The thought of no kickoffs once seemed dumb. A disconnect to the game's history that occasionally produces a significant play.
But the Alliance of American Football's debut on Saturday without kickoffs showed it's not a bad thing. Teams merely start on the 25-yard line rather than watch the ball go through the end zone as most tend to do nowadays in the NFL. Sure, it loses the chance of a long return or maybe a big defensive stop or turnover, but NFL rule changes last year rendered kickoffs largely ceremonial rather than game changers.
The bonus was quicker games. While the Alliance didn't produce box scores with time or attendance, the four games seem to average about 2.5 hours versus the NFL's three-plus hour marathons. Sure, there were also no TV timeouts and fewer commercials, but quicker games were refreshing. Maybe watching football doesn't require sacrificing a whole afternoon or evening.
The NFL greatly reduced kickoffs to lessen the chances of concussions, which is one thing the league greatly fears after past lawsuits. There were zero concussions during kickoffs last season as the NFL watered down the play with no wedge blocking and players getting less of a running start.
No concussions are a good thing. NFL players often suffered years of physical hardship after leaving the game, so improved player safety is paramount.
But let's go one step further – ban the kickoff. It has become pointless nowadays. The AAF showed the game is fine without them. Maybe a touch more mechanical, but reducing game time is an acceptable tradeoff. As for not needing a kickoff returner anymore, few teams worried about one last year anyway. Just an extra task for a reserve receiver.
The NFL may be slow to adjust, not wanting some upstart league to show them how to play the game. But, who cares if it's a good idea? The AAF just did the beta testing for the NFL.
One day, fans will wonder why returners Devin Hester, Mel Gray and Billy "White Shoes" Johnson were such a big deal.