CAL FAMOUSLY DID IT, succeeding in a five-lateral kickoff return to win a game as time expired in 1982 (below). And while teams across all levels have attempted to duplicate The Play, the fact is, the rugby-style last-second kickoff return is a comical embarrassment, especially in the NFL, where it amounts to 22 millionaires playing hot potato. Coverage teams are too athletic and the field too narrow for a series of laterals and reverses to fool anyone.
But there is a way to make a kickoff return more exciting, more dignified—and even give it a chance to succeed: Allow the receiving team to advance the ball through the air. Yes, permit the forward pass on kickoff returns.
The NFL altered kickoff rules in 2011 to reduce the risk of injury, and this might actually make those plays even less dangerous. Assuming the kick coverage team would have to incorporate aspects of pass defense, players would be less likely to sprint headlong into full-speed collisions. If it's too extreme to incorporate on every kickoff, then limit the forward-pass allowance to inside the two-minute warning.
Adding another layer of X's and O's to the game, it would also preserve safety and, most important, make the kickoff fun again.
ROBERT STINNETT/OAKLAND TRIBUNE/AP