The Kick Off Game

The game of American Football is perhaps the most exciting contact sport in the world and has only grown in popularity since first introduced to the world in Canton, Ohio, over 100 years ago! A multi faceted game, involving chess-like strategy,  kicking, running, throwing, catching, ferocious tackling and teeth rattling blocks, it also has the word “foot” in the title of the game.  But how important is the kick off in today’s safety and strategy oriented game? 


We believe it is more important than ever.


(Who was the top scorer in NFL history? Answer is at the end of this article.)


One of the most dynamic and important plays in the game is the kick off. It’s so important that the term literally has jumped from football into normal life where events are “kicked off” with a bang or a new campaign for any number of causes, get “kicked off.” 


But the game of football has been kicking off for over a century and the kick off play is an integral part of the game.


In the beginning, teams were permitted to dig their heel in the dirt to create a cup-like structure to hold the ball or to make a mound of dirt to elevate the ball. Elevating the ball was outlawed in 1924 and then in 1939, was  reinstated  with the practice of making a “tee” out of dirt limited to no more than three inches high!


1948 saw the use of flexible tees made legal and finally, the age of kick off tees was ushered in as an option to making a “ground mound.” It was 1983 when that practice was finally outlawed, altogether.  10 years later in 1993, the height of the deck of the tee was standardized at 1”, which is today’s current standard.


(It should be noted that the only tee approved currently for use in the NFL is the Ground Zero currently owned by Champion Sports. Many are calling for changes in that rule of product exclusivity, which has only been in place for 20 years of the NFL’s 100 year long existence)


The placement on the field for a kick off has also changed from the 40 yard line initially and at one time, the 50! That lasted only one season. The NFL has adjusted the placement line for kick offs, mainly to enhance competition throughout the years.


Now, more than ever, player safety has become a consideration for many aspects of the entire game of football, including the kicking game. 


The kick off line is currently the 35 yard line and was moved to that point in 2011. This move was to facilitate touch backs and to limit returns… or at least make them less frequent.  


Teams have adjusted by attempting higher kick offs that land inside the five yard line to attempt to trap the returner inside the 20 yard line. In college, this has been eliminated by the use of a fair catch that brings that ball out to the 25 yard line.


The XFL brought a new look to the kick off play with the kicking team’s players lined up 50 yards downfield and ten yards from the receiving team. This adjustment was designed to eliminate high speed collisions. This design also eliminates surprise onside kicks, which in our opinion, changes the game, foundationally. History has been determined by this very surprise play at crucial moments in time. 


Certainly safety is a factor to be considered in life and in sports. The game has been changing to accommodate this safety first perspective of the 21st century. We applaud that effort.


However, football is a game of competitive and orchestrated violence. Hitting your opponent and taking them down brutally is a hallmark of this game that many other sports cannot provide. Maintaining that balance between player safety and competition is crucial to the game’s watchability and popularity.


The future of kick offs. We believe in the Kick Off. A dynamic game changing opportunity exists with each one. As the kick off game evolves, the kick off tee has evolved as well.


From the early 1900’s with a divot or mound of dirt, to today’s demand for safety and performance options, the kick off game remains one of the fastest and most exciting plays in football. Every effort should be made to keep this vital play in football in a way that makes sense for competitive play and safety purposes. 


If we eliminate this play we will have eliminated one of the most traditional and exciting plays and all of the strategy and game changing excitement that goes along with it.  We say, keep this play and continue to work to find safer and better practices that keep and make American Football the beautiful game that we love.


Adam Vinatieri. Top Scorer in NFL history. The other top ten are all kickers, too! 


Shafer is the President and co-inventor of the Launch Pad Kick Off Tee. As of this writing, he has been kicking and training kickers for over 40 years.


Bill Shafer

President

Launch Pad Kick Off Tee