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Some kickers, punters don't favor special teams K-Ball

1/10/2007 - NFL

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."