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Tuesday, January 9, 2007
Some kickers, punters don't favor special teams K-Ball

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- Even in perfect weather, some footballs can be too slippery.

While teams are allowed to practice with regular game balls during the week, the ones used on special teams are off limits until shortly before kickoff. They're shiny and new, and even have a name -- the K-Ball.

There's one major problem, though: The balls are a bit slick because they're fresh out of the box.

"Nobody really likes the K-Balls. The kickers somehow, the punters somehow, were punished when they came up with this K-Ball rule."
-- New Orleans Saints kicker John Carney

"They're slicker than the plastic balls my kids play with," injured Philadelphia Eagles long-snapper Mike Bartrum said Tuesday.

Since 1999, kickers, punters, holders and snappers have complained to anyone who will listen that they don't like the K-Balls.

It took Tony Romo's bobbled snap to really get everyone's attention.

Romo led Dallas to the playoffs after replacing Drew Bledsoe as the starting quarterback and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl. But he'll be remembered for mishandling the snap on a 19-yard field goal in the closing moments of the Cowboys' 21-20 loss to Seattle in a wild-card playoff game Saturday.

The NFL introduced the K-Balls eight years ago after the competition committee decided teams were abusing their privileges and taking unusual measures to condition balls so they would fly higher and travel farther.

Kickers and punters were accused of using strange methods to soften the leather, spread the seams and inflate the bladder. Rumors included instances of balls being put in microwave ovens, dryers and saunas.

"The reason this was put in place was to prevent teams from doctoring balls for kicking," league spokesman Greg Aiello said.

So the night before a game, 12 balls marked with a "K" are delivered straight from the manufacturer, Wilson Sporting Goods, to the officials. Two hours before the game, a representative from each team can prepare the balls by rubbing them down and brushing them off. An official then checks the air pressure, puts the balls in a bag and subs them in on kicks.

A day after Romo's bobble, David Akers kicked a 38-yard field goal as time expired to give the Eagles a 23-20 victory over the New York Giants in the NFC's other wild-card game.

Though Romo didn't make any excuses for his gaffe, Akers and others around the league blamed the K-Ball.

"Kicking balls are very, very slick," Akers said. "They have a lot of wax on them because they are brand new. You don't get to work them in very much, and you see a lot of that happening."

In Week 16, Cincinnati lost to Denver 24-23 on a snowy day when Brad St. Louis' snap on an extra point in the final minute sailed wide of holder Kyle Larson, preventing Shayne Graham from even attempting his 159th straight conversion.

"The K-Balls are not good balls for performing football duties -- catching, holding, kicking, punting," New Orleans Saints kicker John Carney said. "Nobody really likes the K-Balls. The kickers somehow, the punters somehow, were punished when they came up with this K-Ball rule."

Akers said the league uses K-Balls to cut down on touchbacks and increase scoring. In 1998, Mitch Berger had a record 40 touchbacks on kickoffs for Minnesota. He had just 13 the next season using the K-Balls.

"They want to see returns," Akers said.

Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren was on the competition committee when it came up with the K-Balls. He doesn't see a reason for all the fuss.

"Teams would do all sorts of weird stuff with them," he said. "It was common knowledge it was bad. So the competition committee said, 'Let's clean that up.'

"The kicking balls, it's like they're coming in a Brinks truck. It's the darndest thing you've ever seen. And they're guarded. Now the kickers complained, but statistically nothing changed too much. We evaluate that. At least we knew it wasn't going to be filled with helium."

It wasn't until this season that actual game balls were allowed to be used during practices so visiting teams can have an opportunity to prepare their share.

Eagles quarterback Koy Detmer, signed last week specifically for his skill as a holder, would like those rules to apply to the K-Balls.

"They went to the extreme," he said. "That's not the answer because now you are playing with a ball that's slick and not a good ball to play with. I think there's a happy medium there somewhere."

Not everyone cares about the difference between the games balls and K-Balls.

"It is what it is," said Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri, one of the best clutch kickers in NFL history. "It really doesn't matter because everyone has to play with the same ball. The other balls, they get to work them in and the K-balls, you can't. Would it be nice to be able to work them in? Sure. But the officials keep them and that's just the way it is, so you have to deal with it."