As the saying goes, there are three sure things in life: death, taxes and extra points. Nothing drains excitement from an NFL game faster than the sight of a placekicker trotting onto the field in a sparkling clean uniform and then punching the ball through the uprights from gimme range. Just look at what happened at the Astrodome two weeks ago, when the Kansas City Chiefs drove 85 yards for a touchdown to cut the Houston Oilers' lead to 20-19 with 26 seconds left. On comes K.C.'s Nick Lowery, who had made 416 of his 420 extra points, to send the game into overtime.
Bartender: "Think he'll miss?"
Customer: "Well, he missed one in 1990, and this is an even-numbered year."
The height of suspense, it was not. Keep in mind that the NFL is the only football league in the universe that doesn't have the two-point conversion. The Canadian Football League has it. The Arena League has it. The old AFL and USFL had it. And let's not forget the 25,000 high schools across the country that have the option of going for two, as do the 800 football-playing colleges. The benefits are obvious. With the gamble of coming away with either six or eight points after scoring a touchdown, instead of a near-automatic seven, the game takes on more strategy, more risk (this is football, right?) and, strange as it might seem to the NFL, more excitement.
Last season the 28 NFL teams converted 919 of 945 extra points, a 97.2% success rate. What does this mean? The extra point is football's version of baseball's pickoff throw to first. And whom do we thank for this boring exercise? Try the NFL Competition Committee, which in the last 10 years has banged its collective noggins together and come up with these ways to add thrills to the game: limiting crowd noise (get too pumped up, and it's going to cost your team five yards); the anticelebration rule (hey. number 48, what are you so happy about?) and the quarterback-in-the-grasp rule (anyone for touch football?). Former Dallas Cowboy president Tex Schramm saw to it that the two-pointer was never recommended to the owners in his 20 years as committee chairman, professing, as many still do, that touchdowns and field goals are the bread and butter of the game.
That, of course, is hogwash. You want to know why the NFL hasn't adopted the two-pointer? Coaches are scared stiff of it. They work 18 hours a day, seven days a week. They lose weight. They gain weight. They have heart attacks. They watch their hair spiral down the drain every morning. They make hundreds of decisions every week. Then, on Sunday, if their team marches 80 yards in eight perfectly called plays and scores a touchdown, they can relax and savor the automatic seventh point. Do you really think that after their teams make it into the end zone, coaches want to jump right back into the fire by having to decide whether to go for one point or two?
Do you really think New Orleans Saint coach Jim Mora, a man who gets a facial tic whenever quarterback Bobby Hebert's right arm goes back to scratch his rear, will agonize over going for two points if he can possibly avoid it? It is true that when Mora coached the Philadelphia Stars of the USFL in 1984, he did go for it—five times. But the Stars converted just once. Still, if Mora could do it....
"No," says Chief coach Marty Schottenheimer. "I like the game just the way it is."
The problem here is, NFL coaches think in terms of tendencies. On second-and-long, the Giants tend to drop into a zone. On Tuesday night my wife tends to make meat loaf. You can bet NFL coaches know that in Division I-A college football last season. 128 of 342 two-point attempts were converted for a 37.4% success rate. In the USFL in 1984, for example, two points were harder to come by than a two-dollar bill: 22 of just 63 (34.9%) attempts were successful. Every two-point attempt is a tempting of fate during which a coach can find religion. "You're almost guaranteed one point [with the extra point]," says Mora. "You're not guaranteed two points."
But isn't that the fun of the two-pointer? Maybe the answer is to just dump the extra-point placement altogether. Don't give coaches a choice, give them a migraine. Maybe do what the World Football League of the 1970s did one season, which was make touchdowns worth seven points and a run or a pass conversion one point. Or try this variation: If you run or pass it in from the one-yard line, you get one point. Do it from the three, you get two points. Guys like Tampa Bay Buc coach Sam Wyche would be drawing up conversion plays with shaving cream on the bathroom mirror.
The argument that one potential overtime period is more exciting than numerous two-point conversion tries doesn't wash. Certainly it was less exciting when Lowery hit number 417 and the Chiefs went on to lose in overtime 23-20 than it would have been if they had had the opportunity to lake one all-or-nothing shot at victory in regulation time. Just imagine: The clock winds down to zero as quarterback Dave Krieg takes the snap and hands it to 260-pound Christian Okoye, who plows off tackle and sees how many Oilers he can drag three yards. A 21-20 win? A 20-19 loss?
Bartender: "Holy Schottenheimer! He's going for it!"
Customer: "I can't watch."
Wrong. His eyes would never leave the screen. Neither would anyone else's.