The Art of Kicking

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There’s less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter, and I have just led my beloved alma mater to score, going ahead of their hated backyard rivals, 21-17. The opposition’s return man nearly ran the last kick in for a touchdown. Somehow, he does it again.

Kicking a football is an art form. With the right spin, the ball can bounce backward and die on the 5-yard line, forcing the return man to chase it into oncoming defenders. Or it can be a nigh un-returnable “squib kick,” football’s equivalent of the knuckleball; it’s nearly impossible to catch on the fly.

If you hit the ball in the right spot with the right force, you can make it do anything you want. But sports games have never really captured that feeling. You’re traditionally given a power meter and a directional slider in the form of a timing-based mini-game that amounts to a base insult.

But EA’s latest Madden and NCAA games have taken a step in the right direction. By putting the kicker’s power and accuracy on the right analogue stick, the player has a lot more control over how he kicks. But even if you crank the angle all the way down to the turf, you still can’t do much beyond a long-distance kick.

One way to fix this problem is to make kicking more like a golf game. A developer could adjust the swing control to the left stick and let the right stick control the strike point where the kicker’s foot hits the ball. This would allow the player to exercise greater influence over the ball. For punting, this element of control could be used to put spin on the ball and change the way it bounces.

After my opponent scores and tallies a two-point conversion, I’m able to march the ball downfield. The wind is at my back and my hometown crowd cheers every first down. Tragedy strikes: My quarterback gets sacked, and third and goal at the 6 becomes fourth and goal at the 12. Settling for a field goal, I’m down one point and still have to get the ball back. I set up an onside kick and hope for the best.

As it stands now, onside kicks in videogames are even more of a crapshoot than they are in real life: The chances of having one go your way are exceedingly slim. With a new control method, onside kicks would be less of a “point and pray” affair. Instead, a variety of kicks, from high jump-balls to drilling an unsuspecting receiver, would be available.

What we really need in the special teams portion are more options: the option to keep the wedge intact on kick returns instead of the blockers peeling off, the option to rush as few as one player at the punter. The playbook for special teams should be much bigger than it is now.

Moreover, special teams plays don’t even require the special teams players to be on the field. Add the quick kick option for an element of surprise on those fourth and mid-range plays that people usually end up going for. In overtime, why risk a turnover when the quarterback can slide the ball between the hash marks to set up the perfect winning field goal?

I manage to recover the onside kick and march the ball down the field. My drive ends at fourth-and-10 on the 30. A field goal might win it, but my quarterback has been on fire. There’s enough time for one more pass. I set up a quick outside route to the receiver, enough to get us closer to the endzone for an easy field goal, which my kicker chips through the uprights. I may have won my season’s biggest rivalry game, but somehow it feels like it could have been better.

Brian Easton is a freelance writer currently working on his first novel and a new entertainment website. He and his brother can be found at Free Play.

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