In Defense of My "New Orleans Saints' Onside Kick Was Dirty Pool" Article

Steve MontanaContributor IFebruary 12, 2010


Due to the overwhelming response that my original article "Saints Win Super Bowl But Onside Kick Was Dirty Pool" has received, I would like to try to correct what I see as a few mis-perceptions. 

First of all, the intent behind the original article is not in any way to take away from the Saints victory in the Super Bowl. I think this should be clear to readers where I wrote: 

"The Saints outplayed the Colts and deserved to win," the Saints "had the greater will to win," and "the play did not determine the ultimate outcome."

To put it in different words, I think the Saints still would have won even without attempting the onside kick. I am not blaming the Saints for winning on a dirty play. I am not blaming the Colts loss on Sean Payton's decision.

I cheered on the Saints very strongly in the NFC Championship game. I rooted for them to have a perfect season throughout the year. A lot of respondents mistakenly believe that I have tried to take something away from their championship. Not at all. 

I sincerely hope that Saints fans can enjoy the glory of the team's first Super Bowl Championship. 

Secondly, the article is not a technical treatise on the NFL rules for kickoffs and onside kicks. 

I wrote that "the other team gets to receive the ball to start the second half." When I wrote "receive the ball" it is in the sense that if the team winning the coin toss chooses to "receive the ball" then the team that lost the coin toss generally (almost universally) chooses to "receive the ball" to start the second half. 

I choose the term "receive the ball" because that is the language used by the players and the officials, as in the phrase "we will receive." 

It is obvious and goes without saying that if a team wins the coin toss and chooses "to receive" they are technically choosing to be kicked to. The team kicking off can within the existing rules decide to try an onside kick. 

In that sense the team choosing "to receive" might not actually have the ball at the end of the kickoff play. But in ordinary NFL parlance, whether they actually have the ball or not when the kickoff is over, the act of being "kicked to" is called "receiving." 

In the case of an onside kick that travels more than 10 yards without ever being touched by the "receiving" team and is then legally recovered by the "kicking" team, the team that elected "to receive" does not in a sense "receive" the ball at all, but NFL players still use the term "we will receive."

"Receiving the ball" on a kickoff, then, is used to describe all such acts of having the ball kicked to one's team, whether or not one's team actually gets or has the ball at the end. 

It is in this sense that I used the phrase "the Saints elected to receive the ball to start the first half." 

Thirdly, I wrote quite clearly that the onside kick was "a legal play by existing NFL rules." Sean Payton and the Saints team had every right within the rules to attempt an onside kick. 

By doing so to start a half, though, I characterized as dirty and cheap, and I stand by my opinion. It is not a statement of fact. It is a purely subjective opinion.

Furthermore, my opinion is that all onside kick attempts within the proper framework of the game should be legal, but that onside kicks to begin a half should be banished. 

The primary reason for this opinion is because the coin toss is an "extraordinary event" that takes place off the field of play before the start of a game. The coin toss is arbitrary. Through it, the team to kick and the team to receive are determined. 

This determination is not made by the players in action on the field. Therefore, because it takes place off the field of play, I feel that its imposition on the game itself should be fixed and final. 

In other words, a team "electing to receive" should actually have the ball kicked to them in a "regular" manner. If they lose, fumble, or muff possession, tough luck. But the kicking team should not be able to attempt an onside kick deliberately.

How to institute this rule exactly is a job for the NFL rules committee. On my part, it is just a proposal, a thought.

Because the second half begins in much the same way as the first half, based on an arbitrary act outside the field of play, that is, through the mechanism of the coin toss and the resulting decisions by the respective teams, onside kicks to begin the second half should be banned as well. 

The second half kickoff is not determined by the teams or the action on the field of play. The teams do not re-start the game after the first half where they left off. Instead, it is decided that one team will kick and one team will receive.

As current rules stand, the team kicking may decide to "onside kick" and if successful, take the ball. I think that in the ordinary case of game-play, after touchdowns and what have you, all such surprise or trick actions are perfectly fine. 

The problem I have is when the actual teams 1) kicking off, and 2) receiving (or being kicked to) are decided upon outside the game itself. 

Outside the game being in this case the coin toss and the verbally-made decisions of the team representatives. If the start of both halves were determined by some other means such as on-the-field play, I would not have a problem with onside kicks to start the halves. 

For example, in basketball, a jump ball is used to determine who begins a half with possession, and in hockey, a face-off is used to determine who begins a period with possession. 

When players or other team representatives pass along their "extraordinary" decision on how they wish to start a half verbally to NFL officials, that choice of whether to kickoff or to receive or to take a certain end zone to defend should be taken at face value. Otherwise it is a lie, a deception. 

It would be a lie because it was made outside the proper framework of the action inside the game. Ordinarily, deception in football is a good thing and can be a necessary means to victory, as in misdirection plays that attempt to fool the other team.

But that is inside the action of the game. When a choice "to kickoff" or "to receive" is made and determined outside the play of the game, it should be followed through, just as we expect that when the home team decides to wear their visitor jerseys they do not suddenly appear on game day wearing the opposite of what they said they would do. 


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