INDIANAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 14: Jermaine Gresham #84 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs with the ball after catching and is tackled by Pat Angerer #51 of the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL game at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 14 2010 in Indianapolis Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
If jowly owners are bound and determined to fly the NFL into a smoking crater with a lockout, let them. The game at its highest level of athleticism is now piloted by its lowest level of creativity, and only a great fire consuming all that is mediocre can turn the NFL into a creative, dynamic league capable of rebounding from the deep ravine ownership is set to plunge the entire franchise into for the foreseeable future.
The game will need overhauls and some serious hacking, and we are here to help. The point of adopting any of these is to make better, faster football by stealing the best elements of Australian, Arena, and Canadian Football Add in a few rugby mods, and we'll have a leaner, faster, more interesting game for all and move away from the leaden era of specialization the game has fallen into in the 21st century. If you like games that end 6-3 and the stultifying sight of a Cover 2 defense smothering everything, great. You should go watch something else, because that is not what this game is.
(Note: there is an entirely different column to be written about rules that need to die a swift death. This is not that piece, but it should be said that unnecessary celebration penalties at all levels are an abomination, and should be eliminated from the human experience completely.)
The hacks to build a new football, in no particular order:
Go with three downs. Part of the NFL's wretched conservatism comes from the luxury of having four downs, the first two of which are usually spent throwing short routes or just pounding meaninglessly into the line because "you have to establish the run." This hasn't been true since the late 20th century, but it does not stop the calcified offensive minds of the NFL from wasting play after play in the vain pursuit of some kind of idea of "balance."
Fine, if what we're doing is trying to make more football out of the lullsome game professional football can be, then we'll have to counterintuitively take away the luxury of one of your downs. If you want first down to mean something, then fine: let's make it mean something by forcing you to actually do something with your opportunities. Woody Hayes just rolled over in his grave, but he does that a lot now what with the kids and their Facebooks and tattoos and Pokemons and hip-hops and other Commie deviations. Pay him no mind.
Two forward passes per play. By far the least sensical and most radical of any of these proposals, the two forward passes on a play would certainly loosen up the game and force serious creativity on the part of offensive thinkers. The move is about so much more than that, however. Watching rugby in the offseason has reminded us of what football began as--namely, a rugby derivative based on running, pure, athletic, collision-heavy running.
Looking at the game now, the specialization of football has allowed offensive and defensive linemen to grow to sizes thought unimaginable thirty years ago. This has come at the cost of overall mobility and speed. (The guys currently playing on NFL offensive lines are astonishingly fast for their size, but it's still a step back from what they would be if playing at 275 pounds or so and not 325.)
So let's finally find a place for all those hybrid spread-option quarterbacks the NFL has no idea what to do with and allow for multiple forward passes during a play. Let's make linemen run their asses off on every single play. Let's put the Albert Haynesworths of the world on a treadmill and see what happens when every play is live for everyone all the way down the field on every snap. Let's put two queens on this chessboard and see how pretty the mess it makes is.
Who can throw the second pass? Any eligible receiver throwing to any eligible receiver. A better question: if the pass is intercepted, can the defense throw a pass during the play? Certainly, but only one. (Why? Because I said so, and that is what rulebooks are: arbitrary and final.)
Am I proposing this just because of the side-splitting concept of a 270 pound defensive lineman catching a wobbly touchdown pass thrown by a linebacker? Yes, yes I am, but don't let that undermine the legitimate possibilities here. The game has to be freed from its constraints, and that includes moving the launch point of the ball from a single, easily assaulted point.
Return of the drop kick. Another vestige of rugby that desperately needs re-evolution: the drop kick. Rather than settling in for the monotonous, momentum-killing field goal attempt, players could pull up at any time during an offensive play and kick for three. Field goals are the bane of professional football, but there's no need for them to be, since they don't belong to specialists alone under the drop kick. Anyone can try one at any time, and they emerge from the flow of play rather than the set piece. This is part of a pattern of reducing specialization, if you'll notice, and would require that everyone on offense a.) be nimble enough to do this and b.) have the brains to know when to do this.*
* Also note that this is moving more towards less control for coaches and more for players. Most coaches don't want games to be interesting in any sense of the word. Coaches do not want any hint of Calvinball in their football. You, the viewer, do, and thus the less influence coaches have on the outcome of the game the better for the overall value of the game. The solution for "The Chan Gailey Problem" is to reduce niche players and expand what is possible on any given play. it may also make Merrill Hoge's head explode. In these quarters, that would be considered a schematic advantage.
The ideal scenario for combining the drop kick with the double forward pass is the end-of-game scenario on a kickoff down by one or two points. The ball is kicked, the return team volleys forward, and a desperate kick sails through the uprights for a chaotic, thrilling finish. If you don't prefer this to the slow water torture of a hopeless 67-yard field goal attempt at the gun, you are either named Lane Kiffin or hate all exciting and good things in this world, and are currently jonesing for a mayonnaise sandwich.
Receivers may be moving forward at the start of the play. Hey, Arena Ball! That thing you did, we like it a lot, and will just steal it wholesale. Another offensive advantage built into the new game, moving forward toward the line of scrimmage allows receivers to get a decisive jump on pass routes, and just really looks cool, and if you don't think that's important in football you probably also thought Tank Carder's four layers of bicep-accentuating armbands were unnecessary in the Rose Bowl. (You'd be wrong on both, of course. Four layers of armbands is a mere starting point.)
Note: that receiver may be the running back, too, meaning you'll have massive, neck-snapping play-action fakes like nothing you've ever seen before.
Crossbar is one point. Well, it's not like you missed the point of a kick completely, kicker. In fact, by doinking a ball off the crossbar or upright, you actually did something far more difficult than winging the ball through the relatively large imaginary plane of space extending forever upward from the uprights. There has to be some credit for doing this, so a single point for hitting the upright will be awarded.
Additional Harry Potter wrinkle: hit all three bars with one kick and the game is over instantly and your team is declared the winner. Though physically impossible, the Golden Snitch of football moves should exist just as a tantalizing possibility for Bill Belichick to cheat his ass off in making a reality.