the study of the kicking components within sports

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Revenge of the K-ball

Back in the day, one of our first series of posts explored the K-ball used on kicking plays in the NFL since 1999. 

Since then, we've continued to pester kickers, punters and snappers with questions regarding their thoughts and stories on the K-ball (and the pre K-ball days for some of the older players). 

Perhaps we have a morbid fascination with the topic. 

Josh Scobee, Jacksonville Jaguars kicker
"It was quite a change with the fact that you couldn’t break the balls in yourself to really get the compression and that broken in feeling that you get with any ball you’ve ever kicked in college. So it was a transition as far as trying to learn how to hit the sweet spot, and understanding that the sweet spot was a whole lot smaller whenever you have a newer ball, like the K-ball. That forces you to improve your technique and not just blast away at every kick."

Louie Aguiar, NFL punter 1991-2000
“Oh, it was huge! In the punting and the kicking game. Going to a new ball compared to the old ball, and going to ball that’s not rubbed down – the long snappers had a hard time snapping the ball, and us punters had a hard time trying to handle the ball. We were used to a ball that was a little bit fatter, and now we had a ball that was skinnier and slick. It was a lot different. If you look back at those first couple years of the K-ball, the numbers were down because of that. Field goal averages were down. Punting averages were down a little bit. All because of the K-ball. We kept talking to Jerry Siemen [NFL head of officials], ‘we gotta do something about these balls.’ They said ‘no, no, no’, until Tony Romo dropped the ball. That’s when they said they decided to change it, all because of a quarterback. We and the kickers had been saying it for years.”

Mike Hollis, NFL kicker 1995-2002
"I’ve heard all the rumors on things that guys did. It really is a matter of at least giving the kickers an opportunity to at least have something. In baseball they don’t bring out a brand new baseball on every pitch. They get to scuff it up or work it in a little bit. It’s the same thing with footballs. There were rumors of them dropping weights on them and things like that. We would just throw some air in them, and basically expand the seams. That was the extent of what we used to do. That’s one of the toughest thing about kicking a brand new football. They’re almost like square. The seams are really pointy. It’s not really a smooth ball by any means. They don’t go real far. The balls, from what I’ve heard, are better these days than what they were when they first had that rule. For whatever reason the game balls were really bad. I remember my first experience with a new K-ball. It was not good. It was a very scary experience. You talk about all that trust and all that confidence when you’re kicking, and then it more or less gets thrown out the door. When the referee hands you the ball to kickoff and you see all this shiny material on the ball, and you see that the seams are not flat (they’re all bumpy) – it’s not a good feeling at all."

J.J. Jansen, Carolina Panthers long snapper
“I think it’s an adjustment for everybody, because the reality is in college you practice with the ball – even if the quarterback picks out the footballs for the game – you have an opportunity to get used to the grip, the shape, and how it feels and everything. In the NFL every K-ball is a little bit different. Some are a little tackier, some are a little slicker, so learning how to handle it and not let it affect what you’re doing as a snapper was a bit of an adjustment. But at the same time it made me a much better snapper because I had to learn to be ready for all situations - and that includes the football.” 

Billy Cundiff, New York Jets kicker
"It does and it doesn’t. It depends where you’re playing. Just to give a little background, the equipment guys are given roughly 45 minutes before the game to work in the footballs, and the referees watch them, so they can’t really do all that much. They can rub them down with a wet to towel to try and get some of the wax off. They can try to beat in the edges a little bit so it’s not as pointy. The way guys have figured out to get around the rules, if you’re playing at a place where you have an older kicker, generally they’re going to have the balls worked in a little bit more, so generally it’s not as much of a factor. Some teams, if they don’t have a kicker that’s really vigilant about it, and make sure that he gets his equipment guys to break in footballs, you can get bad footballs. I’ve had bad footballs that I thought I just killed and then had a kickoff that only goes to the five yard line. Just for a good example, we were playing Indianapolis in a playoff game, and granted it’s indoors, but we had nice footballs and my first kickoff went seven yards deep. That’s a big range between the five yard line and seven yards deep. The K-ball is there, but there are ways to get around it and guys have figured it out."

Adam Podlesh, Chicago Bears punter
"It’s definitely a less forgiving football. As most of us know, they’re delivered to the referees the night before the game. Really nobody has any time, other than 30 or 40 minutes before the game they have one designated equipment manager to be able to break in the balls under supervision of an official, which keeps the balls from being in really good broken-in shape. If you hit the ball sweet, it will go almost as far as a broken-in ball. If you do not, it is definitely not as forgiving as a kicking ball that you would use in college, where you can use as broken-in of a ball as you want for the most part.

The biggest thing with holding, and I think people know this from the happenings with Tony Romo… it’s a legitimate topic, with the wax on a new ball it makes it a little bit harder to grab and manage than a broken-in ball, like the quarterbacks would normally use in a game. Those are broken-in; they’ve been using those, as opposed to the K-balls which are not. They’re a little tougher to get your hand on, especially if they’re not broken in very thoroughly during those 30 or 40 minutes before the game."

Jeremy Cain, Jacksonville Jaguars long snapper
"I think it affects me and every long snapper. Our equipment staff gets 30 minutes or so before each game to break in footballs. Some of them aren’t as broken in as others so they still have a lot of wax on the football. It’s challenging for every log snapper to have a new ball every game."

John Carney, NFL kicker 1988-2010
"Well, we had a recipe that was very successful. The quarterbacks, kickers, and punters were all very happy with the footballs. Our footballs weren’t anything extreme. They were just well broken in, and were comfortable to kick and throw. That included some scrubbing, some dryer time, and some working of the seams. For the most part the last few years, the K-ball rules and the equipment managers having an opportunity to work the balls before the game under the supervision of the referees, that has helped a lot. The balls have been decent the last few years. 

An interesting story I did have with the K-ball was one of the first years they instituted the rule. It was 2000 and it was a home game when I was with the Chargers and we were playing the Saints. In the first half, every time I was handed a ball for a kickoff, field goal, or extra point, I believed the ball to be very, very, very hard. I knew just from handling the balls that they were pumped up way beyond 13 pounds, which is regulation. So I asked the head official on the way to the locker room at half time, ‘I’ll buy you a steak dinner if you can find a K-ball that’s 13 pounds or under, because I believe they’ll all pumped up too high’. I even had our equipment manager send down one of our pressure gauges to the officials’ locker room. After half time the official came out and he told me that his gauge that he was given read 13 pounds, but the gauge my equipment manager gave him all read 20 pounds, which is of course extremely beyond regulation pressure . So he said he had to go by his gauge and tell me they were all 13. I was really flabbergasted because you could tell just by handling the ball it was like a stone. Well, a couple of weeks later we were playing a game and the same official came up to me and said ‘I owe you a steak dinner. I sent my gauge into the League, and the problem with my gauge is that it stopped at 13, the pin didn’t go beyond 13. I apologize. I owe you a steak dinner’. Fortunately, no part of the game was really changed by the fact that the balls were super hard. It was a nice day and the kickoff guys probably should have had a few touchbacks, but there were no field goals missed and no horrible punts."

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