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NFL Sees the Light on Two-Point Conversion

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The four most exciting words in college football--"They’re going for two"--apparently will be added to the NFL vocabulary.

In league meetings in Orlando, Fla., next week, owners are expected to approve use of the two-point conversion play, marking the first scoring rules change in the league’s 75-year history.

The NFL announced Wednesday that its influential Competition Committee--led by Miami Dolphin Coach Don Shula--will recommend the new conversion play to the 28 owners, virtually ensuring its passage.

The measure is expected to easily win a two-thirds majority vote from club officials who have grown weary of hearing coaches complain that the game is being dominated by field-goal kickers.

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“This thing has an excellent opportunity to pass,” said Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboy owner and committee member. “There is a lot of sentiment from coaches throughout the league for it.

“We’re talking about an eight-point play, not a two-point play. This thing will keep a lot of teams in the game.”

Unlike colleges, which have allowed a two-point conversion attempt from the three-yard line since 1958, the NFL will run the play from the two-yard line.

The rule is expected to influence more coaches to go for touchdowns instead of field goals, which have often decided games in recent years.

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Last season, there were three field goals for every four touchdowns scored, a sizable difference from the two-touchdown-per-one-field goal ratio 10 years ago.

Field goals accounted for 24.1% of all scoring, the highest percentage in league history.

“I didn’t like the idea at first, but the more I looked at it, the more I realized it would help our league,” said Shula, whose change of heart was imperative to the recommendation. “Being able to get two points instead of one point can sure make things look a lot different to a team that is down early.”

It certainly makes things look a lot different to kickers. If the reaction of Phoenix Cardinal kicker Greg Davis is any indication, they are going to be furious.

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“Some people in New York must be trying to justify their $100,000 salaries when they figured this out,” Davis said. “Some people must not have very much to do.”

Davis noted, as will many critics, that the two-point conversion works in college because there is no overtime.

“With overtime in our game, there is no need for it. . . . They are trying to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “The reason everybody is kicking more field goals is because they can’t score inside the 10-yard line. What makes them think that this rule will help them do that?”

But the conversion is receiving support even from such traditionalists as Ram Coach Chuck Knox, who said, “I kind of like the idea. It is an interesting thought and would bring some excitement to the game from the standpoint of the fans.”

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Added Jones: “From a Cowboys’ perspective, we don’t play to win by field goals. We play to win by touchdowns. So we pushed for this.”

Noting that kickers connected on 77.6% of their attempts last season, nearly 20 percentage points higher than in 1970, NFL Vice President Joe Browne stated the league’s case simply.

“I like Nick Lowery (Kansas City Chief kicker), but he’s getting too much air time,” he said.

In other attempts to take the game away from the kickers, the league is also expected to approve moving the kickoff to the 30-yard line from the 35-yard line and making a one-inch tee mandatory to reduce kickoff hang time. Kickers used tees ranging from one to three inches last season.

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Officials said the rule changes were mandated because there were only 68.5% of kickoffs returned last season, far fewer than 15 years ago, when 87.5% were returned.

Davis disagreed. “It will be less hang time with the short tee, but more touchbacks because we can now drive the ball farther,” he said. “Some of these guys need to take beginning physics.”


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