterback rounds during pro days over the next month.

  • The Vikings reportedly have also scheduled a visit with San Jose State quarterback David Fales.


    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
  • VikingUpdate.com Recommended Stories